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LBi was acquired in 2013 by Publicis Groupe for around $540m. It was merged into existing Publicis network Digitas to create DigitasLBi. Two years later, DigitasLBi lost its prime position as Publicis Groupe's lead digital network following the acquisition of SapientNitro.
Even before the Digitas merger, LBi was already one of the largest full service interactive agencies in several key European markets including the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands, and also had a presence in several other countries, including the US and India. By early 2012 it managed a network of 29 offices in 16 countries, and more than 2,000 staff. It was itself originally formed in 2006 by the merger of interactive agencies LB Icon and Framfab, but the resulting business continued to expand its footprint and its range of services with a succession of additional purchases, including Bigmouthmedia and Mr Youth.
Prior to the Publicis acquisition, the core of the group as it was at the end of 2012 was Dutch web design agency Lost Boys. This launched in Amsterdam in 1993 to develop multimedia CD-ROM content, and gradually extended its business into web development. IconMediaLab launched in Sweden three years later. Both companies expanded rapidly with the rapid growth of the internet, establishing or acquiring offices in other markets. Among the most significant of these was Icon's absorption of US agency Nicholson NY, in a deal with Interpublic in 1999. In 2002, Lost Boys and Icon merged to form LB Icon. UK-based Wheel was added to the mix in 2004, and by 2006, LB Icon was among the world's largest digital marketing agencies, with offices in 12 cities in seven countries. (The Lost Boys brand was resurrected again much later by DigitasLBi).
Framfab launched in 1995 in Sweden under the name Framtidsfabriken, the Swedish for "Future Factory". It shortened its name to Framfab in 1999 and began expanding into other markets, through a merger with UK-based consultancy Net Solutions and other companies. In 2003 Framfab absorbed the UK arm of SBI & Co, previously Scient, followed by web developer Oyster Partners in 2005. The latter deal established the merged business as the country's #1 interactive agency. In 2006, Framfrab was acquired by LB Icon to form the current group. Subsequent acquisitions included Syrup of the US and Iven & Hillman of Germany in 2007; US-based Special Ops Media and Netrank in the UK in 2008; and Triple of Denmark and Bigmouthmedia in 2010. It strengthened its presence in the US in 2011 with the acquisition of New York social media agency Mr Youth for $40m.
By the beginning of 2011, LBi operated more or less consistently under a single global brand, having gradually phased out most of the other names inherited from past acquisitions and mergers. Mr Youth was virtually the only remaining standalone brand, abbreviated to MRY. For that year, its last as an independent company, LBi reported record revenues of €196.6m in 2011, up almost 21%, and net profit of €17.8m. That followed losses in both previous years, primarily resulting from impairment charges relating to acquisitions. In 2011, around 36% of revenues (or €70.5m) was generated in the UK and 21% in the US. In the UK, Marketing ranked it as the #2 digital agency, with digital revenues of over £78m in 2011. The Drum placed it second, and estimated the largest share of fee income to be derived from social media (25%), followed by technical work (16%), e-commerce (14%) and search optimisation (12%).
In September 2012, the group agreed to be acquired by Publicis Groupe at a value of around €416m. Publicis Groupe secured a commitment from the owners of around two-thirds of LBi's equity, and launched a public offer for the remaining shares. It had acquired more than 97% of the outstanding shares by January 2013. Shortly afterwards, Publicis announced plans to combine LBi with its existing Digitas network.
Fred Mulder was chairman at the time of the Publicis buyout. At that time, Lost Boys founder Michiel Mol controlled a stake of around 13% of the business, and there were other similarly sized stakes managed by private equity groups from the Netherlands and the UK.
Last full revision 8th January 2018
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