The Highs and Lows of Acquiring Other Agencies

by | Jul 7, 2020

Anton Jerges is the CEO of Collider, an agency made up of just over 30 employees as of this year (2020), with a £11mil turnover. Collider work with clients from a ‘multitude of sectors; from oil and gas to charities’. They also work within a range of channels, from ‘strategy through to SEO, PPC, live experience and communications’.

Collider was set up in 2003 and started as a ‘boutique agency in the Surrey hills’. Anton describes how having owned agencies before he had ‘been through the experience of a rapidly growing agency and seen the pitfalls of that route’. ‘We initially wanted to concentrate on being a creative shop that could offer solutions across a broad range of sectors to bigger clients’.

In 2011, after 8 years, Anton realised that his agency ‘needed to be fishing in a bigger pool for talent, and the only way [they] could do that would be opening up a small shop in London’. He then ‘ran both the Surrey and the London office over a six-month period, and over that short time realised just what the difference was’.

During the move to London, Anton explained that ‘only 3/15 people wanted to move with the company’. He also suggested they took this ‘opportunity to reassess their client base’. He explains that they ‘sold a small part of the business which gave [them] capital to start looking at growth. It gave [them] a deal maker on the board and some commercial know-how’.

In 2013, Collider made the first acquisition in an attempt to ‘even out the peaks and troughs of income’.

When searching for an agency to acquire to solve this problem, they ‘made an offer to a firm in Brighton, but unfortunately didn’t get it’. Then, instead started looking at this company’s competitors. ‘We ended up buying a small but aggressive agency and bringing them on board’.

When asked about brokers, Anton suggests, ‘I do this all myself. I’m in touch with a few brokers, but I find its more about being out there. If you know what you want you can go out there and get it.’

‘With the first acquisition, we realised we would spend more on the fees for the legal and financial due diligence, than we would on any potential liabilities. So, we bought the trade and assets of the business, but did not buy the shares’.

When asked about the integration of clients when taking over an agency, Anton suggests he has always had a ’90-day period with clients to make them feel as if nothing has changed’. He suggested that ‘if you can get through that period, then at the end they don’t mind that things have changed’.  Getting people together and interacting, and ‘getting a win, with a new or existing client, breeds optimism and confidence’ in the new dynamics of the company.

Collider’s second acquisition was much more about ‘legacy and getting to know the agency’. Anton discusses how the agency was 35-years-old, with an owner who was ready to retire. For this instance, Collider ‘bought 100% of the shares’, the agency was turning over £2.5mil and working on exhibitions and events.

Anton felt that the slow integration here really enabled a better outcome. The teams ‘collaborated on current projects before we did the deal, so we got exposed to clients and staff early. We were open and honest from the beginning. We still have all of their clients 6 years on.’

Anton also mentions that his third acquisition did not quite go to plan. ‘We bought a small part of their business early to get them integrated’. He admits that they ‘had a lot of resignations and found a few errors and challenges on the balance sheet’.

‘The company ended up going into liquidation, we manged to buy the assets and remaining shares. Financially it worked out well, but personally it was a big challenge for the business’.