The Secret To M&A Success
Each year, hundreds of companies in our industry fail to grow. Others only see small gains. Very few, on the other hand, strike it rich. This article is about one company that struck it rich – really rich.
I had the opportunity to talk with Jay Meadows, the former CEO of Rapid Reporting, a one-time small verification company that, with the right vision, strategy and steadfast execution, grew wings, took off and was sold to a large conglomerate. Jay shared with me his story and tips on achieving this kind of success.
Let me tell you a little bit about Jay Meadows. Jay is a hardcore Texan from the old school, where everything is bigger and therefore better. He is anything but quiet, as all who know him can attest. He’s renowned for his outgoing personality and does everything with passion, including riding and roping on his ranch, a trademark Stetson shading his eyes against the western sun.
So when Jay built his company, Rapid Reporting, he did so with flair, spreading the word like a prairie wildfire leveraging two essential tools: public relations and marketing. A few years later, the investment paid off in a very big way when he sold his company to Atlanta-based Equifax for a Texas-sized price.
Here’s how he told me he did it.
Step #1: He Prepared to Hit the Big Time in Order To Achieve It
Rapid Reporting was in the business of verifying a borrower’s identity, employment and tax returns. Prior to the mortgage crisis, verifications were considered important, but not yet a deal-breaker for getting loans funded and sold.
Jay anticipated a day when things would change. But he also understood that he needed help to spread the word about his company in order to maximize its potential. For a while he used a big public relations agency in the mortgage industry, but he was under-impressed. “They were just not generating the results we needed,” he remembers. After asking around, he heard consistent raves about my company, Strategic Vantage, a boutique marketing and public relations agency focused on the mortgage industry. “Everyone seemed mighty pleased with the results they were getting. So we lassoed Strategic Vantage like a bull at a rodeo and let them do their work,” he says.
Step #2: They Became the Recognized Life Vest
Strategic Vantage launched into a proactive marketing and publicity campaign that included branding, lead generation, and a heaping portion of PR for the company. Soon Rapid Reporting became a trusted household name in the mortgage industry. When the mortgage crisis hit, and lenders suddenly realized the critical importance of verifications, they knew where to turn.
“Everyone’s needs changed when the bad stuff hit the fan,” explains Meadows. “By late 2007, no one could afford to be without our services if they didn’t want to leave unsalable loans in the pipeline. In less than six months, we grew from 30 employees to 150, and went from running 10,000 verifications per month to 10,000 per day.”
Jay told me Rapid Reporting’s verification services suddenly became a “life vest” for the industry. “The thing is, people don’t look for a life vest unless they are sinking,” he said. “This is why companies need to be promoting themselves all the time, especially in an industry that changes as quickly as ours.”
A Texan-sized Sale to Equifax
In 2007, Rapid Reporting grew by 1,600 percent. “Our company became a raving success,” Jay said. “We not only captured the attention of prospective clients and referral partners, we also caught the eye of potential buyers, which was part of the plan.”
In 2011, Jay sold his company to Equifax in a monumental deal. By age 48, he had built the firm, established prominence in his niche, provided outstanding service and raised the bar for competitors before selling the company, all according to a master plan. Strategic Vantage was proud to have been a part of that journey, an epic one by any measure and an instructive tale of the value of effective marketing and public relations.
Jay’s Advice: Invest in Promoting Your Vision
When times get difficult, marketing and PR are often among the first areas companies eliminate. Yet few companies ever make it to the big time without a strong marketing and public relations push. In fact, neither Jay nor I could think of one exception.
But the devil is in the details, and in marketing and public relations, this always applies. The precise strategy, tactics and execution of Rapid Reporting’s marketing and PR campaign made all the difference. Here are the three steps we took.
We created a solid, recognizable brand image
The key was to not blend in. We created a unique, professional look for all Rapid Reporting marketing, so that when anyone saw anything from the company, they instantly knew who it was before even seeing the logo. For Rapid Reporting, that meant a uniquely Texas theme, since Jay and his staff carried the spirit of Texas everywhere.
We heavily publicized the business
Prospective buyers look for companies that stand out. We made sure Jay and Rapid Reporting were constantly quoted in the press, being profiled in publications, speaking at conferences, and winning awards. Wherever you looked, they were there. Jay became a pseudo-celebrity in our industry.
We marketed proactively, with humor—and a touch of fear
Good outbound marketing creates leads, grows revenues and draws the eyes of investors, so that was a huge priority. The goal was to invest wisely on mediums with the greatest ROI. We focused on selective advertising, webinars and direct mail, and each marketing piece carried the trademark Rapid Reporting branding.
But that was not all. Our advertising and direct mail pieces were funny. Yet, they also gave people a reason to be fearful about not using verifications—in other words, a reason to pay attention. Our favorite campaign featured the photo of a bare-chested, hairy man wearing only overalls and a cowboy hat. The caption read, “His application says he’s a CFO. Employment misrepresentations account for 20% of mortgage fraud.”
At the time, verifications were considered optional, so our job was to create fear in the minds of lenders. We needed to make readers aware of the risks of not verifying a borrower’s identity. And that we did, doing so in an entertaining way.
The campaign was such a huge success, others tried to copy it. But it was too late—Rapid Reporting had already established its brand and communicated just the right message. The groundwork had been laid, and the onslaught of demand ensued.
Making it to The Big Time
Some companies seem to be shy about marketing and public relations. They believe that if they build it, people will come – but in most cases, they won’t. People come when they are being called.
The biggest names in our industry and in the world didn’t get big because they kept quiet; they got big because they had vision and a plan, and PR and marketing were an essential part of them. Early on, Rapid Reporting made the commitment to become a well-recognized, trusted name by leveraging marketing and PR. When demand for its services spiked, this recognition completely transformed the company’s fortunes.
Rapid Reporting is a perfect example of how a small company with vision can make it to the big time. Just ask Jay Meadows – you’ll get an animated earful, Texas style.
By Rosalie Berg, President, Strategic Vantage