Independents are global, too

In one of my early IPREX meetings in Boston circa September 2008, IPREX had 62 agencies in Europe, Asia, and North America.

"No, run the numbers again," I said to David this spring. "Surely these are not correct. Not after what we all just went through."

"David" is the UK?s David Watson, the venerable executive director of IPREX, the global network of independent PR agencies. A recount yielded the same results and confirmed his analysis. IPREX had grown and grown big.

In one of my early IPREX meetings in Boston circa September 2008, IPREX had 62 agencies in Europe, Asia, and North America. This confederation of independents had approximately 900 employees and $100 million in revenue. Respectable, for sure, but the recession was weeks away from hitting. We spent the majority of that particular meeting talking about adopting a business development strategy for coalescing partners around pitching global real estate companies. Things change fast.

Thirty days later, we were getting emails asking for payment plans for dues from members who lost double-digit revenue overnight. We adapted quickly, the nimbleness of being independent allowing us to manage costs, bring CEO-level expertise deeper down the client roster, and make difficult decisions as if our lives depended on it.

Fast forward five years later. On a pretty September day in Columbus at our fall IPREX meeting, Watson reported the network had not only grown, but doubled in size in just over four years. Today, IPREX has 77 agencies in 33 countries, including 44 in the US, that have a combined 1,500 employees and $200 million in revenue. We also expanded our reach and added partners in South America and Australia and New Zealand.

Make no mistake; it hasn't been easy for any of us. IPREX?s growth is not without casualties. Some of our partners have gone away, and we have backfilled with financially stronger partners. We hated to lose friends due to declining business, but we welcomed strong partners to the mix who are adapting to the digital and creative services that are becoming a strategic must.

Today, IPREX is tackling our next challenge - how to truly compete with multinational agencies for global business. We have the infrastructure plan, talent, and experience. We count many within our ranks as former employees of global agencies now turned entrepreneurial agency CEO. Multinationals are not likely spending a lot of time thinking about independents outside of acquisition targets. We're cool with that.

Renzi Stone is CEO and chairman of Saxum.

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