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BWM boss Paul Williams: buying out of Enero has given us a shot in the arm

Paul Williams: “After losing Telstra, people thought we’d never recover.”

The founding partner of BWM Paul Williams has said that the response from the industry to buying back the business from Enero has given the agency “a shot in the arm”.

The company that was started by Rob Belgiovane, Paul Williams and Jamie Mackay in 1996, and sold to Enero ten years later, bought the business back for $7.5m in August this year.

“People said that it showed that we were a confident lot, that we were backing ourselves again,” the agency’s group CEO told Mumbrella. “That gave us a shot in the arm – emotionally, a real sense of energy.”

With 120 staff and $22m in revenue, BWM is Australia’s largest independent – despite the massive loss of Telstra a year ago, which brought in 40% of the agency’s revenue.

“Frankly, we took a big hit. But we had to keep on scrapping. I think the market thought we’d never recover from a blow like losing Telstra. But the sign of a good agency is one that can come back when things are looking bad. We showed the market we’re damn good street fighters,” he said.

BWM has won $100m in new business over the last 18 months, according to Williams. New clients include iiNet, REA, John West, Leggo’s and Amcal, adding to Sanitarium, Simplot, Kmart, GE Money and the Department of Health and Ageing.

Now, no single account contributes more than 16% of revenue.

Williams also commented on the fortunes of former stablemate BMF, which has struggled in recent times along with the fortunes of Enero.

“At its route, BMF is an entrepreneurial business fuelled by the street smarts of its founders. It’s a well documented fact that when the founding partners leave a business, the decline rate is high,” Williams said.

“Whatever acquisition deal is put in place, you need to retain the founding energy magic, and build in a succession plan that is capable of emulating that,” he said.

The aims for the next 12 months is to double the size of the Melbourne office, which is led by Carl Ratcliffe, and grow the Sydney office by 50%, Williams said.

“And we want to win two awards at Cannes,” he said. “Particularly a Titanium Lion.”

In answer to the notion that BWM has not been known for strong creative work lately, Williams said: “Every independent agency needs a superb creative product. That’s what keeps you competitive against the multinationals. As with any agency, the creative product is always work in progress.”

BWM is currently on the hunt for a creative director for its Melbourne office, after the departure of Shaun Branagan to Ogilvy Sydney in October.

The replacement for Branagan will most likely come from overseas, Williams hinted. “I’m 75% sure of that,” he said.

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