Blog Culture/Agency Life

An M&A Year in Review: Lessons Learned and Success Stories

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Phil NardonePresident & Chief Executive Officer

One year ago, on December 9th, PAN publicly announced the acquisition of San Francisco-based PR firm Vantage PR – and what a year it’s been since then! We went from being a regional Boston-based PR brand to a nationwide integrated marketing & PR brand. We’ve seen so many transitions take place throughout the year, including the opening of our new San Francisco office, integrating all of our teams cross-office and going from a firm that employs seventy highly talented PR and marketing professionals to an agency that supports the growth and achievement of over one hundred employees.

While this has been an exciting time for the entire agency this transition didn’t happen overnight. We went through a very thoughtful process while choosing the perfect PR firm to acquire. The M&A game is almost like the dating game – you have a courtship period where you spend time getting to know agency leaders personally and professionally to ensure the right fit and lifelong relationship. However, no matter how much you research, speak to other professionals, plan and get to know the other party involved, there are still going to be surprises along the way during an acquisition.

Looking back at these challenges that we eventually overcame, I strongly feel that this acquisition was a successful one. However, many go through this process and don’t come out on the other end with the same sentiment. According to a recent survey from Deloitte, about 91 percent of survey respondents said they were disappointed over their M&A deal performance and that it did not meet their overall expectations. So, what’s the secret to a lasting and mutually-beneficial union?

These are my top takeaways and lessons learned:

Knowing What You Want: No agency should embark on an M&A deal if they don’t know what they are looking for. We had three specific reasons why we wanted to pursue an acquisition. First off, our client-base started asking us when we were going to be out on the west coast and that we needed to be in the valley. Our second reason was that our prospects were looking for a bi-coastal firm and we would continue to lose business if we didn’t set a goal to change our regional status. Lastly, we were seeing our employees move to the west coast and we started losing some of our best talent to the Silicon Valley.

After we found a PR firm that would satisfy our geographical demand, we immediately saw results within the first year. We have a solid west coast presence and we are now gaining new clients within this region that we would have otherwise missed out on. On top of that, we’ve had two of our Boston employees (Lauren Winer and Elizabeth Somerville) move to our San Francisco office, helping us become an even more integrated agency – not to mention experiencing an amazing PAN perk!

A People–Focused Approach: I knew going into an acquisition that I would have to be mindful of everyone involved in the process. This was especially true during the first year as I got to know Rob Adler (former SVP of Client Relations at Vantage PR and current EVP and Managing Director at PAN). As we listened to one another and learned from one another our respect grew and our relationship eventually became the cornerstone of this acquisition. We realized early on that we had to keep morale high between both Vantage PR and PAN Communications and to do this we needed to work as a team and set an example for the rest of the agency. This acquisition became all about the people and that level of mutual admiration while growing the business together.

Time for Integration: As I mentioned above, an acquisition doesn’t happen overnight, it also doesn’t happen as soon as you put the new sign on the door. You need to cultivate a relationship with your new teams so that you feel that admiration, fondness and trust for one another. However, we are PR people at the end of the day, and we want to run and get to the finish line quickly. In an M&A situation, you really do have to walk before you can run and appreciate that it’s not a race if you want the partnership to last. While it was a struggle for us transitioning to a cross-office work culture, we made it work by helping and teaching each other the tactics, technology and skills needed to make it work.

From an overall industry perspective, we have seen an exceedingly high level of M&A activity over the last 18 months. DG Law reported that 90 transactions involving PR firms have been announced since 2015, and we were one of them. Not only that, but we were one that persevered through our challenges and eventually became one agency internally known as the “PAN fam.”

The below video highlights other 2016 accomplishments including some prestigious awards that further solidify the successful year that we’ve had. I’d like to thank all of our employees, clients and supporters that have been with us, cheering us on over this past year; it has truly meant a lot.

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In our annual Brand Experience Report, we asked marketers and customers how they are using and experiencing AI to better understand how the technology is changing that relationship.