After Acquisition, ePrize Committed to Mobile Growth, Hiring

On Monday, Pleasant Ridge, MI-based digital marketing and engagement company ePrize announced it had been acquired by Greenwich, CT-based Catterton Partners. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, though ePrize CEO Matt Wise points out that the company’s backers, including Quicken Loans‘ Dan Gilbert, scored a healthy return on their investments.

“Most of ePrize’s investors were local Michiganders,” he explains. “That money is returning to the marketplace, so we should see a huge inflow of capital for local reinvestment.”

Wise calls the acquisition a great endorsement of both ePrize and the growing tech community in metro Detroit. Wise will stay on the job, adding that Catterton Partners is coming in not to take over the company’s operations, but to accelerate its financial growth. ePrize will keep its headquarters in Michigan for the foreseeable future, and may eventually relocate to downtown Detroit. “I hope ePrize will be one of many companies spun out of the Detroit tech scene,” he says.

ePrize has come a long way since it was founded 13 years ago by Xconomist Josh Linkner. What started as an online sweepstakes startup has grown into the largest interactive promotions agency in the world, providing digital marketing services for 74 of the top 100 brands with hundreds of employees in Pleasant Ridge, New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles.

ePrize functions now more as a full-service digital ad agency. It has run more than 8,500 digital campaigns for brands as diverse as the NHL, the Gap, Travelocity, Salesforce, and Kraft.   ePrize also has a technology team to develop software, manage digital infrastructure, and analyze metrics, along with a legal team that oversees compliance and prize fulfillment. (Yes, ePrize still conducts sweepstakes, though it’s a much smaller part of the business.)

I paid a visit a few weeks ago to ePrize HQ to chat with Janice Pollard, marketing and public relations manager, and Jen Todd Gray, VP of marketing and creative services. The company is literally busting out of the former brewery it’s housed in, knocking down walls as its team expands to fill the space. ePrize has a young workforce heavy in tech and creative, which makes the office environment seem part Mad Men minus the boozing and chauvinism, and part Futurama.

Gray says Wise has done an exceptional job of growing the company despite a sluggish economy. “Matt always has his finger on what’s next,” she says. ePrize snapped up Chicago-based mobile marketing agency Cellit in January in anticipation of how the growing mobile market will change digital interaction. “We believe we’re really well positioned to lead mobile engagement. It’s all about creating a fun, positive environment.”

“We’re trying to meet people where they are and predict what’s next,” Pollard adds. “We’re trying to get ahead of where brands should be.”

Despite its explosive growth, ePrize still has one significant challenge: finding talent, particularly in Michigan. The company plans to hire 30 to 40 people by the end of the year and another 50 to 100 next year. “If you’re a software engineer, particularly with skills in Objective C or Java programming, call us,” Gray says. “We’re hiring everyone from college grads to VP-level.”

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