Tech Track 100

After winning Veuve Cliquot and Moët & Chandon as customers in the past year, Essence should have plenty of bubbly to celebrate its growth.

The digital marketing agency provides strategy, design and advertising services to online giants such as Google, Expedia and Betfair. It has had a busy 12 months, launching a campaign around eBay’s first television advertisement in five years and helping Google Chrome to overtake Internet Explorer as Europe’s No1 internet browser. It has also won new customers such as Tesco Mobile, KPMG and Harper Collins.

The company grew from 130 staff to 201 in the year to July 2012, and says it is now one of Europe’s largest independent media companies.

Essence was set up in 2005 by Matt Isaacs, Andy Bonsall and Andrew Shebbeare. They had worked together for Create Services, a marketing agency and credit-card provider that was known as Accucard before it was bought by Lloyds TSB in 2002. Isaacs was its chief marketing officer, Bonsall was head of customer management, and Shebbeare was head of acquisitions. A review at Lloyds led to staff cuts – and gave the three the opportunity to set 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. Competition comes from advertising giants such as WPP, Omnicom and Aegis 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, Essence will develop a plan to achieve this. It will then monitor what is happening and adjust the strategy if required. Essence says using client data as well as its own removes the potential for dispute.

The company’s big break came when it won a 18-month contract with Carphone Warehouse in 2005. This gave it the credibility to attract other big 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 36 staff – caters for clients in North America. Its revenue comes in the form of retainers, a percentage of a client’s media spending, and performance bonuses.

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 in the next three years.

Essence attributes its growth to the following factors: its focus on online marketing; its ability to adapt quickly in a fast-changing digital media landscape; and to delivering for its global clients. About 90% of the firm’s sales come from its 10 largest clients and about 50% come from outside Britain. Essence’s sales (taken as total billings) have seen growth of 284% a year, from £3m in 2009 to £170m in 2012. Sales exluding billings for client media buying stood at £117.5m in 2012.

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Company details
ActivityDigital marketing agency
LocationCentral London
Average 3 year sales growth283.94%
Latest sales £000s*170,014

If applicable:

* supplied by company † annualised figure