International Track 200

This digital marketing agency provides strategy, design and advertising services to online giants such as Google, eBay, Betfair, Expedia and YouTube.

The London company was set up in 2005 by Matt Isaacs, Andy Bonsall and Andrew Shebbeare. They had worked together for Create Services, a marketing agency that was known as Accucard before it was bought by Lloyds TSB Group in 2002. Isaacs was its chief marketing officer, Bonsall was head of customer management, and Shebbeare was head of acquisitions. A strategic review at Lloyds led to staff cuts – and gave the three the opportunity to pool their skills and experience by setting up on their own.

Essence has a number of strings to its bow, but primarily it offers clients advice on their media strategy and develops digital marketing campaigns for multiple platforms. These include advertisements on websites, mobile devices, digital outdoor displays and social media.

Essence devises strategies to hit marketing targets agreed with its clients. For example, if Google wants to achieve a certain number of downloads of its Chrome internet browser in the Czech Republic, then Essence will develop a plan to achieve this. It will then track its performance by following and analysing the client’s own data, allowing it to adjust its strategy if required. Essence says that using client data removes the potential for dispute.

The company’s big break came when it won an exclusive 18-month contract with Carphone Warehouse in 2005. This gave it the credibility to attract other large companies as clients, and a deal with eBay in 2008 paved the way for its current focus on truly international companies such as Google.

Essence’s Soho office services its European, Middle East and African operations, while its New York office – opened in 2011 and now with 25 staff – caters for clients in North America. Some of its revenue comes in the form of retainers, a percentage of a client’s media spending, and performance bonuses.

Although Essence faces competition from advertising giants such as WPP, Omnicom and Aegis Media, it says it has become one of the largest independent media companies in Europe.

In May 2011, the company branched out into marketing through social media, acquiring Punktilio, a marketing specialist, for a reported £3m. It is looking at other possible acquisitions, particularly in America, and is eyeing a move into the Asian market with an office in Singapore in the next three years.

Essence attributes its organic growth to: its focus on online marketing; its ability to adapt quickly in a fast-changing digital media landscape; and to delivering for its global clients. For example, since launching its Google Chrome campaign in March 2009, data from StatCounter, a website that monitors browser usage, show Chrome’s market share in Britain has risen from 2% to 28% – although its sister campaign in America received some bad press over bloggers being paid to publicly endorse the browser.

About 90% of the firm’s sales are generated by its 10 largest clients and about 50% come from outside the UK. Essence’s international sales have increased at an eye-watering 570% a year, from £783,000 in 2009 to £35.2m in 2011.

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Company details
ActivityDigital marketing agency
LocationCentral London
2-yr av intl sales growth pa570.19%
International sales £000s35,184
Total sales £000s74,185

If applicable:

* Supplied by company † Annualised figure