Letter from NY: To sell or not to sell?
by Matthew Bull (@StixBull) Last week, we were made an outrageous offer to sell our agency.
We are having to think long and hard about this because it will have a massive effect on our futures — the people of The Bull WH, our clients and the industry at large.
So I have done a parallel forecast: what happens if we sell, and what happens if we don’t sell.
We retain complete control of our company and its philosophies. Meaning we can decide who we want to work with, the kind of work we want to do without the pressure of unrealistic financial reporting, and the kind of furniture we want the agency to have.
We can invest the money we make into the agency and its people — this includes putting money into work we believe in that our clients can’t afford, inspirational training, the most exciting new equipment, new ventures and, of course, wonderful adventures into the unknown. Or, as others call them, parties.
We have fully committed people driven to building a long-lasting company that one day, perhaps, their children can work at. As opposed to people committed to maximising short-term profits to ensure they receive a large earn-out.
We can say what we like about the state of the industry and how much we loathe the fact that it is, by and large, controlled by people who have no interest in it but only have an interest in how much money they make out of it.
We can give bonuses and increases to people, even though we only made a 16% margin and are forecast to only make a 19% margin next year.
Most importantly, we don’t have to report to someone who knows how to add but can’t plus anything.
We’ll be rich beyond our wildest dreams.
Even though we’ll be miserable for the next five years as we pinch and punch every single dime we can into the company, we’re getting lots and lots and lots of money.
We’ll spend approximately 40% of our working months preparing reports and on conference calls with the company’s new owners, discussing our financial performance and devising ways of increasing the margin. Because that, at the end of the day, is all that matters. Rich, rich, rich.
We won’t be able to talk to the press without permission from the chief liason officer at our new owners, so we won’t be able to tell the world we think clients are being manipulated and ripped off by large conglomerates who are charging them for people who don’t work on their business but rock up at meetings. Especially pitch meetings. However, we will get to go to those meetings driven in the back of a limo having just flown first class from the city we’ve decided to spend the summer in.
We will be able to invest more into our website, stating our beliefs and philosophies, although we will also have to invest more time into consoling our people who are furious with us because we are not actually abiding by those principles because we can no longer spend money on developing our product or company because we really need to increase the margin. Because it’s the right thing to do. After all, we’re running a bloody business, not an art studio, dammit.
We will definitely be going to Cannes this year and so will our chief financial officer because, well, he’s the reason we’re there, isn’t he? Oh, and sea-facing rooms in the Carlton is a shoo-in thanks to the huge discount we’re getting because we’re now owned by a huge multinational financial conglomerate. (No, we haven’t sold to the Cannes Awards itself.)
Happily, we’ll be redecorating the agency as we move into our new midtown offices. It’s going to be really eclectic as we’ve a choice of four collections to choose from — all previously owned by other agencies within our powerful multinational group.
We will have to take a bath after every client presentation in the knowledge that we are selling them work we know they’ll buy but we don’t know will work. However, it will be a bubble bath and there will be a glass of champagne alongside it.
This is so hard to decide. On the one hand, we’ll have f**k you money. On the other hand, we’ll never be able to tell anyone to f**k off ever again.
Your advice would be welcome.
Matthew Bull (@StixBull) is a partner at The Bull-White House in New York. Before that, he served as chief creative officer/chairman of Lowe & Partners/Lowe Bull and chief creative officer at Lowe Worldwide. Matthew contributes the regular “Letter from New York” column to MarkLives.
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