Jul 11

Let the seller beware

Abby Ellin’s article in yesterday’s Times re-reminded me why I love owning an independent public relations firm.Regret

Her article, entitled “After Selling the Company, Remorse” profiles a number of entrepreneurs who, having sold their companies, rued their lives reporting to parent companies.

The public relations world is littered with the debris of acquisitions gone bad. I know many, many erstwhile entrepreneurs who tell riveting, post-acquisition horror stories.

Don’t get me wrong: the buyer isn’t always to blame. Most mergers and acquisitions fail because of culture clashes. The other obvious problem occurs when the former entrepreneur finds himself shackled to new and strange rules and regulations. And, hey, after years of being the boss, it’s tough to take orders.

I’m hard pressed to think of one truly successful acquisition in the PR world. Sure, some are still in effect, years after the transaction. But, I can’t think of a single ‘seller’ whose image and reputation has improved as a result of a parent company’s acquisition. The latter like to ‘sweeten’ the acquisition talks by enumerating the various cross-selling opportunities within the holding company structure. But, when I speak with friends who have sold to the WPPs, Omnicoms and Interpublics, I hear the exact opposite. In fact, I’ve been told that some firms within holding companies have become arch enemies.

So, while I’ve learned to never say never, I continue to resist the notion of Peppercom one day belonging to someone else. I know Pepper, wherever she is, feels the same way.

May 29

Synarchy sounds like anarchy to me

Those legendary ‘unnamed sources’ that journalists love to quote say WPP may name its specially created,Stress
Dell-exclusive agency Synarchy. Anarchy is more like it.

The agency, code named DaVinci, won all of Dell’s estimated $100 million in annual revenue last December. At the time. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell said DaVinci would have 1,000 employees in place by March 1. They would be culled from the holding company’s various units and constitute a ‘best and brightest’ team for Dell.

Well, guess what? WPP/DaVinci is 400 employees short and two months late. Dell’s spokesperson says it’s no big deal and WPP says it’s looking for quality, not quantity. Yeah right. Another one of those unnamed sources, a recruiter, summed up the DaVinci/Synarchy opportunity best: ‘Lack of a culture, lack of variety, lack of a career path. And then on top of all that, this specific client.’ Talk about lose-lose-lose.

There’s no way a truly talented agency person would work for DaVinci/Synarchy/Anarchy. Agency work is all about variety. One works for a professional services client in the morning, a consumer goods company at lunch and a Fortune 500 organization in the late afternoon. One has a crisis. Another has become an also ran. A third aspires to become a more socially responsible outfit. Every day is fresh and new.

Imagine being an agency guy and living, eating and breathing nothing but Dell all day long. Every single day. Ugh. Mix in the reality that clients come and clients go, and one has all the ingredients for a dead end career move.

I can’t speak for the 600 Synarchians (Synarchites?) already in place, but I’d strongly advise the 400 other applicants to think long and hard before signing up. This particular DaVinci is anything but a work of art.