New ownership takes Jan Kelley fully independent

WPP no longer has a stake in the agency, which is focused on collaboration, digital evolution and client growth.

Jan Kelley’s leadership team, from left to right: Josiah Shelley, Chantel Broten, Geoff Redwood and Shannon Ballard.

Jan Kelley’s new ownership has bought WPP’s stake in the agency as it continues to grow its digital capabilities and client base.

In February, the agency was bought from former co-owners Jim Letwin and Ken Nicholson by a group comprised of president and CEO Chantel Broten; VP of customer innovation Shannon Ballard; creative director Geoff Redwood; and VP of digital strategy Josiah Shelley. Both Letwin and Nicholson continue to advise the new ownership group, Broten says.

But the new ownership group has also finalized reacquiring the 22% minority stake in the agency held by WPP, making the shop fully independent (Kelley Advertising was acquired by WPP’s Grey in the late 1980s, and the holding company retained a stake when the agency merged with JAN Marketing in 2001).

Broten, who took over as CEO last year, says being fully independent fits with how the marketing world has changed, where “collaboration is the new norm.”

“We have a robust and diverse team of subject matter experts and specialists who work at our agency,” she says. “As a result, we always talk about providing end-to-end support to clients. But in order to deliver that in a fragmented world, I believe agencies do need to rely on partners who are also open to collaboration. We have a core team at the agency who are working closely with clients who know their business as well as they do, and then we bring in partners when it makes sense.”

Recent years have seen Jan Kelley invest heavily in its digital and performance marketing capabilities for both B2C and B2B clients (the latter of which has long been the agency’s specialty), including building new digital products focused on helping them deliver ROI. One example of that is lead-generation tool LeadHatch; Ballard says similar tools that focus on lead generation through website visits have been developed in the U.S. but – given how important those capabilities are for B2B clients – Jan Kelley saw an opportunity to develop a more cost-effective tool that could still deliver results for the Canadian market.

Broten says the agency is “very focused” on growth with clients both in and outside of Canada, focusing on “some key verticals” to increase its work for U.S.-based clients and on growing the North American presence for global brands. She says its focus on combining “human insights” with technological capabilities is in demand from both B2B and B2C clients in many markets.

“In the performance space, we see both kinds of clients looking for partners that can evolve with them as they undergo digital transformation of their sales and marketing,” she says. “We’ve become an extension of their team to really help them collect data, make smart decisions, and continually optimize their programs.”