French giant Publicis' CitrusAd acquisition the making of a 'beast of a business'

French giant Publicis' CitrusAd acquisition the making of a 'beast of a business'

Australian digital ad platform CitrusAd, a recent start-up that has grown its global profile by securing high-profile clients, has been acquired by French advertising and public relations giant Publicis Group (Euronext: PUB).

The buyout sets the Brisbane-based company, which was founded by Brad Moran and Nick Paech (pictured) in 2017, on track to continue expanding in one of the fastest-growing advertising spaces in the world.

"We want to build this into a beast of a business, and we needed some extra muscle to do it," says Moran, who will stay on to oversee the next stage of business growth armed with the balance sheet of a multinational.

CitrusAd operates a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that optimises client marketing performance directly within retailer websites. The technology allows brands to place ads at the point of sale.

Although CitrusAd now operates in 22 international markets, the company generates more than half its business in the US where it has seen a rapid take-up of its services through a grocery network to rival Walmart and Amazon. CitrusAd has more than 70 clients globally and more than 4000 brands utilise its self-served platform.

"We are right at the pinnacle of the purchase which is why brands invest so heavily in platforms like ours," says Moran, who won the 2020 Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Award - Digital Disruptor.

"The industry itself has really ramped up over the past five years, especially the past year during COVID. Last year was a very big year for us."

Publicis Group, a company established for almost a century, sees synergies between CitrusAd and its Epsilon technology business, an offsite retail media offering. Epsilon's technology is based on tracing consumer preferences without the use of cookies.

"What we are creating together is a cookie-less world where we can track people across the web all the way to the point of purchase and do it in a seamless fashion, so there's a lot of synergy between the businesses," says Moran.

Publicis Group fended off some strong competition to secure CitrusAd.

"Because of the growth trajectory the business was on, all the retailers we were launching and the brands that were using us, our brand presence started to spread very quickly around the world," says Moran.

"We have received lots of inquiries around acquisition in the past six to 12 months."

Venture capitalists and private equity firms were among them. But, according to Moran, it was the cultural fit that sealed the deal - along with Publicis Group's entrepreneurial Arthur Sadoun.

"We wanted to make sure the company was left in good hands and have the ability to keep growing with the CitrusAd legacy.

"For Nick and I, it was a very much a personal decision. We felt Publicis Group were the ones that would maintain the culture of the start-up that we built. That was a huge component of the deal for us."

Sadoun sees CitrusAd as a key to sharpening his company's competitive edge in consumer marketing.

"The leading technology (CitrusAd) have developed, coupled with Epsilon's CORE ID, will enable CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands to grow faster and retailers to generate new sources of revenue to win in a platform world," says Sadoun. "It will also give to Publicis a strong competitive advantage in a channel that by 2025 should surpass traditional TV spend."

CitrusAd will continue as a standalone business within the Publicis Group, with Moran planning to remain at the helm for some time.

"I'm going to keep driving the business for the next three, four or five years, whatever it takes."

CitrusAd will maintain its base in Brisbane, although with a 'bigger, cooler office'

"Apart from that, there's going to be no change to the business which is good for our staff and our customers."

Financial details of the acquisition have not been disclosed.

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