Epiphany CEO Rob Shaw on why he sold his agency to Jaywing for £18m

Today Epiphany, the Leeds and London-based search marketing agency, took a leap in its development by becoming part of the growing Jaywing agency business in a deal that will ultimately be worth £18m to the directors of Epiphany.

Founded in 2005 by Shane Quigley and Robin Skidmore and now led by CEO Rob Shaw and his recently appointed operations board, Epiphany has grown to around 140 people, but will now become part of a marketing group of some 600 people based in offices in London, Leeds, Sheffield, Ipswich, Newbury and Swindon.

Jaywing, which welcomed a new management team, headed by CEO Martin Boddy, in 2013, provides a range of digital marketing services to its portfolio of blue chip clients, but is highly regarded for its expertise in big data, analysis and insight, a large factor in the coming together of the two organisations.

The deal was announced to the stock exchange at 7am this morning and Epiphany’s CEO Rob Shaw spoke to The Drum shortly after to outline how the deal had come about and what it means for both organisations.

He says: “It’s nice to get it over the line and not to have to worry about it anymore. As an ambitious business we have always spoken to people over the years, but never felt the time was quite right. But we started talking seriously to people towards the end of last year and we appointed Clarity is as our advisors at that point. We then turned it into something formal and put some process and structure around it as we tend to do here."

Shaw says that the two companies had always had a knowledge and respect for one another, but the initial meeting demonstrated that a closer relationship could potentially work out.

“There was a very nice meeting between us,” says Shaw, “with us getting to know them and them getting to know us better. They came in and explained what their proposition is and we had lots of presentations of how we do things here and it was quite early on that we all realised that this was certainly a case of two and two equaling five.

“There were two things that stood out for us really. Firstly, it was the right cultural fit. We have always talked about our culture and the importance of it. Meeting the Jaywing guys and their senior managers we just felt that these where the kind of people we would normally work with so it would be easy work alongside them. We have seen that now over the last few months. It has been as painless as these things can be as they are a great bunch of guys and we share the same values.

“Secondly, it was a really good technical fit, as in Epiphany does all these things and Jaywing does all those things, so if we bring those things together it would be a leap forward for all concerned. We have been using terms such as ‘better together’ and ‘two and two equals five’ because it feels so right to do this at this time.

“Also, Jaywing has a cracking client base and there is currently little cross over between our two client bases, which means there are lots of opportunities to go after, with our complimentary set of skills. There are two great client bases which we can start to share, but it is the combination of Jaywing’s understanding of big data, insight and analysis and the high-end brand marketing that they do for some great and our expertise in search marketing that is exciting and which the market out there is already asking for. Had we not been able to do this deal now I’m sure we would have had to have created all of those services anyway as we believe all agencies will have to have those skills in their kit bag if they want to work with the bigger brands in the future.”

The news of the deal broke early and Shaw said that the staff were told about the deal one minute after the stock market announcement was made. So, what happens now?

Shaw says: “The good thing is that both organisations have really good marketing teams so a couple of weeks ago we designed the formal communications plans, the formal stuff you have to do to the stock market, telling the staff and the clients and the press, so all we have done this morning is execute that plan.

“We have always been really open with the staff and they have always known something like this is in the plan, so we will be taking them all for beers this evening and we can tell them more about it. But the reaction from staff has been very positive to it as they get where we are talking the business and why this will fit well.”

“On a day to day basis nothing really changes with what we do. It is a cliché, but it’s business as usual. We have 140 people at work today doing their usual jobs for clients. What this gives us a wider range of offices to work out of, so now we have hot desks set up in all of Jaywing’s offices.”

While the deal is an acquisition, the Epiphany brand is not going disappear under the Jaywing banner, which is something Shaw says he was always keen to guarantee as part of any deal.

He says: “The important thing for us was to find someone who wouldn’t kill or stifle what we have created here at Epiphany. We have nine years of heritage at Epiphany and have a cracking brand that all the staff and clients buy into. The worst thing we could do would be to let that get squashed by something, so that was key when we were speaking to potential partners.

According to Shaw the deal now takes the combined head count of Jaywing and Epiphany to around 600 across the UK and Shaw is keen to stress that this is not the end of this particular story.

He says: “There will be a whole series of follow ups to come as to why we think this new set up works. A couple of years ago we did that video about the new formula for search and we did a big campaign about why we think it’s different. Today we have already put the people in place here to be able to begin telling our new story now. We didn’t want to do the deal and then start thinking about what our new story is. That’s all in place and will be revealed in due course.”

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.