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Interview: All3media boss Farah Ramzan Golant

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22 October 2013

With her feet now well and truly under the desk, Farah Ramzan Golant, chief executive of the UK’s biggest superindie All3media, tells Jon Creamer about her plans for growth

“I do keep thinking ‘When do I stop being the outsider from advertising?’” So ponders All3media’s ceo, Farah Ramzan Golant about her first months in the TV world.

Well maybe now’s the time. It’s close to a year since she was plucked from a 25 year career in the ad industry where she’d risen to executive chairman of AMV BBDO, picking up a CBE along the way, and deposited into the world of TV production as All3’s ceo.

It’s certainly been long enough for her to start putting her ideas on how to grow the federal outfit, already the biggest indie grouping in the UK, into practice.  And she says, the initial signs are encouraging. “We’ve just closed our year-end and, though I’m sure I’m not meant to tell you, we’ve broken through the £500m-revenue mark.” (up from the previous £477m).

But that’s only the start, she says. The private equity backed company had one aborted sale in 2011, but another is not an immediate plan, she suggests. “Private equity is a pretty well documented model so at some point no doubt…” But until then All3 has some growing to do before the shareholders look to exit. “I feel a really strong sense of conviction from the shareholders that I’ve brought something new to the party.”

The plan now is to “make a few big priorities and not get distracted with a million things that a group of this scale could do,” she says. One thing that isn’t a priority is more acquisitions. “We’re always in the market for them but we are already at scale so we don’t have to buy. There are other ways to grow.”

One of those ways is represented by her latest deal that sees All3 taking a stake in comedian Matt Lucas’s indie John Stanley Productions. “Anybody would have wanted to take a stake in that company.” Being a talent magnet is crucial, she says, and “I’m really keen on start ups” as they represent a way to “get ahead of the curve” rather than be following it.

As well as investing in outside talent, she’s also keen on investing in the talent within All3media. Many of All3’s enviable spread of indies are closely identified with their founders and creative leaders, both a strength but also a worrying weakness. “A group this wide and diverse cannot just rest on the leadership of each company,” she says. “There’s always a danger that you forget about the next generation two or three layers down.” So the push is on to find “how we create space for them to have their own development slate, to be more visible to the group headquarters?”

Some have already been given that space, Andy Taylor was set up in digital start up Little Dot under the All3 umbrella and there are more to come. But she’s also interested “in a different kind of umbrella,” where start-ups could be grown under the wing of one of All3’s indies “like a hosted start up. Might a start up do better if it’s hosted inside a creative enterprise rather than inside the holding company? If Objective’s Andrew Newman or Optomen’s Pat Llewellyn could put their arm around a start up, that’s really leveraging our creative strength.”

New talent aside, the other concern for a superindie is keeping hold of the talent it paid the big bucks for in the first place. After all, many indie bosses who’ve had their companies acquired have left soon after their earn out period. But retaining top talent was always a concern in the ad industry too. “It’s a classic leadership challenge,” says Ramzan Golant. “You’ve got to keep your creative leaders motivated and incentivised.” Partly that’s about  “brute reward” but also about apportioning credit. Creative people “need to feel not only that they’re going to be incentivised and rewarded, they want recognition for their work.” And also that All3 doesn’t crowd them too much. “They have deep pride in their companies. There’s a fierce sense of tribalism.” But despite their independence “there is a recognition of their dream and how you’re going to help them get there.”

Part of that help is a crucial part of the group’s expansion plans. The launch of All3Media America in January, the company’s LA based studio, is there to offer All3’s indies a bridgehead to the US. “There were individual companies west and east coast. We’ve been there for ten years plus but it was a benefit to create this infrastructure so the operating companies who are not yet in America can get off the tarmac straight into the campus.” And work through an All3Media America that already has “deal precedents and upstream relationships. NBC, Fox and CBS have all bought shows from us.” But All3Media America won’t just bring UK formats to US networks. Stephen Lambert’s Million Second Quiz for NBC is a US original. The show garnered tepid ratings on its initial outing but was a good statement of intent. It’s time “to challenge the perception that you’ve got to make it work here and then make it bigger there. Some things you might make there first and bring home.” Either way, the key is to keep experimenting. “When you’re successful that’s the time when you have to guard most against settling into old habits.”

CV
Farah Ramzan Golant joined All3media in November 2012. Before moving into television production she had a 25 year career in the advertising industry, rising through the ranks of AMV BBDO, Britain’s largest advertising agency to become CEO in 2005. She was a member of the BBDO Worldwide Board based in New York and in 2011 was awarded a CBE for services to the advertising industry.She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Theatre, the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group and the Advisory Board of the Cambridge Judge Business School.

This interview first appeared in Televisual's October edition

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