Willoughby PR completes MBO

Irwin Mitchell in Birmingham advises on deal


David Shirt, Press Officer | 0161 838 3094

Birmingham public relations and digital agency, Willoughby PR (WPR), has completed a management buyout for an undisclosed sum in a deal that sees current managing director, Jane Ainsworth, become majority shareholder. 

Founder and current CEO, Julia Willoughby, will retain a significant shareholding in the business along with deputy managing director, Jo McCarthy. The agency’s head of B2B, Tom Leatherbarrow, is also joining the board.

Julia Willoughby will continue to work for the business as a director with both management and fee earning responsibilities.

Established in 1992, WPR is one of the region’s most longstanding public relations firms. Now ranked at number 83 in the PR Week national agency league tables, the firm has a turnover of £3.3m and employs 43 staff from its offices in Edgbaston. 

The client list includes the likes of Wacky Warehouse, Triton Showers, Legrand, Worcester, Bosch Group and Pyrex.

In recent years the agency has gained international accolade for PR stunts such as removing Shakespeare from British culture and selling a castle on eBay.

New owner, Jane Ainsworth, has worked for the business for 18 years, including two as a director and eight as managing director.  In that time the agency has won 50 industry awards and seen growth of 98%.

Fellow shareholder, Jo McCarthy, joined the firm in 1998, accepting a board position with Jane in 2005.

Commenting on the deal, Jane said: “The last 23 years have all been good ones for the agency but we are probably proudest of our achievements in the last three in particular.  In that time, we have delivered growth of 33% and been named PR agency of the year twice. 

“Last year, we became Google Partners and earned Bing and Yahoo accreditations.  We were named as a Twitter Elite Agency and we have now been recognised by Facebook’s global solutions team meaning we have access to BETA advertising products and early notifications of platform and algorithm changes.

“We can do all this because we are an independent agency, not answerable to a large corporate more interested in our bottom line than in investing in our future.  We have also been able to stand by our belief that if we look after our staff, they will look after our clients - and this share restructure allows us to keep operating under that very ethos.

“This deal isn’t about change for the agency.  It’s protecting our values, maintaining our identity and securing our future as a strong, independent PR and digital agency."

Julia added: “Jane and Jo have grown WPR to the sizeable agency we are today and the new share structure reflects their major contribution and commitment to the future success of the business. I am delighted that the new ownership secures continuity of management and to be part of such an exciting agency.”

Rob Laugharne, an associate in the corporate team at Irwin Mitchell advised on the transaction.

Commenting on the support that she received from Irwin Mitchell, Julia added: “The corporate team were a terrific support for our MBO and we thank them for all their help. Great lawyers go beyond the technical details of documents; they listen to clients , understand the direction a business and its key people are going and work with them to achieve their ambitions. We really appreciated the way Rob and the team at Irwin Mitchell handled the inevitable issues that arise and worked with other advisers to agree solutions so the whole process went well for us.”