By @SimonCockingRob Reid Global M&A for agencies @AdvertisingMA. Chairman @Startup_van. Advisor to digital and creative companies. Former owner @HuskiesAgency.

Your background briefly?

I specialise in growth and exit strategy for digital agencies. I head up the southern UK, Irish and Middle East markets as well as working on global clients for Advertising M&A. I also run RPR Advisory as a consultancy vehicle for the creative, tech and startup sectors. Finally I’m the chairman of The Startup Van, a new platform where companies can share their ideas with potential investors, media and customers.

What led you to where you are now?

I suppose you could say I’m a digital agency veteran having started in the game in 2000. I was co-owner of Cybercom and then Huskies before exiting the business two years ago. At that point, I began advising other agencies in London and Dublin. It went from there really.

What does growth and exit strategy for digital agencies entail?

The agency world can be a tough sector with change ever present and consolidation nearly cyclical. I work with owners on growth strategy – helping the business get on the right trajectory by focusing on market intelligence, positioning, proposition, service offering, financial metrics etc. But of course it can be difficult to deliver ongoing, year on year growth without an exit strategy to focus the mind.

What sort of exits?

Most of our M&A briefs tend to be on the sell side so representing independent agencies to drive and negotiate the best deal and terms for shareholders. Although we also work buy side representing the acquirers who tend to come from the network holding groups, private equity or increasingly the consultancy firms.

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What prompted you to move to London?

My work has been split across the Irish and UK markets for the last 10 years but I didn’t actually move here until early 2011. My view now is that London is up there with New York as the global focal point of the agency sector – and actually more so for digital – so it’s important for me to be based here.

Talk about the differences, if any, between Irish / UK and Middle East clients?

The UK is a very mature market with 50% of ad spend now digital. So over the years this maturity and a large population has led to a number of world class agencies emerging from clusters like London, Manchester and the south coast.

Ireland was slower off the mark but Dublin agencies are now beginning to compete internationally. We have an enviable geographical location, strong creative heritage and a European outlook so it makes sense that our best agencies should be looking beyond the home market. I believe the real tipping point is yet to come – an emerging culture of innovation on the back of prolonged inward investment and a successful local startup scene.

MENA is an exciting region – geopolitical turmoil aside. It’s underdeveloped both digitally and creatively yet consumer spending power is big. I would expect to see the region’s economy grow significantly on the back of major global events over the coming years including World Expo 2020 in Dubai and of course World Cup 2022 in Qatar. I would also expect this growth to impact positively on M&A activity for local agencies.

Digital marketing espouses being responsive quickly, how do you balance that with online /offline work life balance?

Look I think we’re probably all failing at this one! ‘Always on’ is nearly a prerequisite of business today and I certainly could be better at work / life balance. Although family comes first so I’m the off the grid from 6pm – 9pm, make time to do the nursery run a few times every week and take at least one full family day at the weekend. I’m on a health and fitness vibe at the moment and I travel a lot which gives me time to think better.

Tips for new digital agencies starting out?

Ok, here’s a few…

  1. Play in the right parts of the field – there is so much clutter out there so don’t try to be everything to everyone
  2. Always focus on good quality clients and try not to rely on the long tail
  3. Founders must have financial smarts – not just the CFO
  4. Never outsource knowledge – always make time for learning and education
  5. Clear roles, responsibilities and assessment as much at ownership level as employee level
  6. One of the owners must take on new business development – this is not a junior task
  7. Always future cast to stay relevant ‘today and tomorrow’
  8. Develop IP and ‘own revenue’ whenever possible
  9. Understand the new battlefields – mobile, innovation, CX, platforms
  10. Get known for a genuine culture – this is becoming increasingly intrinsic to the product and nearly even ‘in demand’

Where will the Irish agency landscape go over the next couple of years?

Again the big advantage of being based in Dublin will be the infused digital and startup culture. Agencies should go with the grain. Those that get it will organically evolve towards innovation labs & product incubators – putting them in a strong position to collaborate on clients’ product and service offerings. Talent with travel back and forth between startups and digital agencies – meaning work will become faster and more iterative.

What made you get involved as chairman of The Startup Van and what does the future of that business hold?

I was in a Dublin pub late last year when I was shown the first promo video. It immediately struck me as a fresh and engaging concept with universal appeal. So I was delighted when the founders Mark and Graham asked me to come on board and help them build value in the business. We are still only six months old but already have an impressive client list with 2016 events planned in Australia, Chicago, San Fran, London, Lisbon… the list goes on. And we’re now looking to develop other aspects of the business that will bring us beyond events to become part of the eco system that helps fund and scale startups around the world. Exciting times ahead.

What’s next for you?

Keep meeting brilliant agencies and exciting startups.

And as always… wrestle back more time for myself!


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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