The World: How Profero is stepping up its global expansion

The digital agency continues growing internationally with the opening of an office in New York.

Profero, the digital media and creative ad agency, celebrates ten years in the business this month, an impressive feat given that that period includes the halcyon "print your own money" days of the late 90s dotcom boom - and the misery of what followed.

It is marking the event with a new office opening, its first in the US. This will be headed by Wayne Arnold, who will leave his current role as the European chief executive in June to become the chief executive of the New York office.

The international expansion has been undertaken without outside investment so far. It encompasses wholly owned offices in the UK, Italy, Spain, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul. A partnership in Germany and France with Plan.Net gives Profero a claim to being the biggest independent digital network.

The agency was started in London by the brothers Wayne and Daryl Arnold ten years ago, with Daniele Fiandaca, its chief operating officer, joining 18 months in.

Wayne admits that it is an unusual strategy to have gone so far in international expansion without having ventured a US operation.

So why the decision to wait? Without naming any names, Wayne says the approach of some British agencies with dreams of international expansion is to turn up in New York with "a bunch of Brits saying 'we're here'".

"But we're starting our office with a global client, Western Union. We very much see New York as the last major stepping-stone in our operation," he says, describing the event, as well as the Western Union win, as a "tipping point" for the agency.

The relationship between the Arnolds and Fiandaca has lasted longer, and remained more amicable, than many marriages - so how do they manage it?

Wayne describes his brother as a "true entrepreneur". It is agreed by Fiandaca and him that Daryl is very much the "people person" of the show, with his strengths lying in customer relationships as well as management skills.

Fiandaca, who is an accountant by training, is very much the down-to-earth business mind of the operation. To categorise him as Mr Sensible might be going too far, however: he admits that he joined Profero when Daryl, his then flatmate, owed him rent money - not the best advertisement for his skills running his own business.

Fiandaca says he's often asked about what it's like working with two brothers, but says that he loves it, claiming to have seen only two arguments between the pair in all the time they've been working together.

"Generally, we have very different facets to our personalities, but we manage to work closely together really well. And we make decisions between the three of us," Fiandaca says.

Wayne agrees, saying: "Without one of us, the business would have fallen over years ago."

Not that the ten years haven't been without their moments of drama and difficulty - although much of this was concentrated into one horrific afternoon, during which not one but three of Profero's clients rang up to say that they essentially no longer existed.

It's a defining moment and remains etched in the minds of Fiandaca and Wayne. "It was June 2001. had gone in May and within the space of 45 minutes, Sainsbury's, CNN and Buena Vista all called to say that the business was gone," Wayne says.

Fiandaca remembers the same afternoon with clarity, as well as the following months during which Profero was forced to make redundancies. But, with the benefit of hindsight, he says: "I think it was a great thing for the industry, because it forced it to become more sensible.

"And in terms of running a business, after you've gone through the process of making redundancies, you want to make sure you don't do it again."

With those dark days well behind them, assuming that talk of a recession this year remains only talk, Profero is now a global operation with clients including Mini, Apple, Channel 4 and Johnson & Johnson.

One trait that marks Profero out is a realisation that young guns don't know everything. In its earlier days, the media agency legend Christine Walker and the creative agency boss Amanda Walsh both sat on Profero's advisory board.

A year ago, it impressed the industry by signing up Lord Puttnam, the Labour peer who started out at Collett Dickenson Pearce and later became famous for his career as a movie producer, as its chairman.

The company may have more of a reputation for its creative work in the UK, but Wayne explains that its revenues are divided roughly 50:50 between media planning and buying and creative billings, although this even split doesn't apply to every one of its nine offices.

With regards to future acquisitions, Fiandaca says the New York opening means that they're not in a position to do anything at the moment. "If we were to do an acquisition, we would have to raise money," he points out.

Wayne claims, however, that almost without exception, the major media and creative agencies have been interested in holding acquisition talks at some point or other. But he insists: "We've never come to a point that we've been keen to sell. We love our independence. It's not high on our agenda."

So for now, the plan for Profero is to stay independent, win more truly international clients and work with them on a global basis, and to create work that is admired and respected.

If the agency can actually stick to the plan, there's a good chance that it will still be around to celebrate its 20th anniversary.


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