Big Partnership targets expansion in England and digital as £11m MBO announced

Scotland's The Big Partnership, the UK's largest PR firm outside of London, says it will continue its digital expansion and look at further opportunities south of the border as it goes public with a management buy-out that took place in 2014.

The firm, which had fee income of £7.9m in 2014, making it once again the biggest non-London agency, gained coverage across Scottish and UK media yesterday with news of the MBO, which actually took place in summer 2014.

Neil Gibson, who founded the firm alongside Alex Barr in 2000, said it had delayed making any public announcement of the MBO in part because as a privately held firm, it was not obliged to until it filed accounts for the year to May 2015 at Companies House last week.

"It has been very much business as usual, and so we just wanted to let the new board have some time to settle in first," he said.

Gibson and Barr – who previously each owned 40 per cent stakes in the business reportedly worth £4m each – remain shareholders and will stay involved in the business until at least 2020, Gibson said, also saying he had been keen to emphasise to staff that this was a "phased transition".

Ownership of the majority of the business was passed to six board directors, namely:

  • Andrew Baird, head of the Edinburgh office, who joined in 2012 having been head of comms for the Scottish Government
  • Allan Barr, head of digital, who joined the business in 2007
  • Bryan Garvie, who has been with the firm for more than 10 years
  • Graham Leitch, finance director since 2006
  • Sharon Mars, who joined in 2009
  • Zoe Ogilvie, who joined the business in 2002 and is a longstanding shareholder

In 2012, the firm opened its Liverpool office, its first base south of the border, and Gibson said that under the new structure "a key focus would be to expand more south of the border", although he said he did not know what form that would take. The Liverpool office currently employs six staff.

He also said that the firm had "invested quite heavily in digital in the past couple of years, and our goal is to continue that".

In addition to the Edinburgh and Liverpool offices and Glasgow HQ, the firm works with oil and energy clients including some international work from its Aberdeen office, and has a design studio in a purpose-built facility in Dunfermline.

Gibson said that the MBO had also meant a number of existing staff received payouts under an enterprise management incentive scheme created 11 years ago, and that the firm was looking to create another such scheme under the new ownership.

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