Next Level Agency Leadership: Takeouts from Don Elgie and our business experts

7 Jul 2016

On Thursday 30 June, BIMA hosted a new format of events, designed to provide top level advice and insight on next level agency leadership. This workshop was designed for FD’s, CEO's, Founders and HR professionals of small to mid-sized agencies looking to glean expert advice to help with their businesses growth.

Don Elgie, Founder and former Group CEO of UK-based insight and communications group Creston, Business Advisor & Non-Executive Director opened with a keynote on taking your agency to the next level.

The individuals that have the greatest ability to survive, are those that can adapt to the changing conditions of their environment. Charle Darwin

Don warned that the current situation for digital marcoms was looking bleak, unless you’re willing to adapt and embrace change. With declining margins caused by client procurement and churn and clients taking more work in-house, Don fears our industry is in danger of being commoditised.

Key takeaways from Don’s talk:

Benchmarking – Ask yourself how well you know your clients, and how to minimise client dissatisfaction. Look inwards and assess whether you are equipped with the right skill sets for tomorrow’s world.

Growth – How will you drive fresh thinking within your organisation? Many agencies pride themselves on a low churn rate of talent. However, under Don’s leadership, at Creston they targeted themselves with a 20% churn rate. This higher churn rate increased the flow of fresh ideas, new talent and skill-sets.

Financial – How do you improve your margins? Have plans in place to examine the disruptive technology that can transform the way your clients work.

Improving margins – Developing SaaS type software where the IP rests with you and not the client, makes you indispensable and makes clients stay loyal to retain use of the software

In summary, Don closed with a strong message to all agency owners looking at taking the next step. “Be brave, be bold and embrace change.”

Following Don’s talk, attendees broke out into roundtables, chaired by our partners M&A, accounting and legal professionals, Clarity, haysmacintyre and Kemp Little – This was an opportunity for attendees to gain free advice from our experts, and help solve some of their burning business issues.


Based on feedback from our rapidly expanding community groups we have found the gnarly, if not sexy issues, are coming up over again and holding back on productivity, creativity and profitability. These are common problems which can be addressed and this session is run like a break out roundtable to allow participants to get to the crux of the problems through honest shared experience and erudite professional advice.

What our partners said...

Kemp Little

We really enjoyed the BIMA Professional Services Clinic – some great questions around managing and retaining a creative workforce, preparing for an exit and how to ensure a sale is a success (tip: focus on integration).

Just as important as motivating and retaining the right people is protecting the business if a key employee looks to join a competitor or poach staff. A growing business probably won’t want to look to enforce restrictions through the courts, but having well-drafted covenants in place can ensure it is in a strong negotiating position. For more information, please see:

Brexit is clearly on people’s minds too. For our initial thoughts on the effect on UK M&A in the digital and marcoms sector, see:

We also mentioned FlightDeck, our award-winning online offering provided free to members. We’ve put together FlightDeck to steer businesses towards high quality precedents and guidance, enabling growing companies to save money in the early days whilst the business model is being honed. FlightDeck is a free service which includes free easy-to-download templates for operational contracts, initial fundraising, corporate governance and employment documents. We also offer free access to legal guides and thought leadership as well as free access to events and training seminars. For businesses requiring tailored services, we can offer discounted fixed or capped fees. If this is of interest, please apply online at


Clarity has been a leading M&A advisor for the global media, information, marketing, software and tech-enabled services sectors for over a decade. Here they share their key takeaways:

- Know what you stand for. What is your value proposition and who is it most valuable to?

- It’s not just about the financial aspects of the transaction, culture is critical. Know who you will be working with, how long they have been there for, are they likely to be around for years to come?

- EBITDA/Profit as you look at it, is unlikely to be the same figure that a buyer looks at. Adjustments are likely to be made.

- Highly likely that an earn-out will be involved, so be realistic about your business plan going forward and hence what the overall deal value might be worth.


haysmacintyre is a leading firm of chartered accountants and tax advisers based in Central London, providing quality accountancy, tax, corporate finance and business advice to entrepreneurs and fast growing businesses. Here's what they had to say following the morning's discussions...

Exit Planning:

- The eligibility and availability of Entrepreneurs Relief were discussed as a 10% capital gains tax rate for many is the most tax efficient exit.

- Ensuring shareholders holding greater than 5% are employees or directors for the full 12-month period prior to sale is vital.

- For those employees holding less than 5%, structuring their share acquisition through an EMI scheme can bring them within the eligibility of Entrepreneurs Relief. Consideration may be given to a buyback of shares followed by a grant of options through an EMI scheme for those already holding shares.

R&D tax relief: 

- Comments that many of the agencies had successfully claimed for R&D tax relief on their software projects

- Discussed how valuable the relief can be, with an additional corporation tax deduction of 130% available on qualifying R&D expenditure.

- All company’s investing in both in house and external (not necessarily in the UK) technology projects should explore this potential relief.

Employee Incentivisation: 

- Many companies had Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI) Schemes in place, providing options over shares in the Company to key employees.

- Alternatives to EMI, for those individuals not qualifying for EMI, such as non-exec directors or those going holding options with a value greater than £250k at the date of grant, were discussed with Growth Share schemes often being the most common and appropriate schemes to put in place.

- However with the increase in dividend tax rates many businesses, who have no exit plans in the medium term, are focusing on stronger bonus schemes.

BIMA Next Level Agency Leadership | Don Elgie Keynote from BIMA (British Interactive Media Association)


If you’d like to know more about any of the issues we discussed, please contact our partners on the details below


Jonathan Goodale:

Marcus Anselm:

Kemp Little:

Andy Moseby:

David Williams:



Ian Cliffe:

Should you like to see more events like this from BIMA, please feel free to drop us a comment on email 


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