May 17, 2024

Five lessons we learned from an agency acquisition

treetree Agency
The leadership team of treetree, a Lunne Marketing Group Company

Six months later and five lessons learned after combining LMG and treetree creative marketing agencies

On November 30 of last year, we joined forces with LMG, a marketing agency based in Dayton, Ohio. The agreement held—and continues to hold—great potential for both companies. For LMG, it was a chance to expand Dayton and Charlotte’s presence into Columbus, bolster a client roster with additional national brands, and add more talent to a team that has nearly doubled in size over the past four years. For treetree, it was an opportunity to tap into a larger pool of agency resources and processes and build on our authentic, existing relationships. Today, six months into this newly combined organization, we’re sharing how it’s been going since November and five lessons we’ve learned from this experience.

Lesson 1: Dive in with both feet.

There’s no way to do this half-heartedly. We began combining our organizational structure and ensured our leadership teams were in lockstep on every next move. From day zero, we began leaning in to operate as one organization. We introduced teams, educated each other on processes, and kept communication clear and consistent so everyone knew where they stood. LMG managers began supervising and coaching treetree employees, and vice versa. The new organizational structure was thoughtful and strategic. We honored the two brands’ legacies while aligning and marching alongside each other immediately because we had a shared vision of success and sought to build trust quickly between the teams.

“Trust is the foundation of any great relationship. When Becca, co-founder of treetree, called and said I was first to come to mind as someone she could trust with the business she worked so hard to build for 15 years, I was flattered, but also took it with all the seriousness it deserved. The process of combining two similar (but different) agencies was simplified by full transparency made possible by a 12-year history and a reservoir of trust.”

Doug Lunne, President and CEO

Six months in, we’re operating as one unified team, sharpening the low-ego agency culture both treetree and LMG shared.

The treetree team welcomed LMG staff into their beautiful space in The Short North in Columbus, Ohio, and LMG has welcomed treetree employees into everything from staff meetings to culture and team-building activities. We are one organization. 

Lesson 2: Find the yin to your yang.

On paper, one company acquired the other. But beyond the standard logistics of switching email services and moving files from one server to another, much of how LMG operated before the acquisition was up for discussion and review. The influx of new ideas from treetree—from employee perks to production processes and creative collaboration—helped LMG reflect on how we did everything before the combination of the two companies.

For example, where LMG brought a well-defined process for project management and team structure, treetree brought a fresh perspective on creative strategy and collaboration. In short, both agencies were seeking to grow, and together, had the discipline, focus, and expertise to make the organization much stronger. 

Finding those opportunities and implementing them across the teams meant that both companies’ leaders had to be humble and open to new perspectives. 

“While we were so similar at our core, the types of creative work LMG and treetree each specialized in were different, but complementary. So when we started to combine these skills and perspectives on shared challenges, the creative solutions we could offer just kind of started to overflow—in a great way. Plus, the process and system rigor LMG had in place left room for treetree to bring some new opportunities for collaboration and learning. So it’s this technicolor moment when I’m looking around and seeing the power of the creativity and imagination we can now bring to our clients.”

Megan Myers, VP, Creative Services

Lesson 3: You must have a growth mindset.

It’s easy to feel either superior or inferior, no matter which company a team member worked for before the acquisition. What we found was that all of us had one thing in common—no one had all the answers.

Marketing isn’t a production line. It’s a unique field that requires some parameters and processes, but it also requires just as much flexibility and capacity to change directions as needed.

In these past six months, we’ve also debated the “right” way to approach many topics. What should our RFP response say? Who should attend this meeting? If an employee has a unique, extenuating circumstance, do they use PTO? And we’ve decided there are many good ways and many better ways. In our industry, you take the most sound recommendation and you give it a shot. 

“Growth is so challenging for people because it often requires a willingness to test your beliefs or even let go of what got you this far. Our team has heard the phrase, ‘What got you here won’t get you there’ a lot over the past few years during our most rapid years of growth. Staying in your comfort zone is a surefire way to make sure your growth is limited, so you have to always be open to learning something else, trying something new, and admitting that you can use a new perspective now and then.”

Chris Wilguess, SVP, Operations

Lesson 4: You say you have a good culture? Prove it.

One of the greatest things both companies had in common was their respective award-winning cultures, built by committed leadership and lived out by each member of the team. Beginning in the early stages of integration, we placed a meaningful focus on our cultures. Both agencies wanted the other to see that they encourage tight-knit working relationships and even some that turn into true, lifelong friendships outside of the office. Still, at times either side could feel the hesitation of believing before seeing.

Six months isn’t much time at all, but as people met more of their new teammates, as they participated in exciting culture events, and as they inevitably ran into challenges and needed to lean on someone they’ve never leaned on before, people saw that everyone “walked the walk.”

“The leadership teams of both organizations were very upfront and vulnerable about what was important to us from the first introduction. While not every single thing was the same between us, we determined early on that our core values were aligned. This was an important foundation to build upon as we continued to get to know each other as individual team members. Now I feel confident our cultures are even more aligned because we speak openly about where we’re coming from and where we’re going as a group; across teams, across office locations, and across companies of origin.”

Shannon Lipp, VP, Client Services

Our team could do marketing work at thousands of places, so we continue to ask ourselves, “Why would someone want to do this work here?” And then we continue to cultivate that place where people choose to stay.

Lesson 5: Kindness prevails.

Our founder, Doug Lunne, often quotes Simon Sinek. One of Sinek’s nuggets of wisdom for effective leadership is that there’s scientific evidence that kindness begets kindness, and that kind leadership creates a better workplace, better work, and better workers. Throughout this process, Doug has taken that advice and charged our leaders to remember it–and to demonstrate kindness. An acquisition can be unsettling for all involved, so (over)communicate with kindness to ensure your team is not making assumptions to fill between the lines. 

“Change is hard–even good change creates anxiety and uncertainty. So, listening to feelings, concerns, and ideas is key. As an Enneagram 9 leader, my antennae are always out, scanning the vibe around me. This awareness helped us tune in and extend kindness throughout the process, and we plan to continue to do so well into our future as we build a new combined agency.”

Doug Lunne, President and CEO

We’ve treated the acquisition like a merging of two to one, at least from an emotional standpoint. There was never a proclamation that the acquiring company is now “in charge” and that things will go our way or the highway. This approach has led to honest conversations and great questions, an openness to explore new ideas, and a faster adoption of the greater team’s vision. 

An acquisition is more than just the paperwork.

“When both organizations are open, honest, and vulnerable during the entire process, yes it makes the paperwork portion seamless and efficient, but it speaks to the caliber of people who are joining forces. And I had the exciting task of taking a look at all benefits and perks offered by each organization and implementing the best solutions for our new team, making our culture and organization that much better.”

Beth Combs, Director, Finance and Administration

Every merger or acquisition is unique, mostly because beyond the paperwork and administrative needs, the main contributor toward success is the relationships among our people. And people aren’t machines. While there are risks involved, educated guesses, and the occasional leap of faith, we’re truly thrilled to work with our newly expanded team. We love visiting all three of our offices (Dayton, Ohio; Charlotte, North Carolina; and now Columbus, Ohio) and experiencing their similarities and differences. And most of all, we’re beaming with optimism for the future.

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