Based in London and LA, Substance Global is a creative marketing agency that specialises in the creation of content and strategy across digital, social and PR for entertainment and brand clients. Substance has worked with Paramount, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Netflix, and Universal, to name a few. Founder and CEO Andy Freedman last year decided, with our help, to implement a partnership model and he was kind enough to speak to us about what motivated him to make the switch and what effects the change has had on his business.
“Our business already had a lot of elements of the partnership model”
Unlike some of the clients we work with, Substance was already a partnership in all but name. For years, Andy and MD Colin Swift employed a ‘consensus management style’, whilst distributing profit shares and putting their team in the driver’s seat, so to speak.
“The great thing is that Collin and I are on the same page from a cultural perspective, so we can still be the same company that we were when it was just me, him, and two others about fifteen years ago”, Andy explained, before adding “our business already had a lot of elements of the partnership model”.
As many business owners will know, retaining the level of passion, openness, and productivity that gets businesses off the ground initially is no easy task once you start employing more people. Often, the bigger a company gets, the harder it becomes to retain the spirit of teamwork and cooperation that partnership models promote.
Andy said: “To grow without losing what we’ve built is probably the biggest hope and challenge because once you get past thirty people it definitely becomes a different beast, and this is as big as we’ve ever been.” Despite the challenge, Substance seems to have avoided this pitfall and, as such, becoming an official partnership came very naturally to Andy and his team.
“Our business already had a lot of elements of the partnership model such as the consensus management style, the profit shares, and the ability for the employees to drive the business and feel like they are more invested in the future of the company”, he said.
“It’s a no-brainer”
As Substance was already ticking all the right boxes in terms of culture, there was no major pushback from the team so making things official was the obvious next step. “It’s a no-brainer”, Andy said. “The formality of things is still really important to people, i.e., being able to say: ‘I’m a partner’.”
Every team member was given the opportunity to become a partner in the business and, of the thirty or so based in the London office, ‘about 20 members or roughly two thirds of the business’ joined, Andy was pleased to announce. “The main attraction was to get it into a formalised structure and allow people to know they were part of it and have the status”, Andy added.
As for the ones who chose not to join the partnership, Andy said there were no feelings of animosity or suspicion – for various reasons, they simply decided it wasn’t for them. “People don’t tend to flout their partnership status, perhaps due to it being in its infancy”, he added, “as long as you’ve been here three months so done your probation then you’re welcome to join the partnership.”
Why make it official?
There are, of course, certain financial benefits (especially initially) to becoming a partnership which are undoubtedly attractive to business owners. However, Andy was more vocal about the effect the change had on his team; we asked him why he’d recommend our partnership model to other businesses who, like Substance, are already there, culturally.
He said: “Your employees and hopefully would-be members will be really grateful and to actually let them know that this is organised in a way that is in tandem with how you’re already doing business but there are benefits to making it official – bringing those into the open is really important.”
And the effect? “I think that you do see a change in productivity and effectiveness and efficiency in the business because of the fact that people feel that they’re working toward something that they can share in, whether that’s profit or whether that’s just the success and growth of the business. Involvement and integrity – breaking through that demarcation of employer, employee is really important.”
Partners, not employees
One of Andy’s hopes for the partnership is that it will encourage his team to function more autonomously. At time of writing, Substance has had two partnership meetings, during which partners were able to voice their opinions freely. Andy and Colin were present for both meetings however, when we asked Andy what he thought about his partners one day meeting independently, he replied: “I’d love that!” Substance is a fantastic example of a partnership getting it right and we’re proud to call them a client.