Cirque du Soleil buys stake in Sid Lee

Someone once said that Montreal-based Sid Lee was the Cirque Du Soleil of Canadian marketing agencies. Now that’s literally true.

Cirque du Soleil, the global live event organziation, has bought a “significant minority equity stake” in Sid Lee.

Sid Lee president Jean-François Bouchard said the deal will not have any impact on day-to-day operations of the agency with the existing partners “remaining solidly in control of the company.”

Someone from Cirque will join the agency’s board, but there will be no changes to the management team.

There had been rumours that Sid Lee was for sale late last summer and into the fall. Bouchard said the agency was not for sale, but they had been looking for an investor to provide additional cash and support for its aggressive expansion plans.

Since opening an office in Amsterdam in 2008, Sid Lee has been growing fast, with additional offices opened in Paris, Toronto and Austin, Texas. While global client wins like Adidas and Dell suggest business was good for the agency, Sid Lee was looking for some additional deep-pocket security.

“The company is becoming a multinational, so having a strong partner that could support us was important,” he said.

“Our plan for now is to bring in a solid minority parent,” he said. “To have a long runway in front of us to do what we have to do.”

A financial investor is not entirely new for Sid Lee, said Bouchard, with Caisse de Depot holding a stake in the company from 2000 to 2005.

A release said the deal would “mesh the combined talents of both Quebec organizations in order to nurture innovative projects for the benefit of their respective clients and partners.”

However, Bouchard said there will be no immediate change to Sid Lee’s service offering for other clients. “Nothing new in the short term,” said Bouchard. “It could lead to some new expertise, but we are hoping to tap into their vast expertise for international markets.

“There are a lot of people that they work with that we would love to work with.”

However, things may change for Cirque, which now stands to expand the non-performance part of its business.

According to spokesperson Renée-Claude Ménard, Cirque has until now mostly focused revenue efforts on its various shows, such as the recently launched Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. Projects such as special events and audio-visual productions are often pitched to the company, but Cirque has never had teams dedicated to such projects.

“That’s the whole point behind this joint venture. Now we can create a sort of thinktank to involve creative and commercial elements. We can be a little broader than what you’d normally see with Cirque with our live shows.”

No such projects have been announced yet. The two companies are discussing opportunities, said Ménard.

Bouchard called it a “synergistic” partnership. Sid Lee will benefit from Cirque’s global expertise and reputation while Sid Lee will help build the Cirque brand even more.

The agency has been Cirque’s AOR for 10 years, but “the idea is to go even further than in the past… and it makes sense to be part of the same family to explore these ideas,” he said.

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