Justin Cooke on Fortune Cookie's sale to WPP's Possible: ‘This is a real step up. Now I can say everything is possible’

Justin Cooke

Earlier today, WPP's digital network Possible announced that it had bought a majority stake in the London digital agency Fortune Cookie. The Drum spoke to Fortune Cookie boss Justin Cooke, who founded the agency in 1997, and Possible's global CEO Shane Atchison to find out what the deal means for them.

Justin, how does it feel to be part of Possible and WPP and what made you think they’d be the right fit for Fortune Cookie?

There are so many reasons why I think this is a great deal. Fortune Cookie has been looking to accelerate our capability to realise the massive opportunity that digital presents for our clients. And that really means both scale, having the ability to do more of what we do, and breadth, being able to do things we can’t do right now - opening up in new territories so we can think globally and act locally with our clients. We were looking at options about how to do that.

The conversation with Possible happened and we felt that it was a brilliant fit. The guys have got very similar backgrounds and ethos and values to us. I love the name Possible. One of my favourite quotes is by Charles Saatchi – ‘Nothing is impossible’. What’s lovely about this deal is rather than just quoting ‘Nothing is impossible’ I can now say ‘Everything is Possible’.

The backing of WPP is a really important factor for us in terms of having the biggest advertising/marketing communications company behind you and all the strength and support that brings. The fit with Possible and where Fortune Cookie operates is excellent.

This deal cements a very strong platform for Possible in the UK and Europe and allows them to operate from all the continents around the world now with real strength. It takes the [Possible] headcount up totally to 1500 worldwide which in headcount terms is larger than AKQA. Operating in 26 countries, that’s a real step up and allows Fortune Cookie to help our clients realise the real potential there is in digital from a global perspective.

You mentioned how much you like the Possible brand and the benefits of being part of WPP. But did it feel like a wrench at all to give up the Fortune Cookie brand and your independence after so long?

I’ve been doing this for 15 years now and ultimately I believe you have to look at the strengths of doing something like this. When you really boil it down, the strengths massively outweigh the reasons not to do this deal. One of the things I decided to do once I recognised this is what we needed to do, and what I wanted to do, was say: well, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to go in 100%. I’m not going to waste my time having a brand that I’m retaining for a period of three years which slowly starts to degrade. I’m going to go from Fortune Cookie on day minus one to Possible on day one.

For me it was a simple equation in terms of saying what’s really important. I’m driving now the Possible brand and business in the UK and Europe and that’s my only consideration. Fortune Cookie has been an amazing journey and this is really just closing one chapter and opening up the next.

You’re now the UK CEO of Possible. How will your job change and what will your role be?

My key role is going to be about building long-term value and delivering profitable growth, ultimately. You do that, fundamentally, by having a brilliant team of talent, making sure that they have the tools and support systems around them to deliver amazing work with measurable outcomes for our clients. In one sense it’s no different to yesterday - a lot of time spent with our teams and making sure we are growing talent, finding talent and developing talent. Some of it is about ensuring the strategy is clear and that we’re following that strategy and delivering against that strategy.

And then to some degree it’s about making sure we’ve got the right proposition to develop amazing relationships with brands and perhaps to do that now on a more international context and a bigger stage. I think the excitement for me is this is the fuel that we were looking for and it’s our time to step up. That’s the only thing that’s going to change: it’s the size, the scale, the important is going to increase. It’s a challenge that I relish and I can’t wait to get my teeth into.

What sort of reaction have you had from clients?

It’s been fantastic, absolutely fantastic. We’ve been overwhelmed by the messages of congratulations and support and encouragement from them all. It’s been a unanimous response in a positive way. Everyone is wanting to do more in digital and we have great relationships with our clients so for them to know we have got the backing of WPP and everything that brings is another reinforcement of our capability. For them this is all about strength, stability, scalability. These are all things they want and need.

Can you give us any indication of the value of the deal?

There’s not a lot to say on that one to be honest. At the end of the day I’m really focused on helping build an amazing global digital network and with WPP behind me and a great global leadership team, a fantastic roster of clients, and a fantastic range of services we can offer ours, we’re going to be in a really strong position to do exactly that. That’s my focus.

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Shane Atchison

Shane, what attracted you to Fortune Cookie and what does the deal mean for Possible?

Practically speaking we’re a pretty good size digital organisation at 1500 people. Yet our Western Europe presence, in particular in the UK, we wanted to go more full-service and Fortune Cookie are a good partner there. We also see Poland both as an emerging market but also as a critical market for our clients that are moving more of their regional operations to Poland. We see that market being a tremendous growth market for us. We already have a presence in Poland and this is going to give us more of a focus there. [Outside London Fortune Cookie has offices in Poland, the Netherlands, US and Australia.]

How long were talks ongoing with Fortune Cookie?

It takes some time, right. When you’re looking at deals like this we wanted a strategic and cultural fit, so you have to get to know each other. And a lot of it is about goodwill: goodwill with employees, goodwill with clients. It was certainly more than six months' worth of discussions to get to this point.

How did you identify Fortune Cookie? Were you already aware of their work?

It was the work, their reputation, certainly with us being a WPP company we’re pretty aware of the UK agencies. We’ve had our eye on them for a while.

You're going to be dropping the Fortune Cookie name in favour of possible, right?

Yeah. There are multiple schools of thoughts of how you build these organisations of scale. And our firm thought is we need to come together. There’s no strategic reason that we believe to be a mini holding company. We want one mindset of centres of excellence. What we don’t want to do is have all these satellite brands and satellite companies more or less within our remit. There’s some amazing things Fortune Cookie does and there’s some things they could learn from elsewhere in the globe. And we want to be able to bring the best to each of those organisations.

What else does the deal mean for Fortune Cookie and for Justin Cooke? He's been synonymous with Fortune Cookie and the face of the business for so long. Is he committed to Possible?

Oh yeah. Definitely this is the case where Justin is getting a bigger job. He’s going to be the CEO of the UK for us as well as taking responsibility for other emerging markets. He’ll report directly to me as CEO. He’ll also be part of our European leadership board which will constitute the CEOs of two other companies we’ve bought in this calendar year - a company in Budapest called the Carnation and a company out of Moscow called Grape. We see Justin being absolutely core to that.

And then clients. We’re a service company so we’re as good as our client relationships. We have to keep Justin in front of the clients and working with them. You go out talking to the clients and each and every one of them turn the conversation pretty quickly from Possible and Fortune Cookie to key leadership like Justin. They’re saying: I need continuity of my people, are you gonna make any drastic moves? And I say no, the only thing I’m gonna be changing is adding new capabilities to the conversation. We’re not gonna subtract people, we’re not gonna subtract capabilities and we’re not gonna subtract clients from the equation.

Can you tell us how much the deal is worth?

As a public company we can’t reveal any of the financial terms on the deal. Justin is going to be buying drinks and dinner for you and I for the rest of our lives.

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