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Bastion’s OC Boost: Merges With IMW Agency­­­

Marketing: Plans to become one-stop shop

Australia-based Bastion Agency aims to grow into one of the world’s largest public relations firms via an aggressive acquisition strategy.

Its U.S. operations, based in Orange County, are playing a large role in that expansion.

In the company’s most recent corporate move, its Costa Mesa office, called Bastion Elevate, which ranked No. 6 on the Business Journal’s list in May of PR agencies, has merged with Laguna Hills-based IMW Agency, which ranked No. 7.

Now called Bastion Amplify, it has 28 employees at offices in Laguna Hills, as well as Los Angeles and New York. The parent firm, Bastion Agency USA, has over 55 employees across the U.S. and expects to double its headcount in the next year.

On a combined basis, the company may rank among the four largest among OC’s largest PR firms, based on the number of local employees.

Bastion Elevate CEO Shana Starr has become president of the combined entity, while former IMW CEO Chris Bretschger has taken over as CEO. In May, Starr said her goal was for Bastion to become “the largest independent agency on the West Coast.”

The deal closed in May. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.

 

Media Buying Skill

The acquisition brings together a wide variety of clients.

Bastion customers include The Habit Burger Grill, which is part of Yum Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM), and the OREMOR Automotive Group, which has 14 car dealerships across California. IMW’s clients include the Santa Barbara Vintners Association and Avocados from Mexico.

What particularly attracted Bastion to IMW was its skill at media buying, Bastion USA Chief Executive Dax Cornelius told the Business Journal.

The acquisition will help “get our clients the same access to the frontline of media and media technology that the mega-advertisers enjoy,” said Cornelius, who works out of the company’s Laguna Hills office.

“The independent nature of IMW allowed us to carry the fiduciary and emotional responsibilities of our client relationships and parlay our scale into their efficiencies.”

New CEO Bretschger has a long pedigree in media buying, including stints as manager of online and social media at Mazda, as well as working on accounts like Jenny Craig, Adidas Golf, Hyundai and Volkswagen.

In 2013, he joined IMW, which was started in 1992 by his parents, Peter and Kari Bretschger.

When asked about the acquisition, Bretschger said it was “how to do better for our clients” in a changing industry.

Bretschger said an immediate advantage has been access to potential employees in markets such as Los Angeles and New York.

“It’s expanded our ability to capture talent,” Bretschger told the Business Journal.

 

Agency Alignment

Watching the teams move into the new office together, Bretschger described it as “a physical realization of what we’re building and trying to build.”

“We’ve always been dedicated to having a physical space in Orange County,” Bretschger said.

Instead of relying on outsourcing various tasks and projects, the agency plans to offer its clients fully integrated offerings from in-house teams. The company now has a designated staff for PR, media, and digital performance services.

Its sister firm, Bastion db5, operates out of Los Angeles and New York to handle the research and data analytics for the agency’s projects and campaigns.

“In this digital era, it takes the integrations and collaboration of several agencies that have depth in that level of communication and expertise to work together for our clients,” Cornelius said.

“Based on this type of growth structure we’ve created, this aggregation of best inbred agencies and leading CEOs creates growth with purpose instead of chaos,” Cornelius said.

Bastion Amplify is projecting $10 million in revenue for the upcoming fiscal 2023.

 

Acquisition Spree

Bastion worldwide already counts over 300 employees across all offices including its home base of Australia and a few partnerships in Asia.

In the U.S., Bastion has made 16 acquisitions in recent years.

Cornelius is aiming to double the number of U.S. employees within the next year.

Bastion has its sights on two more acquisitions, seeking a creative agency and an agency with expertise in trade shows.

“This will be the solution and the alternative to outsourcing,” Cornelius said. “Think of what Uber did to transportation. What Amazon did to retail. Bastion will provide a world-class fully integrated solution to our clients.”

The former Air Force pilot, who has led the North American offices for Bastion since 2017, draws a similarity between his military career and current marketing role.

“Both experiences involve letting the best of the best work together to steer their fellow professionals in the right direction,” Cornelius said.

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