PwC sells UK media advisory arm to MediaSense

PwC sells UK media advisory arm to MediaSense
MediaSense: Sam Tomlinson, left, will report to Graham Brown

Global media advisor MediaSense has acquired PwC’s UK Marketing and Media Owner business — its first major acquisition since selling to private equity.

The move will see over 50 people from PwC joining MediaSense, including PwC partner Sam Tomlinson, who will join the MediaSense management team as chief client officer, reporting to CEO Graham Brown.

Today’s announcement marks PwC’s exit from the media advisory business, as well as a departure for its UK media lead Sam Tomlinson, who is set to depart the accountancy giant after 24 years.

Tomlinson has been PwC’s UK media lead for 15 years and established a separate division in 2017, which provides independent consultancy to major brands.

It has also become a competitor to MediaSense in recent years — PwC is currently running Unilever’s global media account review, having advised on the FMCG giant’s previous review in 2018. It has also conducted an international review for Nestlé.

PwC had decided last September to sell its seven-year-old UK Marketing and Media Owner division, with MediaSense winning out after a process that involved multiple parties expressing an interest.

MediaSense has been keen to add scale to its business since selling a majority stake to Apiary Capital in 2021.

The deal is expected to be finalised on 31 July, The Media Leader understands.

Analysis: First Accenture, now PwC joins consultancy exit from UK media

The UK consultancy market is “stuttering”, an accountancy trade journalist wrote in March, citing a stark report that sector would fail to grow for the first time since the Covid19 pandemic first hit in 2020.

That’s because major companies are slashing spend on corporate advice, a sector that had boomed to £16bn since the pandemic bounceback as the UK became a more digital society and corporations accelerated their digital transformation programmes.

But since last year, demand for consultancy has waned amid ongoing geopolitical uncertainty, a rise in inflation and interest rates, while many brands have upskilled their teams and weaned themself off needing third-party advice.

And yet, according to sources that have spoken to The Media Leader, PwC’s media and marketing division was a fast-growing part of the business.

In fact, it was quietly becoming a major competitor to MediaSense, as well as rivals such as IDComms and Ebiquity, as a provider of pitch management services. Unilever and Nestlé are among a growing number of major brands that have recently chosen PwC to manage their pitches with media agencies.

Tomlinson, meanwhile, is one of UK media’s most prominent analysts. In 2020 he led a landmark study into the murkiness of the UK’s programmatic ad market. Commissioned by Isba, PwC’s report marked  the first time anywhere in the world that advertisers had fully quantified programmatic’s end-to-end value.

So why would PwC sell?

The short answer appears to be scale — media is not big enough.

Tomlinson’s 50-person team represents a tiny part of PwC’s £5bn UK operation, headquartered in London Bridge. Now the advisory giant appears to be focused on bigger areas than media and advertising, such as the impact of artificial intelligence and sustainability.

But there’s a more fundamental question about whether media is worth the potential conflicts it may create. Whereas media was once seen as another frontier to conquer for the Big Four, these consultancy giants appear distinctly disinterested.

Accenture announced plans to shutter its media-auditing arm in 2020 as it opted instead to become a programmatic advertising provider via Interactive, its agency group that features ad agencies Droga5 and Karmarama.

Deloitte, which launched Deloitte Digital 12 years ago, has also opted to say firmly in the digital creative space. KPMG also has a tech, media and advisory service.

Meanwhile, for MediaSense, it’s been nearly three years since it sold to private equity and organic growth is not likely to give Apiary the kind of return such an owner typically demands.

Buying PwC’s media division almost doubles MediaSense’s headcount — listed as 64 in 2023 according to its latest available financial disclosure, when it reported the previous year’s revenue as £13.6m (up 13% year on year).

‘We share the same values’

Brown said: “This is an exciting development for MediaSense and an important step in our ambitious growth plans. The acquisition brings us a talented team with complementary skills, capabilities and experience, and an impressive portfolio of global clients. Uniting these two leading businesses under the MediaSense brand will further cement our position as the world’s foremost media advisory business.”

Tomlinson added: “We are very much looking forward to becoming part of MediaSense. Over a relatively short period they have become one of the preeminent and most respected operators in our field; we share the same values and have a common approach built to deliver exceptional service and value to our clients.”

MediaSense was founded by Andy Pearch and Brown in April 2009. Its specialist advisory and analytics teams aim to give brands greater productivity from their media investments and to “design more agile and effective media operating models”.

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