Ad tech firm AdTheorent explores sale

AdTheorent has hired investment bank Petsky Prunier to explore its strategic options, including a potential sale, sources told Digiday.

AdTheorent was founded in 2011 as a mobile ad network and currently operates as an ad-buying platform for brand advertisers that is largely run on a performance-based, managed-service operating model. Clients have included Norwegian Air, Netflix and Arby’s. It competes, in part, with the likes of Place IQ, GroundTruth, Tapad and Placed.

The company is on track to book more than $100 million in gross revenue and post a profit, sources said. Its current headcount is just over 200, which was up 18% on last year, according to LinkedIn.

“Due to AdTheorent’s continued strong growth and the market-leading position of our innovative services and capabilities, we have historically received a number of inquiries,” said AdTheorent CEO Jim Lawson in an emailed statement. “In partnership with our business advisors, we will continue to evaluate opportunities as they arise. In a fast-moving and evolving industry, we value being part of these strategic conversations, but our focus remains on our team and our clients.”

AdTheorent raised a $4 million Series A round led by Verizon Ventures in 2013. AdTheorent announced private-equity investment firm H.I.G. Growth Partners had invested in the company in 2017, but did not disclose the financial terms.

There has been a flurry of dealmaking in the ad tech space over the past couple of months.

There were 86 ad tech deals in the first three quarters of 2019, up from the 47 deals completed in the same period last year, according to advisory firm Results International, which defines a deal as any transaction where a company takes at least a 40% stake in another.

Managed-service businesses have somewhat fallen out of favor in the ad tech sector as ad buyers shifted to self-service platforms. But there are still plenty of managed-service ad tech businesses out there, many of which tend to focus on specific channels or client verticals.

“Some automatic things are still manual or at least benefit from experience and TLC [tender loving care],” said Tom Jenen, an ad-tech veteran and adviser to technology companies.

If the tech proves out to be too complicated for a self-service licensing model, or if the account team gets such good results they can charge a premium, businesses tend to shift toward the managed-service model.

“From a brand and buyer perspective, as the self-serve ecosystem gets more complex and demands more knowledge on how to fit it all together, managed service can provide a necessary bridge towards better execution,” said Ana Milicevic, principal and cofounder of management consultancy Sparrow Advisers. “Those companies that truly provide a value-add on top of the technology layer are sound businesses…but not every managed service company will fit that bill.”

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