The 100% Official Merger Interview
TradeMark Media recently merged with Creative Suitcase—one of the most admired creative agencies in Austin.
Naturally, when two big agencies merge, plenty of questions bubble up. So we sat down with the two major players—Nick Weynand (President of TradeMark) and Rachel Clemens (Founder of Creative Suitcase)—and asked them how they managed to so smoothly integrate two established, growing organizations.
What has been the most surprising thing about the merger process?
Nick: There's an exciting buzz around the office. New clients, new services, new team members. It feels very positive. A sense of possibility permeates every conversation these days, as if we’re on the cusp of something big—poised to deliver innovative solutions to our clients in 2017.
Rachel: Honestly, I’m surprised the process wasn’t rougher than it was. I’m sure it helps that Nick and I are friends who have known and respected each other for many years. It took us only eight months to negotiate and close the deal. I’ve heard that most mergers take twice as long. Both agencies have long perfected their process, so we treated the merger like just another project. So far, it seems to have worked perfectly.
Rachel, why did you agree to sell Creative Suitcase to TradeMark?
Creative Suitcase had just celebrated its 10-year anniversary when Nick and I started talking in earnest about joining forces. In our decade of existence, Creative Suitcase had enjoyed steady growth but not huge leaps and bounds.
I knew that if I were to grow the agency in a big way, I’d have to make some critical hires in Web development, SEO, and online marketing services. That was risky—especially in a city like Austin, where we’re competing for talent with the likes of Facebook, IBM, Google. Creative Suitcase had partnered with TradeMark Media on many projects in our 10 years, and so I knew the technological results that Nick’s team produced.
This was also a personal decision. Running a business by yourself is hard work. There’s freedom, but the burden of feeding the business lies on your shoulders alone. After 10 years, I was interested in having partners to share the ups and downs with. I was looking to lower my stress, give my work more focus, and be more present during my time with family.
Nick, why did you acquire Creative Suitcase instead of another creative agency?
Most importantly, I knew there was a personality fit. TradeMark had partnered with Creative Suitcase on many projects over the years; we shared mutual clients. And Rachel and I have spent the better part of a decade forming a professional friendship.
Plus, they are just flat-out good people. Creative Suitcase cared about helping others. (A full 5% of their annual profits went to charitable organizations.) They were authentically passionate about serving their clients’ best interests. And frankly, the quality of their strategic and design work is undeniable.
Our companies shared too many of the same values—and the same vision—not to join forces.
Rachel, what do Creative Suitcase's legacy clients make of the news?
They are all really happy for us. They’re glad to have their existing team in place here at TradeMark, and to know that their work won’t be interrupted. Our mutual clients were especially happy, as now they can talk to one team about all of their marketing, creative, and digital needs.
Many clients’ first question was, “Is this good for you personally, Rachel?” This probably speaks to the close relationship I’ve worked hard to develop with our clients over the years. But I worried that they thought we’d (Creative Suitcase) fallen on hard times and had to merge to stay afloat. I assured them that no, this wasn’t the case—and that, while it’s technically an acquisition, it’s functioning as a merger. They completely understood.
Nick, how will Creative Suitcase's expertise complement TradeMark's existing services?
Creative Suitcase brings a unique ability to solve problems from a very high level. They are used to getting involved early with clients, helping them craft actionable answers to essential questions like, “Who are we as an organization?” and “Who do we serve?”
Now, TradeMark Media can deliver holistic marketing strategies that leverage the best available technology. Simply put, we can do it all.
And I’d be foolish not to point out how beautiful and compelling the Creative Suitcase design work is. Digital, print, whatever—we can now deliver superior designs.
Rachel, you were the president and founder of Creative Suitcase. Now you're the CMO of TradeMark Media. What do you make of this change in roles?
One of my biggest drivers for merging was to give more focus to my day-to-day work life. As the president of Creative Suitcase, I was meeting with clients, bringing in sales, managing employees, building our brand, and doing all the (icky) administrative work that comes with the job.
What I loved doing most was working on the Creative Suitcase brand—our messaging, our look, how we talked to potential clients, etc. That’s when I’d get lost in my work and realize three hours had flown by.
As CMO for TradeMark, that’s precisely what I get to do. Sure, I still meet with clients and help with sales, but my main focus is to promote TradeMark so that we can grow strategically. I get to work with an in-house team of experts across all disciplines so that I can focus on what I do best—and let them do the rest.
Nick, as president of TradeMark Media, how have you approached the integration of these two teams?
Transparency. We’re being transparent with our clients, our staff, and our partners.
As soon as we knew the merger would happen, we had an honest conversation with the TradeMark staff about how the merger would (ideally) play out, along with the challenges and risks it brought with it. Every staff member had a chance, both publicly and privately, to voice their opinions, ask their questions.
For our clients and partners, we sent an announcement via email, followed by a bunch of one-on-one calls. We tried to meet face-to-face with as many current clients as feasible—introducing them to the new team, explaining the expansion of our services, etc.
Creative Suitcase did a great job of educating the TradeMark staff on who they are, what they do, and the skills they’re bringing to our team. We didn’t announce the merger publicly until we had all of our ducks in a row.
So, what does the future of the design and marketing industry look like?
Nick: There are so many technologies flooding the market—the next generation of the Web, mobile devices, voice response, artificial intelligence, wearable, etc.—that our challenge, at TradeMark, is to determine which approaches make the most sense for our clients. Which solutions will deliver results?
And in order to cut through an increasingly crowded, noisy marketplace, user experience designers and content strategists will have to produce truly exceptional work. Users are growing savvier (and sometimes, more cynical) every day. And thus, mediocrity is failure.
Design matters more than ever. Strategy matters more than ever. Authenticity matters more than ever.
Rachel: In the past, an organization had to go to an agency for talented designers, writers, or developers. Now, they just bring them in-house, putting them on their full-time marketing staff.
Businesses and nonprofits will increasingly turn to agencies for strategic consulting instead of mere creative execution. Thus, agencies like ours must continue to evolve the solutions we offer. We must develop new ways of connecting our clients with their users. We will.