Brand Networks Nabs $68 Million in First Funding Round

More dollars pouring into social ad software sector

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Social media marketing services firm Brand Networks has received a whopping $68 million in funding from New York-based AEA Investors. To put that number into perspective, competitor—and much more well known—Vitrue garnered an initial funding round that equaled $3.8 million and followed it up with rounds of $10 million and $17 million before Oracle snatched it up for $300 million.

What's more, it's the first time that the seven-year-old Brand Networks has received money from a third party, as CEO Jamie Tedford—a self-described "ad agency refugee"—launched Brand Networks in 2006 after leaving Arnold Worldwide.

"I thought it was a great time to bootstrap a company," he told Adweek. "It was a lot of slow growth at first. But in the last two years, we've really hit that hockey-stick pattern. We've grown to 135 employees."

Tedford plans to use the cash to reinvest in software products, expand offices in the United States and market to potential customers across verticals globally.

Since 2011, his Boston-based firm has attracted American Express and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, among other brand clients, while opening offices in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. Brand Networks can definitely thank Facebook for much of that growth, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg opened up its API to developers in 2010 and effectively began the social platform's ascent as a marketing vehicle.

At any rate, AEA board member Kurt Holstein explained why this business—out of a herd of alike companies—drew such an eye-opening dollar figure. Interestingly, his 45-year-old private equity firm doesn't have much of a history when it comes to putting big money into tech. And that fact seems to put Holstein front-and-center in this play, as he has had executive positions on the agency and brand side of things, helping lead digital shop Rosetta and Procter & Gamble during his 31-year career.

"The world doesn't need another self-service-only [software-as-service] vendor for social marketing," he said in a statement. "We've spent more than a year looking for the right technology-enabled marketing platform to invest behind. We believe Brand Networks has what it takes to create a new standard within the crowded social marketing ecosystem: a powerful combination of best-of-breed software and client-focused services that enable large companies to benefit from social marketing at scale."

To part of Holstein's point, Brand Networks today is also announcing a products suite called Social Marketing Stack, which focuses on paid and earned media tools for Facebook and Twitter while including Tumblr content-generation capabilities as well.

"We understand the social organization," Tedford said. "I come from the agency world and have worked with a lot of chief marketing officers in that former life. When we look at their enterprise, we think of our offering from the CMO to the store manager. We offer a highly localized approach to social media."

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.