MSQ Partners is an international marketing communications group, headquartered in the UK.  We spoke to Peter Reid, CEO of MSQ Partners about the firm, and he provides us with a unique insight into the UK media market, as well as talking us through his firm’s imminent expansion into the US.

MSQ Partners

Please tell us about the firm and the services you provide.

The Group consists of six specialist but complementary creative agencies that span advertising and media, PR, branding and design, B2B marketing, digital marketing and customer engagement.

We provide a wide range of communication solutions across these specialisms to many of the world’s leading and emerging brands. Our roster of clients includes PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever Peugeot-Citroen, Boots and Aviva.

Clients can choose to work with one of our individual agencies but are increasingly looking for a bespoke, multi-disciplinary team designed around their individual communications needs.  In each case, we specialise in getting clients a better return on their marketing investment by focusing on delivering a distinctive and consistent customer experience.

Please give us an insight into your role as CEO of your company.

MSQ Partners is a medium-sized company with a small central team so my role has a huge amount of variety and breadth. As well as being responsible for setting strategy and monitoring performance across the Group’s six agency brands (and 25 offices), I also take the lead in major Group new business efforts/ pitches and in making sure we recruit the best possible talent all across the world.  At the same time, I need to be in close contact with my CFO on key Group matters and maintain a close liaison with the Group’s Board and our investors.

How has your background in consultancy helped you in your current role and how do you draw on past experiences now?

My consulting experience, especially advising private equity groups, is particularly helpful in helping me manage what could easily be an excessive workload. With more than ten operating entities and more than twenty direct reports, it is critical that I allocate my time carefully, focussing on the key issues that really need my attention and involvement and in resolving issues and taking decisions as efficiently as possible. 

I also think that the fundamentals of professional services businesses are similar, whether in consultancies, law firms or ad agencies.  You need to make sure you have a clear and attractive proposition, you recruit the best possible people and you do the best possible work for clients.  I think sometimes when agencies, or other professional services firms, get into trouble is when they forget these principles and try to make things too complicated!

As a business leader, how do you ensure that you visions are executed across all sectors of your company?

The main way that I achieve this is by working closely and collaboratively with each of the agency MDs.  We are different from many groups in that each agency has its own distinct vision and a lot of my focus is making sure that this vision, as well as the agency’s proposition and new business strategy, is well defined and appropriate.  I make sure that I have regular discussions (structured meetings/ calls at least twice monthly and multiple ad hoc discussions) with all of our MDs, wherever they are based around the world.

Tell us about your firm’s mission. What techniques do you use to achieve this? 

Again, we are slightly unusual in that we have six individual missions across each of the Group’s agency brands.  At a Group level, I see our role as providing an overall framework and culture that enables our agencies to do great work and to collaborate with each other where appropriate.  Our employee ownership structure, in which our top 70 members of staff all have a stake in the overall Group, is key in achieving both of these goals, but we also benefit from our policy of ensuring our agencies are co-located where possible. For example, all of our six agency brands are housed in the same office in London and we focus on creating opportunities for senior staff to spend time together, getting to know each other and discussing potential collaboration opportunities.

What would say are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing your industry at present?

Over the long term, I see the key challenges for the industry being a combination of over supply of agencies and an ongoing downward pressure on fees as procurement becomes ever present across the industry. 

The shift of spend to digital and more accountable channels represents a more short-term challenge for a lot of agency groups, but continues to be very much an opportunity for MSQ, since we specialise in developing and delivering innovative, modern multi-channel communications that are digitally and content-led and that deliver a higher return for clients than traditional solely paid for media marketing strategies.

Tell us about your recent move into the American Market.

We have recently been investing materially in the US market, using our existing offices as the primary platform for expansion.  In the past couple of years, both twentysix (web design and build; performance marketing) and Holmes & Marchant (branding and packaging design) have opened offices in NY, co-located with our existing agencies and have had some encouraging early success with the likes of Heineken, Unilever and Acurian.

Additionally in October 2015 we completed the formal acquisition of our long-term US joint venture partner in Stein IAS – our international b2b network, a deal that had been on the cards for some time, but which we are very excited about.  Hot on the heels of this deal, we are looking to open an expanded Stein IAS office in San Francisco over the next quarter to both better service our existing west coast clients, such as Juniper Networks, but also grow our base of West coast clients.

When working in an industry such as marketing that is constantly changing, what does your firm do to ensure that they are at the forefront of any emerging developments?

In many ways, we achieve this by ensuring that all staff know that they have a responsibility to keep abreast of new technologies and new communications techniques.  You have to stay one step ahead of your clients and often it is some of your younger members of staff who are closer to the vanguard of new social media or mobile applications for example.  

At the same time we also seek to maintain a more structured approach to innovation. For example, our B2B agency, Stein IAS, has spent considerable time and investment working in partnership with Oracle to develop the ‘B2B Marketing Cloud’, which is now setting the global standard in advanced B2B marketing automation and demand generation programmes.

Tell us about your work in the UK and how this differs from the other regions you operate in.

Although the firm operates primarily in the UK, we also operate in the US and Asia. Clearly each has their own macro outlook and challenges and opportunities, but in the UK (which is our largest region), we see a major opportunity in targeting medium-sized clients (£1-10m total marketing spend) and offering them a bespoke team of specialists drawn from the Group’s agencies to co-ordinate all of their marketing activities.  In our experience, all too often these firms have been poorly served by multiple agency relationships in the past, which have stretched their own internal resources and resulted in marketing communications that have been insufficiently joined up, weakening the overall brand and customer experience.

How do you develop and maintain the standards you set for yourselves?

I believe that the primary driver is that in a portfolio of multiple agencies, there will always be issues to be resolved or opportunities to enhance the quality of an agencies team or output at any point in time. As such, I remain acutely aware that as soon as one becomes complacent or over-confident, this industry will ‘come back and bite you’. 

What makes your company unique? What distinguishes your firm from its competitors?

I believe our employee ownership model is truly unique across the industry.  Equity in the Group is spread relatively evenly across the Group’s top 70 senior managers, providing them with a powerful incentive to grow their own agency and also to work collaboratively with their colleagues from around the Group. 

Similarly, we are of a size, where senior staff are able to genuinely get to know and trust each other, and in my experience, this is critical in convincing clients of the merits of our multi-disciplinary offer. Given that these teams come together seamlessly there is not the friction between individuals or agencies that clients have typically experienced elsewhere in the past.

What does the future hold for your firm?  Do you have any future plans or projects you would be willing to share with us?  

Overall, our focus is on organic growth and specifically in continuing to grow revenue across the Group – in all of our agencies and regions – which in itself is a challenge given the relatively flat (at best) overall market picture. 

However, two ways in which we are looking to achieve this in particular are: firstly, in aggressively promoting our multi-disciplinary offer in the UK – targeting, primarily, medium-sized brands spending between £1-10m; and secondly developing a new Content Marketing proposition that brings together the world leading capabilities that we have in this area across the Group into a single holistic offer. 

Finally, we are also excited about the prospect of opening our first west coast office in San Francisco in the course of the next few months.