Stagwell Group, the investment group led by polling guru and former Burson-Marsteller chief Mark Penn, has made its first major deal with a move to buy SKDKnickerbocker, the Democrat-heavy PR and public affairs firm.
The former Squier Knapp Dunn merged with Knickerbocker Consulting in 2004 to form SKDK is led by Bill Knapp, Anita Dunn, managing partner Josh Isay, Jennifer Cunningham and Hilary Rosen. Bob Squier, the well-known political adman, died in 2000.
Penn set up Stagwell in June after his exit as EVP and chief strategy officer at Microsoft. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is an investor in Stagwell.
Penn called strategic corporate and political communications a "critical growing area," adding SKDK shows a "great potential to grow in the digital age."
SKDK will continue to operate independently under Stagwell, which added that the PR firm's patners have long-term contracts. The firm has traditionally aligned with progressive clients and staffers, including crisis communications for Planned Parenthood amid its recent troubles, although its corporate work has softened the firm's political leanings.
On its formation in June, Stagwell said it had closed on $250 million in investment capital and could use leverage to make up to $750 million in acquisitions. Penn told the New York Times the firm plans to acquire firms that specialize in digital design, Hollywood ventures, ad buying and financial communications. He expressed a desire to avoid centralizing operations among Stagwell's future companies and letting the firms run themselves, a swipe at the ad/PR conglomerates like Interpublic and his former employer, WPP. "The big holdings companies are run primarily by accountants, instead of people who came out of the core disciplines, Penn said. "Folks at this firm have been the communications director at the White House."
Larry Kamer's Prosper Group advised SKDK in the deal.