Stuart Skinner Unveils Vision for The PHA Group: “We are a growing business with big ambitions”

5 months ago

Last year The PHA Group announced the acquisition of MCG – signalling the agency’s further growth in the north.

And in an insightful Q&A, Stuart Skinner, Group Managing Director of The PHA Group, told Agency Hackers News all about the vision following the huge strategic move. He went into detail about the thoughtful integration of the team, emphasising the holistic approach saying: “Everyone in the agency has to play their part in blending the new elements.”

Stuart also shed some light on the exciting opportunities for the business in the north of England – from complementary client portfolios to the prospect of future acquisitions.

This strategic move not only shows The PHA Group’s commitment to expanding its regional presence but also to creating a synergistic work environment that leverages the strengths of both teams to deliver superior service offerings.

How are you planning to blend MCG’s team into The PHA Group?

We have a full immersion programme for the MCG team, and a lot of it will be listening and learning on both sides. With acquisitions to date, our approach has been to create a complete, integrated offering that is more than the sum of its parts and for that to happen, everyone in the agency has to play their part in blending the new elements effectively.

  • Merging expertise and cultures takes time and we will pace the integration properly, making time for personal connections to form, too. MCG joined us just before last year’s Christmas party, so that was good timing for some ice breaking in a more relaxed setting and we have a full calendar of social events across our four offices planned for this year.

What are you most excited about in the North?

The northern talent pool runs very deep and is powering exciting growth in the creative industries, with a consistent flow of outstanding work emerging from the region over the last few years. We are passionate about being part of that movement and also the opportunity to work with innovative, fast growing local businesses, as well as national and regionally networked brands who need local know how as well as national connections.

  • There is also a strong northern business community, with a sense of collaboration and willingness to help each other, and to contribute to local events and partnerships, which isn’t necessarily the case in London – we’re very keen to play our part and look forward to the opportunities ahead.

How will MCG’s clients fit into the PHA mix?

MCG brings some excellent clients, particularly consumer brands in the FMCG (Pink Lady apples) and domestic cleaning (Vileda, Marigold) spaces, as well as experience with creative campaigns and influencers which will complement PHA’s existing portfolio. Initially, we have ensured that those clients receive continuity of service and personnel, and opened conversations around where wider group services, such as PPC, SEO or paid social, for instance, may add value.

  • We want to offer the best of both worlds, offering the personal touch and local knowledge couples with a powerful network of services and sector experience to plug in where appropriate.

Are there more acquisitions on the horizon? Maybe in other parts of the UK?

We are a growing business with big ambitions so it’s possible we’ll make another acquisition in 2024. If that were to happen, it would be service rather than location led, but we’ll look for the added value of bolstering our regional presence at the same time, if possible.

  • In general, the UK market is critical for us and we’ll continue to invest in people, processes and innovative services where we can see the opportunity.

Merging two companies can be tricky. How are you handling the different work cultures?

A lot of the work is done in the due diligence process of identifying and auditing targets, to ensure there is a firm foundation for success – perhaps the most important aspect of market analysis is establishing a cultural synergy, more so even than commercial performance, so when the transaction does complete, you’re not fighting to blend two very different identities.

  • Even so, there are always differences and many that become apparently only once you start working together, so the integration of cultures is done gradually, with proper respect for differences and time for open discussions and questioning. It’s critical that we make our approach very clear and don’t expect new employees to read between the lines.

Will there be new faces in the leadership team?

MCG will merge with our PHA North team, which will continue to be led by Hannah Craig and now span two locations in Manchester and Leeds.

  • We are lucky in that we have acquired some brilliant people with the MCG brand, including three Senior Account Directors, who are leaders in their own right and will be given opportunities to grow further now as part of the group.

Any strategies for attracting new clients now that MCG is on board?

Definitely – we’ve acquired some different skills and sector experience, particularly in creative campaigning and influencer work, and in sectors such as FMCG, fashion and domestic brands. So marrying that with what already exists will allow us to broaden the range of new business we target and offer people in those sectors a different option.

  • We are also investing in networking and events in the north, are committed to forging new partnerships and contributing regularly to the local business community which we hope will bring opportunities back our way, too.

You can read more about the acquisition here.

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