Remaining lean, nimble, and flexible is top agency concern

Over the past week, the PR industry trade press has been abuzz with the news that two well-known and respected firms have bought themselves back from their parent.

Over the last week, the PR industry trade press has been abuzz with the news that two well-known and respected firms have bought themselves back from their parent.  The UK's Freud Communications has apparently bought a majority interest from its former owners at Publicis. MWW announced just last week that it had completed its repurchase in whole from its corporate parent IPG.  Many industry insiders have asked why? It was interesting to read that MWW's move was based on a desire to be more entrepreneurial and to focus on long-term growth.

I guess this news was not terribly surprising.  We have found that clients are more and more focused on working with firms that bring a high level of specific expertise in a particular area‚Ķa much higher priority than looking for firms with dozens of offices and many dots on the map.  We know that clients want to partner with firms that are lean, nimble and flexible, with senior talent directly involved in the day-to-day work.  Becoming independent allows firms to pay greater attention to solving problems rather than managing internal teams and reporting up a complex food command chain.

What are we to make of these moves?  Is this a trend?  Will we be seeing more of these types of buybacks in the months to come? 

I certainly understand the desire to be fiercely entrepreneurial and to be in control of one's own future growth.  For years, I resisted takeover overtures from some of the largest advertising and PR organizations in no small part because I was worried about the effects of assimilation and integration into these larger entities.  At Sloane & Company, we've built our business on a very strong culture of client service because we believe that extraordinary client service is the key to our success.  We are a relatively small shop and for years, I worried that our culture would be vaporized if we were to sell the business to one of these large, multinational communications firms and were forced to integrate into a far larger organization.

So this was my state of mind until I entered serious discussions with Miles Nadal at publicly-traded MDC Partners.  Miles told me that we would keep our name and brand; that we would be the drivers of our growth strategy;  that we would pick and choose our clients and retain full operating control of our business; and, that we would retain significant equity ownership that kept our entrepreneurial juices flowing.  MDC would be there to support us and invest in us, if we needed the capital.   This was what I had been waiting hear. In April, we sold a majority stake in our firm to MDC. 

How's it going so far?  We are running the firm just as before, making decisions about investment, personnel, client service and growth.  With a big chunk of equity still in our hands, we remain entrepreneurs, focusing on what is right for the long term future of the business. While it's still early in our partnership with MDC, we have been extremely happy with the arrangement. 

Elliot Sloane is founder and CEO of Sloane & Company.

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