Wickersham Hunt Schwantner Expands Internet Abilities with Berenson Buy

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Wickersham Hunt Schwantner fortified its Internet marketing capability and tacked on $40 million in annual billings by acquiring Boston-based direct marketing firm Berenson Isham & Partners in a deal valued at $3 million.

The acquisition, which brings Wickersham's total billings to $160 million, is the firm's first. The agency plans to retain Berenson's 20 staffers, who will move into Wickersham's offices -- also in Boston -- in late January or early February after renovations are finished.

More than adding to Berenson's client and employee base, Wickersham's move builds on its goal to serve direct marketers across all media by boosting the firm's fledgling interactive capability, said Amy Hunt, Wickersham's managing partner of creative.

"The choice was to build it slowly or … unite with a Berenson Isham and really bring us into that category in a big way," Hunt said. Berenson, which opened its doors in 1971 with a focus on direct mail, has built its "measured marketing" model by investing heavily in interactive and database marketing. Wickersham specializes in multimedia direct marketing.

Berenson's past direct work includes building a direct channel for Boston Acoustics Inc. at www.bostondirect.com, and the firm also has constructed sites for the city of Boston. The agency, which holds an endorsement from IBM as an approved e-commerce solutions provider, consults its clients on better utilizing their sites as well.

"Obviously, interactive is the medium that is changing business today, and we've gone to great pains to make sure that we have an integrated model so that interactive and measured marketing aren't stove-piped off into separate business units," said Anders Ekman, who was president of Berenson prior to the merger. He will work on a combination of business development and marketing strategy for Wickersham.

Berenson represents clients across the travel, publishing and financial services industries, currently handling Club Med, Fidelity Investments and the Financial Times, among others. Former clients include the New Yorker, Sporting News, the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe.

"They've got terrific clients -- brand names that anybody would love to work with," Hunt said. "We think that the combination of the things that Berenson does very well and things that we do very well may prove beneficial to their clients and to ours."

Wickersham has no other acquisitions on the table at the moment, but won't rule out further moves, Hunt said. The firm, which has been in business since 1988, expects the Berenson buy to propel it into the ranks of the top 20 U.S. direct marketing agencies next year. Wickersham is a unit of Snyder Communications Inc., Bethesda, MD.
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