The post-acquisition transition: making it work

As the recent news of Accenture’s acquisition of Karmarama sinks in, what is becoming clear is that things are changing in the creative industry. Gone are the days of legacy advertising houses like WPP, Omnicom and Publicis dominating the marketing and creative industry and now, with acquisitions like this one happening more and more frequently, there is a type of new competitor in the battle for the top spot in the form of management consultancies. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that Ad Age’s 2016 Agency Report recognizes the top 3 digital agencies (by revenue) as Accenture Interactive, IBM Interactive Experience and Deloitte Digital. The divide between industries is blurring and, as a result, we’re also witnessing the birth of a new type of industry market: “innovation and customer experience”.

But what does this mean for culture?

Culture is often viewed as a ‘soft’ measure but, increasingly, it is one of the most powerful assets for businesses. The creation of a good company culture has the potential to fuel productivity in employees, as it shapes and instills in teams a sense of ethics, values and vision, as well as shaping working environments day-to-day, right down to the design of office space and working hours. Now, both talent attraction and retention owes a lot to workplace culture.

As a result of this, cultural stereotypes in companies are starting to change. Where previously management consulting firms were seen as ‘corporate’, and ad & digital agencies as ‘creative’, acquisitions like this are posing interesting challenges for business environment, decisions have to be made to determine how best to align company values across networks. In real terms, this means waiting to see how Accenture – a colossal force of 300,000+ employees globally – will affect Karmarama – a UK-only ad agency of around 250 people.

Drawing on my experience as a specialist recruiter in the innovation and creative industry, here are 4 key strategy suggestions for creating a winning workplace culture post acquisition:

Creativity at the core

At their core, traditional management consultancies were not established around a creative environment. This makes the integration of a new, creative business into the fold a very tall order, even before considering how to accommodate new types of skills and talent. Experience has shown us that it can work but, if done badly, a talent exodus will ensue. The key is to create a flexible and open culture the fosters entrepreneurialism, creativity and freedom. The top creative talent seek out places where they can flex their creative muscles, and are not bound by structures, bureaucracy and process.

Physical environment is also very important. Agile thinking drives creativity and innovation, and, to realize this, companies must invest in designing a workspace that excites and inspires creatives. There is a growing demand for workspaces to be easily “hackable” or reconfigured for different purposes. A good example is Fjord’s Berlin studio where employees can be workshopping with clients during the day and partying in the same space at night. Spaces that encourage co-creation are also on-trend: Google’s Campus Madrid aims to bring entrepreneurs and start-ups together in a converted battery factory which combines space and light with industrial chic and a colour palette inspired by Spanish artists such as Picasso.

Blended leadership

Invariably, acquisitions involve leadership change. Change can be good but consultancies that acquire creative agencies must tread carefully. More often than not, this means adopting a “slow dating” approach (initially, at least). For creative talent within an acquired business, the take-over itself is a big a deal – topics of culture, identity, purpose and retention all come into question. My suggestion here would be to encourage independent teams to retain their independent culture; stay bold, aspirational and exciting, as it is a company’s team who drive its creativity and innovation.

An historic example that provides some great learnings for the Accenture-Karmarama situation is the acquisition that took place in the first quarter of 2016 between consulting giant, Capgemini, and innovation strategy firm, Fahrenheit 212. The result of this acquisition is a prime example of how such a relationship can work for both the incoming company and the buyer. Here, Capgemini worked hard with Fahrenheit 212 to establish a partnership relationship instead of a holding-subsidiary company. Capgemini valued Fahrenheit 212’s reputation and expertise, and recognized that providing support whilst leaving their culture in-tact would allow them to unlock greater potential and growth. Everything that has made Fahrenheit 212 so successful remains (people; culture; identity; and a winning formula) with the huge upswing of Capgemini’s firepower and global reach; added to this, Fahrenheit 212 has a seat on the board with a shared vision of creating the most deeply resourced and agile innovation firm on earth.

The consulting upswing

Becoming part of a bigger company brings with it some major benefits, and it is crucial to highlight this to teams who might feel disillusioned in the face of change. Make sure to shout about the greater business potential and enhanced capability that a consulting powerhouse brings. A more established company provides not only financial security and support but better access to C-suite level associates and the opportunity to benefit from expertise in new areas like big data and software development. More than this, there is increased access to resources that allow teams be more efficient; to shortcut supply chains and to bring products to market more quickly. In short, creatives will be in an environment where they can produce breakthrough creative work, as well as impacting invention, product/service/experience design and business growth.

Digital reputation

It’s no secret that first impressions matter, particularly for prospective talent viewing your website and associated digital & social channels. A survey conducted by HireRight showed that 75% of respondents said the look and feel of a website influenced their perception of a company, as well as their decision to apply for a job. In line with this, it is vital that consulting firms flex their creativity online to ensure that they excite, engage and inspire potential employees.

Additionally, websites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor offer a platform for employee reviews of what different companies are like to work for. Such information is hugely important to your company reputation and, often, what ex-employees are saying about your culture is as important as what you say about yourself. It is likely that the news of an acquisition will impact staff retention and so managing your digital reputation is crucial. Anything from a bad review on Glassdoor to a “truth bomb” resignation letter going viral can damage your efforts to not only attract but also retain your top talent. To remedy this, make sure to cultivate a culture of transparency. Facilitate a healthy dialogue with employees by providing regular and consistent opportunities to relay honest feedback. Show your ‘human side’ and find out what your talent look for in terms of environment, responsibility and professional opportunity.

I’m a Founding Partner of Bamboo Crowd. I help our clients invest better in people and scale through Engine. I solve recruitment challenges and help our clients source the best talent across operations, business development, programme management, and technology. Ask me about good films, beards and hip hop.