Engine Sport co-founders exit in major restructure

Engine Sport co-founders Lisa Parfitt and Tom Gladstone have left the business as the group incorporates its sport and brand experience practices into Engine Creative.

Tom Gladstone and Lisa Parfitt: plan to start a new venture
Tom Gladstone and Lisa Parfitt: plan to start a new venture

Agency group Engine has folded its sport and brand experience capabilities into Engine Creative following a challenging period in which projects were “kicked into the long grass”.

The restructure culminates with Engine Sport co-founders Lisa Parfitt and Tom Gladstone leaving the business to launch “a new venture”.

It means the Engine Sport and Engine Brand Experience brands will be retired, and their services will be offered by the Engine Creative division.

Engine told PRWeek it had entered into a consultation period with staff and was unable to confirm whether any further redundancies will take place.

The new offering will be led by Engine Creative chief executive Ete Davies, who told PRWeek: “Engine Sport has always worked closely with the other parts of Engine, and the timing felt right to bring the sport offering closer to brand advertising, PR and content. This new approach will allow us to offer clients a more holistic proposition.”

Engine Sport operated as Synergy until a year ago, while Engine Brand Experience was previously known as Slice.

PRWeek understands plans to consolidate Engine Sport and Engine Brand Experience into Engine Creative were devised prior to COVID-19, but disruption cause by the pandemic sped up the process due to changing client demands.

Engine's broader strategy has led to consolidation of different agency brands, including its communications agencies MHP and Mischief working more closely together. This had been followed by the loss of senior talent, including former Mischief boss Frankie Cory, who now works at Fremantle Media, and more recently strategy and creative leads Gemma Moroney and Damon Statt, who have set up Shook.

Parfitt, who was managing director of Engine Sport and Engine Brand Experience, is a regular in the PRWeek Power Book sports list. She confirmed an “amicable” departure and that she was working on a new venture with Gladstone, who was head of Engine Sport.

Covid-19's impact

The timing of the restructure follows an incredibly challenging period for sports marketing agencies after all major sports were paused for months due to coronavirus lockdown rules.

This break has already led to one prominent agency casualty with the collapse of Promote.

Davies explained that Covid-19 has led to the goalposts shifting in sports marketing, not least in what clients now expect.

“A good number of plans and projects that were in place around sports were kicked into the long grass with Covid-19, and despite sports themselves restarting, the absence of spectators is an ongoing challenge for fan activation,” he said. 

“It has had a material impact on budgets, but just as much it has had an impact on visibility and the ability of clients to commit to future plans. 

“Looking ahead, what clients want in this space is changing, and the greater emphasis on digital-first, content-first campaigns and activations has helped shape our direction.”

Davies said that clients and their agency partners are exploring new ways of engaging with fans who – for the most part – are still unable to attend live events in the UK.

“We are helping clients rethink what that virtual/digital experience is going to be, and how digital platforms and technology can help bring sports communities together in new and interesting ways,” he said.

“All change brings with it creative opportunities if you move and adapt at speed, so we are excited about the projects we have in the hopper right now.”

This article originally appeared on PRWeek