In the last few years, things have run fast and hot at Velocity Towers. Big growth, great clients, opening in NYC, starting a Content Performance practice, an Agency of the Year win (still bragging about that)….
As you might expect, the heat attracted interest from potential acquirers.
I won’t lie, it’s been flattering as hell.
But, truth be told, none of the approaches really excited us.
• Some were from pure financial players who wanted to ‘roll us up’ or ‘synergize’ our ‘IP’. (They had some cool ideas but didn’t feel like fellow marketers).
• Others were from the Big Groups, for whom we’d be a pimple on a distant buttock. (Super-nice people, as it happens — we’re just not big group types).
• And one or two were from total nut-cases chasing insane deals that made no sense for anyone, from any angle. They (apparently) had money but (patently) little else.
The thing is, Stan and I still have plenty of fire in the belly.
We still love what we do.
We love our talented, smart, funny (and funny-looking) people.
We love our clients and have a perverse need to see them succeed.
We (remarkably) still love each other and have enormous fun working together.
We’re huge fans of this strange beast called Velocity and want to see it fulfill its potential. To seize the opportunity that’s sitting there in front of us.
Carpe that Diem
Clearly, at that lovely intersection where B2B, content and tech overlap, the time is now.
But to make the most of that, we needed some help.
Case in point: opening the New York office was an eye-opening experience. (Our eyes were opened specifically to let the US Immigration Service, HSBC Bank and the Internal Revenue Service stick their sharp, nasty sticks into them. Then move them around. And in and out. A lot.).
This simple act of expansion took a huge amount of management time and energy, sucking away a disproportionate amount of mojo.
If growth was going to look like that, we either had to forego growth (no fun) or find some help.
Then Next 15 came along.
Next 15 is an independent digital communications group that’s listed on AIM. They have nineteen or twenty agencies, each with a clear focus, addressing an important part of the marketing ecosystem, and each steered by a great management team.
The group is run by CEO Tim Dyson – a hugely respected veteran of the marketing wars (he grew Text100, the best tech PR agency out there, into a global powerhouse; worked on major programs for clients like Cisco, IBM and Microsoft; and did things like take the group public). It’s chaired by Richard Eyre, one of the UKs’ most respected business people (ex-CEO of ITV, and Capital Radio among many, many other things – he also chairs the UK Internet Advertising Bureau).
Stan has known Tim for years (he used to compete against him when Stan ran Brodeur PR) and has always had a lot of respect for him. A super-smart, almost-suspiciously-nice person who’s motivated by the same things that motivate us: helping clients run circles around their competitors; building something special; and working with amazing people who care a lot about what they do.
In our very first meeting, Stan and I knew that ‘these are our people’. Peter Harris, the CFO was straight, honest, unassuming and funny. Subsequent meetings with Tim, Richard and the heads of a few of their agencies confirmed it: this is an ego-free zone full of smart, nice, motivated people who know their stuff.
We wanted to be a part of this.
We then entered the deal part of the deal. Stan had done this before, when Omnicom bought Brodeur. For me, it was a new experience. I’d been warned about how difficult the whole negotiation process could be. And how painful the ‘due diligence’ exercise was guaranteed to be (Peter Harris’s metaphor was, ‘We’ll come in and have the floorboards up.’ Boy, did they.)
I guess I pictured an adversarial process with lots of name-calling and lawyer-breast-beating and flouncings out of meeting rooms.
What actually happened was a systematic, friendly and pretty unemotional negotiation of the hundred-odd points to agree (from valuation issues to ‘conduct of business’ stuff and everything in-between).
Instead of an adversarial courtroom drama, I saw two teams working hard to find a place called Fair. It was actually fun to be a part of.
The Next 15 folks do their due diligence and negotiations with a small, in-house team, so they have it down to an artful science with minimal bullshit. (Thanks, Nick, Nick, Peter, Richard, Niamh and Mark).
On our side, we had a truly great team of advisors:
SI Partners, our M&A consultants, said they wanted to help find us the right home (not just maximize the price) and they did just that. They steered us from first thoughts to final signing with clarity, honesty, patience and good grace. Thank you, Joe Hine, Jack Mehigan and Tristan Rice. True professionals. You’re worth every penny of your obscene commission.
Bird & Bird, our lawyers and tax advisors, were equally professional, patient and clear. Their daily fare is my utter gobbledy-gook, but they simplified every point and explained every implication. Several times. Then went to bat for us on a zillion points. Thank you, Simon Fielder, Andrew Collins, Ella Hutson, Georgie Twigg, Colin Kendon, Zoe Feller and team. You’re great at what you do and it meant a lot to us.
Our own advisor, and chairman, Richard Bowden-Doyle has been utterly indispensable through the whole thing. He’s probably the most talented business person I’ve ever met and is 100% committed to our success. RBD has been one of our ski foursome for sixteen years, so he was already in the tent. Richard: our thank-yous are so numerous, they’ll have to be accrued.
Finally, our FD, Michelle Cook, rose to the due diligence challenge like a tennis pro going ten sets. She actually moved out of her new home to live in Airbnbs and hotels closer to work. For weeks. And she did a brilliant job without once losing her (admittedly warped) sense of humour.
This was an important event in our lives and we’re lucky to have found ourselves surrounded by such awesome professionals. No more lawyer or ‘bean counter’ jokes from me. When the beans being counted happen to be yours and the law is being applied to your own actual arse, you want guys like this on your side.
I’ll leave out the wives and friends and clients and stuff or I’m likely to burst out into grateful tears.
And I can’t even think about all the wonderful people who make Velocity what it is, who give so fucking much of themselves every day, or I’ll really embarrass myself.
Shit. Too late. I’m a mess.
So what does all this mean?
For Velocity, it means:
- The reach and resources of a strong group.
- A global presence when we need it.
- New opportunities for our people.
- A bit less pressure on Stan and I (but only a bit) so we can take our virtual foot off the brakes and grow this sucker.
For our clients, it means:
- Everything you like about Velocity (it’s business as usual but more so).
- Some cool new things we didn’t do much of before but now can really bring to the table (like programmatic media, channel marketing, PR and influencer marketing, market research, deeply technical content, ABM and experiential to name a few).
No, we aren’t going to rush at our clients, trying to force new services down their throats. That’s not how we work, not how the group works and there’s no incentive to do it. But we will be able to bring in experts to seize real opportunities to help our clients slam-dunk their goals.
Velocitoids make fun of me for, well for lots of things, but one of them is my over-use of the phrases ‘Onward and upward’ and ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!’ (mainly to end meetings that are just kind of petering out).
Well, both phrases are very much in our hearts right about now.
We can see onward and have a good idea about how to turn it into upward.
And, with Next 15 behind us, we feel far more able to damn any torpedoes and steam ahead at, if not full speed, a very nice pace indeed.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a friend of Velocity.
Thank you for being that.
We hope you’ll continue to be a friend over the course of these next, exciting chapters.
(And that you’ll tell us if you think we’re changing in ways you don’t like).
TL:DR – Velocity has sold to Next 15 and we’re really happy about it.
Now get back to work, you lazy bastards.
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