Selling isn’t, of course, a unique thought, especially these days. Here is some background and learning from the why and how I sold my advertising agency – Citrus. I had a plan and it worked.
A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Jake Jorgovan on his Working Without Pants podcast about selling an advertising agency. You can listen to Selling Your Advertising Agency here. I thought that I was particularly smart that day. And open about why and how I sold my own advertising agency. Note, I have bought and sold three agencies and have counseled a few agencies about how they should do the same.
… Oh, Quickie update. My new 58-page ebook on how to sell your advertising agency is coming out in August. its a freebie. Email me if you want to know when it hits.
Go: How To Sell Your Advertising Agency.
First, a bit of my background so you know where I was coming from. Literally.
Peter, for anyone in the audience who doesn’t know who you are and what it is that you do, can you just give us a quick overview about who you are and your background?
Sure. Today I am a business development consultant for advertising agencies. That’s today.
I started life as a commercial advertising and editorial photographer in San Francisco, woke up one day and said, “I really don’t want to take photographs for other people.” I moved back to my hometown New York, started working at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, which was a very large Mad Men-type agency. Our client list was bizarre, everything from General Mills to Proctor & Gamble, to Toyota and Nabisco. That agency was bought by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide.
I spent 16 years at Dancer and Saatchi. I worked in New York. I opened and ran the office in Minneapolis. I moved to London and worked across Europe. I ran business development in London and New York. When I came back to New York in ’94 I discovered the internet and went to work for the company that owns Conde Nast putting newspapers online. Did that for a few years, started another company called Active Buddy, which is similar in some ways to Siri as in understanding natural language. The platform was instant messaging. We were going to sell the company to Google, or Yahoo, or Microsoft. I would have had FU money. That didn’t happen, but I did get a good chunk when we sold the technology to Microsoft.
For some reason after the dot com bust, I woke up and said, “It’s time to move the family to Oregon,” and I bought an advertising agency out there called Ralston Group. We renamed it when we bought the design firm Citrus and added a couple of Nike AOR accounts. A few years later I woke up again and I said, “It’s time to sell the agency.” I could discuss the why and how’s in selling an agency if you want. I sold the agency. I now do three things in Mexico, one of which is to consult with advertising agencies around the world.
Why Did I Want To Sell My Agency?
Nice, that is an awesome and absolutely incredible story. And your headline on your website is very valid when I say, “I’m the most experienced advertising business development consultant.” As you clearly have got some years and track record in this and have done a ton of stuff with the big names. You’ve run your own agency. You’ve kind of been all around the field of things.
First of all, what was the why for you selling your agency? Why did you decide to do that versus continuing to run it like it is? Let’s start there because that a question I’m definitely curious about, and I know a lot of agency owners sometimes think about it.
Well, the why, I think it’s important to understand why you do anything. And at some point in the latter stages of owning the advertising agency, I ceased to have as much fun as I had had in the beginning. And a real catalyst for that was the 2007 – 2009 recession, which I think dramatically hurt the agency business in terms of profitability. Now let’s couple that with the growth of digital marketing where there are many, many new platforms to manage without commensurate billing, and I really lost a bit of love in the business when the business lost its level of profitability.
You have to remember that I started in the 15% commission days, and we were making bundles. I mean it was really a-go-go. There was a reason why there were mad men drinking wine and whiskey in their office and going out for long lunches and smoking cigarettes and cigars. And that really stopped in, let’s say the late 90s.
By 2009 I knew I had to reinvent my agency. I had done that a couple of times. I was going to reinvent it into a much smaller, much more hub, and spoke distributed agency staff model. And I just woke up one day and said, “You know, I just don’t want to do this again.”