RICHMOND, December 24—Since Carter Ryley Thomas was spun off from Earle Palmer Brown in 1996, the firm has grown at an average of 25 percent each year. It has also established a reputation as one of the employers of choice in the public relations agency business, eschewing layoffs this year despite the first contraction in fee income in its history.
Now CRT is preparing for a more aggressive growth spurt, hiring Jeff Thomas as chief financial officer in preparation for several planned mergers and acquisitions in 2002.
According to agency president and chief executive Mark Raper, “We have taken a look at the environment and given a lot of thought to what we want to be when we grow up, and we believe that as there is some insecurity out there we think it’s a buyer’s market. In 2002, we want to be more aggressive in the mergers and acquisitions arena and in strategic partnerships.”
Raper says he would like to see CRT double or triple in size in 2002, from its current level of around $7 million. That’s obviously going to be difficult to do without losing the unique culture that earned the firm the title of the Best Agency to Work For in public relations last year.
“Culture is a very important piece of this puzzle,” says Raper. “The first cut when we look at potential acquisitions will be whether there is a cultural fit. We are particularly interested in making sure that the result of all this is still an employee-owned company. Not every principal of every agency we talk to likes to hear that.”
Raper says the firm is particularly interested in finding firms that complement its existing practice areas, and would like to establish itself in two or three of the larger media markets. As for size, he says the last couple of firms CRT has spoken with were in the $1 million-$2 million fee range, which is “a little smaller than we are looking for.”
Thomas was previously CFO for This End Up Furniture Company for 17 years, and Raper says his “background and experience in multiple divisions and mergers and acquisitions” will be helpful as the firm moves forward.