PR Insider: In a Merger, It’s the Little (and Big) Things that Count

Deciding to sell your company – especially if your name is on the door – is as much a life passage as selecting the right college or picking a life partner. Although Janine Gordon Associates (JGA) had been approached half a dozen times, I had never seriously considered the possibility of a corporate marriage. Each approach, while well-intentioned, didn’t feel right. Either the numbers wouldn’t add up, or the potential for growth seemed questionable, or the chemistry wasn’t there.

I clearly remember my first phone conversation with Ed Moed, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Peppercomm, a strategic, integrated communications and marketing firm with more than 100 employees, and offices in New York, San Francisco and London. Ed began the call by introducing himself and asking if I had ever heard of his agency.

It seemed like a rhetorical question. Ed and his business partner, Co-Founder Steve Cody, had built a $17 million agency in less than 20 years. I was well aware that in 2012 Crain’s New York Business singled out Peppercomm as the “Best Place to Work in New York City” and that the agency was also a 2012 finalist for “Midsize Agency of the Year” in awards programs held by both PR News and PR Week. What’s more, Peppercomm had a well-deserved cache of industry awards to its credit for its innovative, business-building strategic marketing campaigns.

I met with Ed and Peppercomm’s President Ted Birkhahn, and they were both delightful. The chemistry felt right. The more we talked, the more it seemed that our two agencies shared a common philosophy about doing business. Over the ensuing weeks, as the courtship – and the conversations – continued, it became apparent to us all that a lasting arrangement would achieve our mutual objectives.

Looking back on our “dating” and ultimate commitment, I have come to realize that Peppercomm’s wish to acquire JGA possessed the three factors essential for creating a successful strategic alliance.

1. The partners’ corporate cultures must be compatible.

Peppercomm is fully committed to its people and to helping them realize their business goals. If a Peppercomm associate has a strong desire to work in one of the agency’s other offices, senior management will try their best to make it happen. Similarly, if an employee wants to broaden their horizons and get involved in a different aspect of the business, a suitable opportunity will eventually be found.

Peppercomm also believes in a work-life balance and the importance of fun. What other agency has a “Fun Committee,” with its own annual budget? In fact, every employee is required to take a stand-up comedy class from the agency’s “Chief Comedy Officer,” a professional comedian, to enhance their presentation and people skills.

As for JGA’s reading from the same playbook, I thought back to what The Capital Grille told me when I asked why they had chosen us as their PR AOR over three other “name” agencies. It all boiled down to three things, our new client said. First, JGA’s recommendation was smart and differentiating; second, the chemistry checked out; and third, we passed the “fun factor.”

2. The benefits of the strategic alliance must be perceived as equally meaningful for both partners.

JGA has made its name as a generalist agency, with a strong focus on consumer, luxury, lifestyle and not-for-profit accounts. Although Peppercomm is best known for its work with financial services, technology and B2B clients, they understand consumer behavior as well as any agency.

Their desire to buy JGA derived from their need to drill even deeper into our specific areas of expertise.

For our part, a merger with Peppercomm would enable JGA to provide clients with services we had previously lacked, such as financial and investor relations, crisis management, experiential marketing, content development, web design, licensing, proprietary measurement, market research and more.

The alliance would also enable the JGA team to master new skills, broaden their professional horizons and increase their opportunities for advancement.

3. The brands must complement each other in a logical way, with few potential risks to either party.

Although Peppercomm was clearly the larger agency, with more diverse offerings, we shared some unifying attributes. Both agencies’ rosters are made up of outstanding clients. Both Peppercomm and JGA are known for their high-touch service and for putting senior professionals on each client business. Both are committed to total transparency in business practices.

It has now been five months since JGA officially became JGAPeppercomm, the consumer, lifestyle, luxury, not-for-profit specialty group of Peppercomm. Already, three of our clients have expressed interest in taking advantage of Peppercomm services previously not available to them. Likewise, Peppercomm has involved select members of our team on accounts where their expertise will add fresh thinking and new approaches.

One thing is increasingly apparent: as a combined entity, the best is yet to come.

Janine Gordon is President, JGAPeppercomm. Contact her at