An update on Wilcox Group

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going”Professor Irwin Corey

It has been a week since our public announcement about the closure of Wilcox Group. As you can imagine, it has been quite an emotional time for all of us.  What a fabulous ride we have had. Going through all our storage units brings quite a trip down memory lane. Speaking of highs and lows…we launched Starbucks in Canada, made millions of men (and women) perk up when Viagra came on the market, closed Robson and Front Streets for Planet Hollywood openings, led communications on $6-billion deals, answered the call when clients faced product tamperings, health scares and more. Frankly, in the past 15 years we have worked on thousands of news stories, many of them on the front page.

But it is time. I feel more confident than ever that this is the right decision for all of us.

I had prepared myself mentally for telling our team – and there was sadness and a few tears. I had also prepared myself to tell our clients (after 15 years working with them it took a little courage). What I hadn’t prepared for was the outpouring of emotion from friends, family, colleagues, competitors and associates. There were literally hundreds of emails and calls. Apparently, we surprised Vancouver and Toronto with our news.

Interestingly, everyone has asked me the same few questions. “How is your health?” (I am a fabulous cancer survivor and feeling great) and “Why would you give up an incredibly successful business? Why not sell? Why not have your employees buy it?”

I believe there is a quote that says you should always leave at the top of your game.

We considered selling the firm. As a matter of fact, we met with quite a few very successful national PR firms. It came down to a few issues for me: Would our culture meld with theirs? Could our clients work with them? Would my team like them? After being an entrepreneur for most of my life, could I work for someone else? As talented and smart as the firms that wanted to acquire us were, I realized that selling wasn’t in the cards for me.

Contrary to what you may have heard, there’s no huge cheque upon selling this kind of business. There would have been quite a few years of earn-out and non-compete clauses. More importantly, I felt that as part of a larger organization, the focus to deliver on revenue targets would take me away from my true passion –strategic communications and social media. Our style has always been clients first. I truly believe that if they are impressed by our work, the revenues will follow. However, if you operate in a big company (understandably) they need to keep their pulse on where the business is going at all times. Doing monthly forecasts is not something I want to spend my life doing. Give me a global crisis any day of the week and I am there. But don’t ask me for predictions.

At the 11th hour we had a Toronto firm offer to take the entire business lock, stock and barrel – no questions asked. But the wheels of change were already in motion. I had previously met with each team member individually and asked them: what do you want your future to look like? I gave them the opportunity to take over the business, to take individual clients, to work directly for our clients, or even to become small boutiques (we imploded our non-compete clause so they were free to do what was best for them). Interestingly everyone felt it was time for change or time to go client side. When one door closes, another door opens as they say. After quite a bit of introspection each of them has decided on an individual course of career action. It also helps that they are in their late 20s and early 30s, are super bright, have exceptional training (cough, cough) and are used to turning on a dime.

So, the decision to close was strictly a business decision. It really came down to our future. The future of communications, my team’s future and my personal future – or Mat Wilcox version 2.0.

Next blog post I will talk about why I think communications and the agency world has changed so much.

Mat Wilcox

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~ by Wilcox Group Team on June 15, 2010.

3 Responses to “An update on Wilcox Group”

  1. Very thoughtful post, Mat. I like it. I’ll have to ask you sometime (maybe over coffee) more in-depth what you think PR 2.0 looks like.

  2. Nicely explained with your usual candour.

  3. Go for Mat Wilcox version 2.0. Would love to see it!

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