Launched as the holding company for the Manchester-based Connectpoint group of businesses in March 2005, Hasgrove had yet to make its big mark on the industry before last month. However, when news broke on Adline Online on 3 April of its acquisition of one of the UK’s most well-established and well-respected design agencies, The Chase, it soon became the talk of the town.
Hasgrove was created by Connectpoint founder Steve Rodgers and chief executive Nick Bradshaw, the latter of whom met with Adline last month to discuss the high-profile deal and the group’s ambitious growth plans. Joining us was Ben Casey, founder and creative director of The Chase, who was keen to discuss the next chapter for his agency.
“It all began in June 2004,” commented Bradshaw. “Steve Rodgers and I saw an opportunity for the Connectpoint firms to grow by using the group as a hub, growing the businesses and bolting on others. The aim was to ultimately offer a best of breed, truly fully integrated communications group.
“We also thought there was an opportunity in Manchester to do something significant. All the major groups were Plc-owned or US Plc-owned, but we believed we could do it through private ownership and so we took some investment into the business in March last year.”
The investment resulted in the acquisition of two small PR operations that supplemented Connectpoint’s existing offering. However, the plans for the group had always been built on the acquisition of what Bradshaw describes as “best of breed” businesses.
“What we saw as being essential to our vision was acquiring best of breed firms with agency cultures that suited that within the Connectpoint group of firms. Both organisations are about big thinking and big ability, without the big egos.”
Fewer individuals within the industry embody this more than Casey, who founded The Chase twenty years ago and has steered the business into becoming one of the leading design agencies in the UK. Explaining his reason to sell the firm and why Hasgrove had the best proposition, he remarked: “I think you get to a size, which I think we’ve now reached, when any further growth and we’d have had some serious reorganising to do. So at that point you think ‘do we just carry on and try and get a bigger place and get more staff, or do we take a step back and have a look?’
“We were thinking along those lines when we were introduced to Connectpoint. Our biggest concern with being part of a group was being swallowed up by ultimately some American-owned group where we’re just a spec in the distance and are set targets that are increased year on year, but we didn’t really want to do that. The attractive thing about this opportunity was A: being involved from the very beginning and B: being very much a part of its development.”
As part of the deal, Casey will be joining the Hasgrove board and taking on the role of executive creative director for the group, overseeing and steering its creative output. Not working to an earn-out, Casey is as determined as anyone to help take the group forward. Casey concluded: “It’s scary. It’s an odd feeling after 20 years to be nervous but it’s for the right reasons. The adrenaline’s going and we’re thinking ‘this is another challenge, this is a big challenge’.”
Bradshaw added: “What’s interesting is that all of the individuals involved are at that time in life where if they wanted to take the money and run, they could. But this opportunity has just re-ignited the fire.”
As it currently stands, underneath the Hasgrove umbrella are now Connectpoint Advertising, Connectpoint PR, Connectpoint Interactive, Connectpoint Direct, The Chase (North) and The Chase (South). The latter of which is the London office of the design agency, which, as Bradshaw explained, will spearhead a new direction for Hasgrove’s ambitious plans: “The consequence of the acquisition of The Chase means that we now, all of a sudden, have an opportunity and a need to focus on London too. Essentially, I want to replicate the offer we have in Manchester. That will be achieved by either acquisition or organic growth.”
At the time of meeting the pair, Hasgrove had all but signed papers on its second major acquisition, a yet-to-be-named business headquartered in Brussels, which promises to complement rather than replicate the services currently offered by the group. Bradshaw commented: “They have bases in three European cities and a consequence of the deal would be for us to then enter these European countries with our offering. So we would be the first pan-European integrated communications group based out of Manchester rather than London.”
Bradshaw also revealed that the group was considering the possibility of a listing later in the year, which would free up finances for the acquisition of further large, well-established and highly reputable agencies in the future.
“It’s the biggest thing to have happened, certainly in Manchester, in the last 15 years. And the potential is definitely bigger than anything else that’s happening. We’re all coming together from a position of strength, which is very important. Everyone’s profitable, successful and respected. What we want to do is to have ‘best in class’ for each discipline offered.”