MSQ acquires Elmwood to Merge with Holmes & Marchant Creating a New Model Design and Branding Agency


By The Chicago Egotist / /

The fast-growing international marketing group MSQ, supported by its private equity partner LDC, has acquired Elmwood and merged it with its Holmes & Marchant agency to create an international design powerhouse. The combined organisation is well positioned to ensure that the world’s most influential brands can deliver comprehensive, branded experiences in the multi-platform age.

Over the last two decades, industries have been completely transformed by digital technologies and the drive for increased customer centricity. Brands now require assets that establish and leverage their identity in an ever more dynamic media environment.

The fusion of Elmwood and Holmes & Marchant creates a new agency model, specifically designed to help brands respond to these challenges. Both agencies bring a heritage in developing meaningful and memorable design systems with assets that work across the full spectrum of content channels (offline, digital, social and commerce). Following the merger, they will now also have access to MSQ’s broader capability set, particularly in digital and tech, bringing greater insight and channel-specific expertise to meet the needs of today’s leading brands.

The agency will also build on Elmwood’s sectoral skills in consumer, global healthcare and corporate design as well as its geographic strength and scale in London and New York. Holmes & Marchant will add further consumer and corporate design skills, in-house digital capabilities, geographical weight and expertise in Singapore and Shanghai. 

Operating globally under the Elmwood brand, the merged agency will be in the top-tier of the world’s design agencies with 200 colleagues, split across hubs in London, New York, Shanghai and Singapore.  This more diverse team will be empowered to design powerful branding solutions for leading international clients such as GSK, Unilever, Danone and Mars.

Paul Galesloot will be CEO of the enlarged agency, providing overall operational leadership, reporting into Global CEO of MSQ, Peter Reid. Steve Gatfield, the former IPG EVP, will assume the role of Executive Chairman, lending his extensive global industry experience to shape the strategy for the combined business.

“Elmwood shares the same ambition as Holmes & Marchant to be a key brand guardian for its clients in the development of powerful content that drives competitive advantage,” said Paul Galesloot, CEO of Elmwood. “The demand for content is outpacing supply. Brands truly need to stand out in a crowded marketplace. By combining forces, we’ve created a new agency model to help companies meet this demand and ensure their branded experiences are consistent and strategic across all channels. We have a solid platform of existing clients to further build this proposition and capitalise on cross-pollination opportunities for Elmwood and more broadly for MSQ.”

Peter Reid, Global CEO of MSQ, said: “Many global design agencies have strengths in particular geographies but not truly globally.  The same has been true in the past of both Holmes & Marchant and Elmwood. What this acquisition does is bring together a marriage of equals to create a global design powerhouse.  It’s a dynamic and exciting combination that has significant potential and furthers MSQ’s strategic aim of building multi-disciplinary agencies of scale in our four hubs.”

MSQ was supported in the deal by private equity owner LDC. The acquisition of Elmwood Global follows the demerger of Elmwood Group last year, which saw its global business evolve as Elmwood and its former Leeds studio rebrand as Born Ugly, an independent design venture under the chairmanship of Jonathan Sands, Elmwood’s former majority shareholder.

Steve Gatfield, Executive Chairman of Elmwood, said: “Elmwood and Holmes & Marchant is a perfect fit of complementary talents, geography and opportunity. This newly forged force in design gains further power from the capabilities embedded in MSQ that will shape a uniquely relevant and contemporary approach to design as a critical part of the emerging landscape for brands new and old.”   

Holmes & Marchant and Elmwood currently both have offices in London, New York and Singapore; Holmes & Marchant also has an office in Shanghai. 

Agency MDs will be Sue Knowles in London, Nulty White in New York, Celeste Cheong in Singapore and Caroline So in Shanghai. Andy Lawrence and Richard Stayte will be joint Executive Creative Directors; Greg Taylor and Steve Drummond will lead on strategy and Steven Forrest will be Global Finance Director. All held similar positions – Sue, Nulty, Andy, Greg and Steven with Elmwood and Celeste, Caroline, Richard and Steve with Holmes & Marchant. Nick Gray, Holmes & Marchant’s London MD will head up the company’s growth strategy and sit on the global leadership team. 

Peter Reid added: “At MSQ we have an employee-owned model, backed by investment from private equity through LDC. This structure helps further drive passion, collaboration and effectiveness within our business. Elmwood’s senior team will be putting equity into the business.”

This is the latest acquisition for MSQ which last year completed the purchase of Be Heard Group, bringing research & insights agency Freemavens, web & digital product development agency MMT Digital and media agency agenda21 (now part of Walk-In Media) into the MSQ fold. In March this year, MSQ acquired the digital agency MBA, merging it with existing customer acquisition and engagement agency Stack to create MBAstack. Last month MSQ completed the acquisition of creative production studio Brave Spark.


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