Founded in 2009 by husband and wife duo Tom and Alexa Ellis, Swarm is an Atlanta-based full-service digital performance marketing agency delivering design, strategy, marketing, and technology services to a diverse client roster. Recognized by the Atlanta Business Chronicle as one of Atlanta’s 25 largest marketing firms and 20 best small businesses to work for, Swarm has deep roots in Georgia but serves national clients across industries including e-commerce, home services, real estate, retail, and B2B services. With a focus on ROI-generating strategy and execution, the Swarm team is obsessed with getting strategically grounded results for their clients – and they’re really, really good at it.

Growing Fast & Ready To Scale

For years, Swarm had been growing fast. Alexa and Tom were busy building Swarm’s foundation for scaling in terms of organizational structure, management support, and services areas. They knew that their agency had a ton of growth ahead of it and were ready to bring in a business partner to provide additional expertise on continued growth strategies and scaling.

They partnered with us at Barney to get cash in the bank for Swarm’s massive value and find the right business partner to support their agency’s limitless potential. Alexa and Tom had seen other agencies sell for under value and go on to crash and burn after the sale – and they didn’t want Swarm to be next. With Barney’s deep understanding of the marketing and digital agency space, a long list of successful agency sales behind us, and a large pool of ready and willing buyers across the country, they knew we were the right M&A firm to find their dream partner.

A Client-First, Results-Driven Agency

Alexa and Tom had been building a client-first results-driven agency for years, and it showed. We were impressed with their strategy-based approach, transparent reporting, strong client relationships with extremely low turnover, highly efficient operating processes, seasoned management team excited to stay on after the transition, and consistent focus on ROI which built long-standing relationships with their clients.

With over 80% of their revenue coming from retainer contracts, an average client spend of over $140k a year, 28% revenue growth in 2020 and 37% revenue growth in the first quarter of 2021, Swarm was a dream for a buyer looking for a highly profitable, highly scalable agency.

A Strong Foundation To Grow

Thriving through the pandemic, Swarm hit revenue goals, brought on new clients, hired over a dozen new people, and had their most profitable quarter yet as their team successfully worked remotely. With their sales pipeline the strongest it had ever been, there were plenty of opportunities for significant growth with new and current amazing clients.

Swarm’s value proposition of always producing a positive ROI kept their clients renewing their contracts year after year. With notable clients including Aaron’s, LexisNexis, Atlanta Community Food Bank, Rollins, and Maid Brigade, they had a strong foundation of current clients and plenty of space to grow within and outside of them. Some clients had been with them for as long as eleven years and many of their new clients were ones where they had worked with one of the stakeholders at a past company.

But their growth potential wasn’t limited to cross-selling their existing client base or working with new clients. Other opportunities included acquiring other agencies with diversified service area expertise and clients, improving efficiency, implementing an outbound business development strategy, and expanding current services to include media, analytics, strategy/consulting, CRM and emerging technology.

A unique, profitable agency that’s amazing at what they do with a roster of happy returning clients, endless growth potential, and a solid reputation for delivering results? Yeah, we can sell that.

Finding A Strategic Business Partner

Alexa and Tom were looking for a strategic partner to provide additional expertise on continued growth strategies and scaling. They knew the sky was the limit for Swarm, and they wanted a well resourced business partner to grow their agency to its potential. And if the buyer had shared values as well as a closely aligned culture and team? They would be ready to sign on the dotted line.

We founded Barney because we learned the hard way that selling your agency the old school way sucked all the joy out of…well, everything. There wasn’t a simple, painless way to find a perfect-fit buyer who understood the value of a digital agency, was ready to pay for it, and wouldn’t wreck your life’s work after it was all said and done.

We knew there had to be a better way…so we made it ourselves, and became the largest acquisition firm for agencies in the US. We started the selling process for Swarm by learning their business inside and out. Once we understood what made them special, we valued the agency and put together amazing marketing materials to help potential buyers see the Swarm magic. Then, it was time to connect with high-potential strategic buyers in our vast network of buyer relationships to find the perfect partner.

Swarm’s Perfect Fit

Known for using data science and creativity with speed, value, and innovation to help brands perform, SCS was a perfect fit from the start. Founded in 2016 through a merger of Schiefer Media, ChopShop, and Fuel, SCS is a brand transformation agency that leverages marketing intelligence to create measurable results. With a shared focus on getting ROI for clients and sustaining a supportive, accountable culture that gives everyone the ability to set goals and grow, SCS and Swarm were a dream match.

SCS’ client roster includes notable national favorites like Discovery Networks, John Deere, Vans, and Warner Bros. With their expertise in growth strategies and scaling, they would be able to support Swarm’s enormous growth potential just like Tom and Alexa wanted.

SCS’ owners were attracted to Swarm’s commitment to employees and clients as well as its strength in digital, media and direct-to-consumer focus. Alexa and Tom loved the culture alignment, team fit, and SCS’ ability to add value to Swarm and support their expansion of best-in-class creative, analytics, and strategy.

“With deep roots in Georgia, Swarm agency serves clients in any industry across the nation, providing a full suite of marketing services. SCS is a brand transformation agency with loyal clients and employees. The creative deal structure allows SCS expand its client base, while Swarm’s owners can continue to utilize their talents in the industry.”

Esther Townell, Barney team

A Happy Ending In Less Than 90 Days

In less than 90 days from start to finish, papers were signed, money was exchanged, and post-transaction requirements and responsibilities were all in place.

SCS walked away with additional strength in digital and media, an amazing team of seasoned experts, and a strong foundation of long, profitable client relationships to build on. Under the SCS brand name, Swarm now has the support they need to realize their unlimited potential as part of an integrated digital, media, creative and marketing consultancy offering solutions at scale for brands. Tom and Alexa both ended up joining the new SCS as Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Operating Officer, respectively.

Buying and selling digital agencies for entrepreneurs is what we do all day long at Barney, and we specialize in finding the perfect fit financially, strategically, and culturally. So you never have to watch the new owners of your agency burn it to the ground, and you get to see your agency (and its people) thrive for years to come. Now that’s what we call a happy ending.

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