The rules for both buying and selling an agency have changed dramatically in recent years, and on the latest “PR’s Top Pros Talk,” Art Stevens, managing partner of The Stevens Group, talks with Doug Simon about what agency buyers and sellers need to know to successfully play by those rules.

While owners used to look at selling an agency as part of “an exit strategy,” Stevens says that now a younger generation of sellers “are not interested in retiring." He tells Simon that “the average age now of people selling is well under 50.”

Stevens says a major reason why these younger owners are opting to sell is that “they want to be part of a larger organization.” He says many of them are “getting tired of the business side. They want to focus on public relations and client service.”

However, for sellers who want to make their agencies more attractive to potential buyers, Stevens says it’s essential to “demonstrate that you know how to run a business in addition to servicing clients.”

That includes such basics as running your business profitably and having a good senior management team. In addition, “you have to have a durable roster of clients.”

Stevens says that last thing most buyers want to do is “upset the apple cart.” He tells Simon that “typically there is no buyer that I know of that makes wholesale changes like terminating people.”

He also stresses that personal factors as well as financial ones matter in an agency sale. Calling himself “a matchmaker,” Stevens says he has to make sure that “the two parties, the seller and the buyer, share the same values, share the same vision, share the same concept of quality of life in the workplace.”

To do that, the two parties need to get know each other. “One of the things I advocate is that buyer and seller meet often,” he says.

The pandemic, however, has made meeting considerably more complicated than it used to be. “Zoom has played a major role in facilitating acquisition discussions and in many cases the parties have not really met in person.”

“For the past year and a half, there was no end to acquisition discussions, that just didn't stop. They continued, but it continued using different formats, people talking as we are doing now over, you know, over a computer screen and getting to know each other that way. So fortunately, it's worked out relatively well.”

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