Cirque du Soleil is taking its business beyond the big top – and into the world of advertising.
The Canadian company known for its lavish live shows that modernized the very idea of circus entertainment, announced on Friday that it has taken "a significant minority equity stake" in advertising agency Sid Lee. Cirque du Soleil has been a client of the Montreal-based firm for more than 10 years, and Sid Lee is its agency of record.
The Canadian-owned Sid Lee has been aggressively expanding in recent years, opening offices in the United States and Europe, and the capital raised from the Cirque investment will provide it with the flexibility to expand further, president and senior partner Jean-François Bouchard said in an interview. It will also create a new revenue opportunity for Cirque du Soleil, which is looking to branch out beyond live entertainment. The two companies will now create a joint venture – which does not yet have a name – to explore creative projects for other brands.
"Every now and then we get approached by many companies or individuals that knock on our door and say, 'we would like you to imagine a creative experience for us,'" said Cirque du Soleil spokeswoman Renée-Claude Ménard. "We do, often enough, special events. We have delved into imagining some bars or some lounges in Vegas."
As an example, Ms. Ménard points to the Revolution lounge that Cirque du Soleil created for the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas. It was the first time the entertainment company had branched out into designing a nightlife attraction – and although that was built as a companion to its own Beatles-themed "Love" show in 2006, future projects could be done for clients that are not related to the Cirque brand, she said.
"We don't have an architecture department here, whereas with Sid Lee [which does,]we could go a little further. It could be a retail space that we imagine a little further, for example."
For Sid Lee, having Cirque du Soleil as a client has helped it gain an international footprint and recognition. The agency is also in charge of most of the creative work for adidas AG around the world. Almost a year ago, it won a large piece of computer giant Dell Inc.'s marketing business, taking over consumer advertising for the brand. It followed up the account win by opening an office in Austin, Tex., where Dell is based. Its other major clients include the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), Danone, Vidéotron, and Sobeys/IGA.
The agency opened offices in Toronto in 2010, Paris in 2009, and Amsterdam in 2008. Mr. Bouchard said the shop will be exploring further growth in the coming year, with the possibility of opening another location in the U.S.
"We're growing internationally, and we're slowly but surely becoming a small multinational," he said. "[Cirque]now have 5,000 employees deployed worldwide. They've got a lot of experience managing international growth and managing creative resources spread out amongst diverse geographies. It's expertise that's very valuable for us."
Beyond the joint venture, Cirque du Soleil chief executive officer Daniel Lamarre and chief financial officer Robert Blain will each take a seat on the board at Sid Lee, but the investment by Cirque du Soleil will not change the day-to-day operations of the agency.
Sid Lee has had investors in the past – Quebec's Caisse de dépôt had an investment with the firm between 2000 and 2005.
Since both are private companies, the precise terms of Cirque du Soleil's stake were not disclosed.
Sid Lee has begun doing more work in South America and Asia as well, but said its immediate focus for expansion will be in the U.S., a market Cirque du Soleil knows well. The agency now has roughly 600 employees.
"The relationship we have with Cirque goes beyond the classical role that an [agency of record]plays," Mr. Bouchard said. "We wanted a clear runway for the next five to 10 years, that would be aligned with where we want to go internationally and where we want to go in terms of further developing our creative expertise and disciplines."