Business Growth Fund gets in the Zone with £6M investment

BGF has taken a minority stake in Zone which also has operations in Bristol, Berlin and Köln and employs over 180 staff across its four offices. The agency uses its industry-leading blend of content and technology to help brands communicate in a digital world.

BGF’s £6m growth capital investment will support the company in making a number of UK and European acquisitions, a number of which have already been identified.

Zone’s clients include Coca-Cola, Barratt Homes, Tesco and BT. The company has worked on high profile campaigns including Coca Cola’s Share A Coke, Tesco Eat Happy initiative and the launch of BT Sport.

Voted by marketing industry experts The Drum as 2014’s Independent Agency of the Year, Zone was founded in 2000 by CEO, James Freedman.

A quarter of Zone’s team are editorial experts with strong journalistic backgrounds, and blending these skills of storytelling with technical expertise allows differentiates them from other agencies and enables them to develop digital strategies and products for some of the world’s best organisations. They offer a range of services, including campaign management; designing and building user-centred websites; social media management; CRM; and content creation from videos to blogs to games.

In 1992 James and his wife Anna Kissin, Zone’s Finance Director, set up the first football club-affiliated magazine in the UK for Manchester United from their home using desktop publishing software. The magazine grew rapidly and by 1995 they were selling 160,000 copies per month. In 1999 the business was sold to Future Publishing and in 2000 Zone was formed with James recognising an opportunity to combine his editorial and content experience with the emergence of new digital marketing channels through the growth of the internet.

Zone has grown revenues consistently over the past 5 years organically and through acquisition, and is forecasting turnover of £17m in 2015.

At the same time as BGF’s investment, Zone has also appointed Jim Kelly as Non-Executive Director. Kelly, a founder of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, has huge experience as an entrepreneur building enduring agency brands as well as more recently working with digital start-ups. He stepped down from his role as Dentsu UK Chairman in 2013 and has since been working as an independent consultant to digital, advertising and marketing services agencies.

To date, BGF has invested in a number of companies in the UK’s wider technology, media and marketing service sectors including Unruly Media, Abacus e-Media, Palmer Hargreaves and The Exchange Lab.

James Freedman, Executive Chairman of Zone said: “The UK’s digital sector is one of the country’s economic success stories. Working with marketing-leading clients who are as ambitious as us, we are helping drive that story.

“Zone is always committed to delivering a world-class digital service. In today’s fast-changing world that means always developing our capabilities. In the past we’ve made acquisitions through cash-flow. With this new investment we’ll be able to further build our offering.”