FEATURE7 December 2020

Q&A with Strat7’s Barrie Brien and Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell

Covid-19 Data analytics Features M&A UK

Last month, global marketing and customer analytics consultancy Strat7 acquired cultural insights and strategy business Crowd DNA. Research Live talked with Barrie Brien, chief executive at Strat7, and Andy Crysell, managing director and founder of Crowd DNA, about the deal.

What is the background to the acquisition? 

Barrie Brien (pictured right): Andy and the team were working with Bonamy Finch back in 2013, and so the teams have known each other for quite a while. ResearchBods has also worked with Crowd DNA for the last two or three years, so it has been one of those nice ‘tie-ups’ where everyone knew each other, trusted each other and liked each other. When we launched Strat7 last April, its whole purpose was tech and data-enabled strategic solutions. Crowd DNA and its cultural trend insights affects those strategic solutions. It seemed a natural fit, not just in what ResearchBods and Bonamy Finch could do for Crowd DNA – advanced analytics, online communities and panels – but also what Crowd DNA could help Strat7 with in its consultancy offer. 

How did the deal come about?

Brien: We started talking at the back end of last year, and we were due to close at the end of March, but then lockdown happened. We needed to see how Covid-19 would play out. Andy and I met up for a beer in the summer, resurrected the conversation and later finished off the due diligence and the legal necessities. It was the first transaction I have done where I never met the other lawyers, and the saddest thing was that we couldn’t have a celebratory meal after the deal was signed. But it all went relatively smoothly.

Andy Crysell (pictured left): We were very impressed with Barrie’s and the team at Strat7’s understanding of Crowd DNA, what our ambitions are and how we fit into this group of businesses. It became clear that the way we tackle work would be strong addition. Every business needs a next chapter, and when we were looking at what we want to do next with Crowd DNA, this deal seemed a strong platform for us. It was certainly a strange year in which to do a deal, but when we met up in the summer it was clear that the world was still turning and the deal made as much sense as it had done at the beginning of 2020.

It has been an uncertain time for the industry – did the pandemic have an impact?

Brien: No, not really. Obviously it has been a difficult time for the whole UK economy and it still is. We as a collective group have bounced back incredibly quickly – we are hiring as quickly as we can, and we have a lot of client work that needs servicing. My perspective is it is an uncertain time for clients, and they need good customer-centric strategies to help accelerate their growth and transformation. This is not just about collecting primary data; it is how you turn that insight into solutions. 

Crysell: We have been pleased with how quickly everything has sprung back into life. We are getting so much income from our clients and fascinating challenges. If the offer is strong, then these are positive times, as the need to understand people and make sense of the world is greater now than it ever has been.

Were there any challenges in getting the deal across the line?

Brien: It was all pretty straightforward. We were both reasonable, and the discussions were focused on what we could do together. Crowd DNA is growing very quickly, and we need to invest in it to keep it at the top of its game. It is great to have Crowd DNA on board to shape the future of Strat7, too. There haven’t really been any challenges thankfully – we need the right team chemistry, and if that wasn’t there the deal wouldn’t have happened.

What do you see as the long- and short-term benefits?

Crysell: Short term, it is adding more to the relationships we already have between the businesses. We are also keen to add innovations into our work, whether that is how to integrate artificial intelligence into our approaches or different types of trends programmes. There are a lot of new dimensions we want to bring into how we use culture to solve problems, and these are all well-realised within Strat7.

Brien: We have our own research panel, and we are looking at how to build that out further to include cultural and trends insight. We will launch that early next year. The client list Andy is bringing, the skills set, capabilities and having that type of talent in the organisation helps enormously. We have got to keep innovating our offer as well.

What are the future plans for Crowd DNA as part of Strat7? WILL THERE BE A REBRAND?

Crysell: In terms of our role in the group, it is maximising the ways we can work collectively. It is also us pushing on with our global presence and innovations. We know what we want to do, and we know what our clients want from us, so there is little that stands in our path.

Brien: As a group, our proposition is around a group of interconnected specialists. We have got to double down on each of our companies and offers and keep investing in them, and how we can support Crowd DNA from a global perspective, with more clients and innovation. 

What are your key priorities for 2021?

Crysell: Short term, there is still some onboarding to do. We are getting teams meeting, but we want that to get to a ‘by client’ level as well, to understand what everyone is doing when we are working for the same clients and what innovation is going on in each of the businesses. We are looking to push on with our global presence and explore new innovations, products and tech-enabled ways to deliver our type of consultancy.

Brien: Investing in new hires for all the companies, especially for Crowd DNA. Our priorities are to continue doing amazing work for our clients, but look at what gaps there in our data collection and analytics offer, and see how we can continue to build out Strat7.

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