AdWanted Acquires SRDS From Bain-Owned Kantar To Help Print Pubs Do Data-Driven Ad Sales

M&A is at an all-time low due to coronavirus fears, but some deals are getting done even in challenged sectors.

On Tuesday, Bain Capital divested itself of SRDS, a 101-year-old business within Kantar that compiles contact info, audience insights and ad rates for more than 6,700 B2B and consumer-facing US-based traditional media sources.

The acquirer is French ad tech company Adwanted that recently launched in the United States and helps automate print media ad buying. The deal price isn’t being disclosed, but it’s an all-cash agreement and all of SRDS roughly 40 employees are staying on board.

Adwanted, whose platform pools print media inventory from more than 125,000 media properties around the world and avails it programmatically within private marketplaces, first partnered with SRDS – which stands for Standard Rate and Data Service – in 2018. But Adwanted CEO Emmanuel Debuyck long had his heart set on an acquisition.

It was a slow courtship. But when Bain bought a majority stake in Kantar from WPP last year, negotiations sped up.

Debuyck said SRDS has data that buyers can use to find and compare media costs, but no easy way to transact, and the AdWanted platform can activate on that information.

But Debuyck admitted demand has dwindled over the last few weeks as buyers and publishers struggle to cope with the coronavirus crisis.

“Right now, we are talking more about cancellations than transactions – everything is postponed,” he said. “In Europe, we usually have between 30 and 40 million euros a month in transactions, and that’s down by 65%.”

But there are a few bright spots.

First, SRDS is an annual subscription business, so it’s somewhat insulated from any immediate economic fallout.

Second, work-from-home is having its moment, and people in remote setups need digital tools. Some newspapers and magazines still sell their ad space exclusively based on phone calls or face-to-face meetings and do their planning on whiteboards just like they did 25 years ago, Debuyck said. The coronavirus situation is forcing them to transition to virtual collaboration technology as a matter of survival.

And even though cancellations are more the norm than bookings right now, Debuyck said some agencies put out feelers to book desirable ad space for the summer.

“Of course you’ll see people cancel in the middle of a crisis,” he said. “But they’re trying to get into a good position for when it all starts again.”

Debuyck has been through recessions before. He launched Adwanted in 2012, a year after shuttering Sioux Advertising Agency, a media buying and strategy group he founded in 1995 that was a victim of the previous financial crisis.

He plans to update the SRDS platform, standardize taxonomies to make it easier for buyers to compare data across publishers and to bring in new data sources, including data related to publisher industry events. Buyers are going to want that sort of information when social distancing is finally in the rear view.

Adwanted is also going to invest in the SRDS brand. “Acquiring a company that’s more than a hundred years old in such a fast-changing environment is a great opportunity,” Debuyck said. “This isn’t a subscription revenue cash machine for us – we want to help this business grow.”

This isn’t Adwanted’s first acquisition in the United States. In September 2019 it bought NDX (Newspaper Data Exchange), a database and archive of circulation data for more than 7,100 daily and weekly US publications.

AdWanted’s headcount is 130, including the 40 new employees joining from SRDS, most of who are based in Chicago. AdWanted also has offices in Europe, Asia and a small team of around 10 in New York.

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