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On Thursday, The Creative Counsel (TCC) confirmed that it had been acquired by Publicis Groupe, the French advertising mega-corp.
Memeburn first broke news of the deal, the latest in a string of acquisitions by Publicis, back in July. While neither part could divulge exactly how much the deal was worth, Memeburn understands that it’s worth in excess of R1-billion, comfortably making it the biggest in South African history.
Founded in 2001 by Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved as an activations company focusing on promotions, TCC now employs more than 1 500 full-time staff and has annual turnovers in excess of R700-million. The agency’s client list also includes big names such as Unilever, Clover, Vodacom, Microsoft, Brandhouse and Tiger Brands.
In the wake of the acquisition, Memeburn spoke to the TCC co-founders — still audibly high from being able to announce a deal two years in the making. The founders shared their reasons for going into the deal, some of the obstacles it faced along the way, and giving up ownership of something that’s been a major part of their lives for the past 14 years.
That sense of ownership may have played a part in the deal taking as long as it did to wrap up.
“The first meeting we had with Publicis was about two years ago,” Neu-Ner told us, “but we had to do the right due diligence”.
Thing is, once Publicis started showing interest, so did everyone else.
“We were being wooed by all the big networks,” Oved said, adding that this only made the decision to sell the company more difficult. It’s also worth bearing in mind that even for a group as, dropping the amount of money it did on TCC is no small thing. “There were quite a few stops and starts,” Oved admitted.
Ultimately though, he said, they were swayed by how much Publicis’ vision for the company matched their own. Once they heard that Publicis planned on using TCC to boost its efforts across Africa, something which the company had tried to do on its own dollar in the past.
“Publicis has a vision for Africa: digital and activation,” Oved told us. “We thought that was very powerful”.
“Growth in consumerism means growth in advertising,” Oved says, pointing out that nowhere on the planet is seeing faster consumer growth than Africa at the moment.
Another deciding factor for Oved and Neu-Ner was the sense that Publicis would be supportive of their entrepreneurial spirit.
“Publicis believes in entrepreneurship and that’s exactly what we want for our business,” Oved said. “We ain’t going nowhere”.
As evidence of this entrepreneurial support Oved points to an email he received from Publicis CEO Maurice Lévy on the day the deal closed, asking him and Neu-Ner not to lose their sense of entrepreneurship.
Neu-Ner concurs, pointing to the fact that Publicis usually commits to 100% acquisitions, allowing founders to concentrate on the business rather than looking for the next big investment.
“We feel great about [the deal] because we’ve done it for the right reasons, Neu-Ner added.
Learning to report up
Of course, despite supporting their entrepreneurial spirit, Oved and Neu-Ner will have to still report upwards within Publicis — more specifically, they’ll be reporting to Kevin Tromp, CEO of Publicis Africa Group.
Both admit that this will require a serious mental shift. The last time Neu-Ner had a boss was pre-TCC when he worked as a stockbroker, a career which lasted all of four months. Oved meanwhile has never had a boss, although Neu-Ner jokes that Oved’s had to report to him for the past 14 years, so it should be less of a stretch.
“Yes there’s some element of learning, but we’ll also have managerial control of the business for four years, which was very important for us,” Neu-Ner said.
This mindset shift, he said, is made a little easier by the fact that “they [Publicis] trust us almost as much as we trust them”.
Business as usual
When asked how they planned to celebrate the acquisition, Oved and Neu-Ner said there were no plans for extravagant trips or luxury purchases.
“The deal happened and it’s business as usual,” the latter said. “I’ll probably take a quick four or five day holiday, but I don’t really have anything else planned”.
“The real celebration is the emotional satisfaction of getting TCC to this point and seeing the deal go through,” Oved said, using the Yiddish word “naches” to describe the pride and joy him and Neu-Ner feel in the company.
It’s a significant choice of word because it’s one traditionally applied to one’s children.
The duo don’t discount ramping up their investments in other entrepreneurs at a later point, but for now they that their focus “more than ever” must be on TCC.