Exit Tales: Stories from agency Founders

SI Partners’ Tristan Rice was joined on stage by a number of guest speakers at our latest event, co-hosted with Entourage, where our guest panel discussed the ins and outs of selling a creative business.

The panel was made up of seasoned entrepreneurs, including Chris Averill, Head of Consulting Sales and Business Development at Globant, Justin Cooke, the Vice Chair of UNICEF UK, Laurence Green, an Executive Partner at MullenLowe and Tristan Rice, Partner at SI Partners who has led a number of high profile and high value transactions across Europe.

Our guest speakers shared first hand experiences and insight on selling a creative business. Chris Averill sold his consultancy, WAE, to Argentinian tech firm, Globant, a sale advised by SI Partners. Justin Cooke sold his agency Fortune Cookie (which was subsequently renamed Possible) to WPP and has also led acquisitions. Laurence Green has sold two creative agencies, firstly Fallon to Publicis before more recently selling 101 to MullenLowe, advised by SI Partners.

Our panel of entrepreneurs and founders discussed the sale process, the highs and lows of selling an agency, the criteria acquirers’ look for and how to achieve a premium valuation in a sale.


Tristan Rice, Exit Tales, SI Partners-1


The panel also discussed communicating the transaction with the team, with Laurence stating on his sale to MullenLowe: “We chose to over-communicate” “We were helped by a smart team and we mitigated change of culture by communicating. Don’t keep your succession plan a secret. Let those people know they are being groomed for success, and let the acquirer know who your rising stars are”.

Laurence discussed how he approached the sale of 101, stating that “We drove the conversations rather than being tapped on the shoulder for a dance, which changes the dynamics.” The intricacies surrounding a deal, such as language used can impact the way the sale is viewed: “The language around ‘exit’ is weird. It’s got to be an entrance, an exciting beginning, not an end”, he continued, discussing how staff morale was maintained during the course of the transaction, adding that the founders of 101 were looking to “find a new birth for the people we love”.

Tristan touched on the current market conditions for buyers and sellers, noting that “All of the groups are buying, but what they’re buying has changed. As marketing is less siloed, the groups are buying to consolidate. Tech and management consultancies are still figuring out what they want.” He continued: “Unless you are a 200+ people business, it’s much easier for a buyer to work out where you fit if you do one thing really well. Scale is the biggest challenge, but it’s what buyers look for – scale in a discipline people want.”


Tristan leads SI Partners’ European M&A practice. He specialises in advising marcoms, media and creative businesses on a variety of transactions including trade sales and mergers, private equity investments and MBO’s. If you would like to discuss selling your creative business, please get in touch here.