Aspen Marketing Services (US)

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Following a string of acquisitions in the late 1990s Aspen Marketing Services became one of the biggest providers of response marketing and promotional services in the US. It got even bigger in 2006 with the purchase of competitor DVC Worldwide, but was itself acquired in 2011 by larger rival Epsilon for $345m. The Aspen identity was gradually phased out during 2015 in favour of the umbrella Epsilon identity. Although Aspen traditionally handled a wide range of clients in different sectors, it was especially strong in the automotive, telecoms and financial services sectors.

The original core of Aspen was Schmidt-Cannon, a promotional services company set up in 1980 by 20-year-olds Joe Schmidt and Neil Cannon. In 1996, Schmidt-Cannon International was renamed Aspen Marketing Group and the group's founders went on a buying spree, acquiring a string of different agencies in the integrated marketing field, while re-establishing Schmidt-Cannon as an operating subsidiary under the name SCI Promotions. Key purchases included Hanig & Company and MAP Promotions & Incentives. In 1998, Aspen acquired another ten or so companies, including Creative Marketing International, a promotions agency in the automotive sector founded and led by Patrick O'Rahilly.

The following year the company raised $120m in credit to begin another stream of acquisitions, which included Hispanic agency Luna Bacardi, online business B-12, high-tech marketer Creative Source International, and M3 Marketing. In 1999, the group moved its HQ from Evergreen, Colorado to Los Angeles, in order to get closer to the marketing mainstream. Neal Vitale, former Petersen Publishing president, became President & CEO of Aspen in 1999 but returned to the publishing industry in 2001.

During 2002 the group was hit hard by the economic downturn, as well as internal management problems. Later that year founder Neil Cannon and CEO Thomas Breslin both left the business. Patrick O'Rahilly, who had remained with the company as president of Aspen Direct, took over the top role and began a complete overhaul of the group, closing its New York office and merging its four separate divisions of Aspen Direct, Aspen Promotion, Aspen Identity and Aspen Interactive into a single Aspen Marketing Services business, whose HQ relocated from California to Aspen Direct's base in Chicago. At the same time several units were sold, including MAP and Schmidt-Cannon. O'Rahilly continued to develop the range of services offered by the group with a series of further acquisitions. In 2006, the group acquired the US operations of DVC Worldwide, which rebranded under the Aspen name. Other purchases included the Townsend Agency and NewGen in 2007 and Hispanic marketer Experiencia (now Aspen Latino) in 2008.

The group was owned for several years by private equity fund KRG Capital Partners. Following completion of its takeover by Epsilon in 2011, Aspen absorbed the larger company's own agency/creative services unit, previously known as Purple@Epsilon. In 2015, following O'Rahilly's retirement, the Aspen business was integrated more closley into Epsilon under the management of former chief client officer Cathy Lang.

Last full revision 2nd February 2018


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