The Marketing Group splits with Black Marketing boss Chris Reed – ‘Nobody will shed a tear’

The Marketing Group has acrimoniously split with one of its founding agencies, Black Marketing, after the chief executive officer of TMG claimed it was not a business he “would have acquired” had he been around at the time.

Adam Graham, CEO of TMG, claimed Black Marketing was a “loss-making” enterprise and that its colourful founder Chris Reed drew too much “negative attention” to the company during its rocky first two years.

TMG’s CEO on Chris Reed’s exit: “I doubt anyone will shed a tear at his departure”

In a company statement, TMG described Black Marketing as a “specialist Linkedin marketing agency that primarily worked for SMEs” that is “not considered appropriate to be part of TMG”.

TMG also said it is currently “considering its options” regarding potential legal action against Reed. Mumbrella Asia understands this is related to Reed allegedly shifting his focus towards his other personal branding ventures above and beyond Black Marketing.

“I am very pleased that we are now reaching the end of the clear-up operation and that we can hit the ground running in 2018,” Graham told Mumbrella Asia. On Reed personally, he added: “The negative attention Chris generated sparked strong criticism from within the group and from our shareholders.”

Going out of his way to emphasise that his comments were on the record, Graham added: “I doubt anyone will shed a tear at his departure”

Graham, who came on board TMG in November 2016 – five months after its launch – said of Black Marketing: “It is not a business I would have acquired”

Reed, who previously delighted in billing himself as the “only NASDAQ-listed CEO with a mohawk”, was one of four companies bought by TMG’s founders Jeremy Harbour and Callum Laing – in a deal that gave him 18.65% of TMG’s 14.4m shares.

Described as an “agglomeration model”, the company was intended to allow agencies to be part of a network, but still retain their autonomy. The company was listed on the First North Stock Exchange in Sweden in June 2016, with its share price soaring from an opening price of €1 to a remarkable €9 on August 1.

However, over the course of last year the share price plummeted to just €0.34c despite the best efforts of Graham – a seasoned marketing executive, who drafted in a new board of directors and relocated the company’s headquarters from Singapore to London. 

Speaking to Mumbrella Asia in response to Graham’s comments, Reed denied that Black Marketing Singapore had been a loss-making enterprise. He said he resigned from TMG in October due to the company’s refusal to “put any money into the business”.

“I understand why Black Marketing is not a company [Adam] would buy,” he said. “He’s trying to create a global media network. We don’t buy media; we do LinkedIn marketing. It doesn’t fit at all. It became clear [Adam] didn’t like it. He didn’t like the fact I had a personality and had made comments on [Mumbrella Asia’s] site. He doesn’t get entrepreneurs.”

He added: “Since TMG’s new board took over, they have tried to make it more corporate. But they haven’t got a clue what’s going on in Asia. All the board of directors sit in London. Jeremy and Callum’s idea wasn’t quite the right model, but neither is the current plan of turning it into a mini-WPP.”

“He doesn’t get entrepreneurs” – Reed on TMG’s CEO Adam Graham

On the lawsuit threat, he said: “If [Graham] brings it on, I’m ready and my legal team are ready to strike back. He’s just using bully-boy tactics.”

At TMG’s height, Reed’s fortune was worth €24m (S$38m). However, Reed has since sold two million of his shares and given away a million as part of a divorce settlement. Today, with the share price hovering at €0.34 his 1,016,150 shares are worth just €243,876 (S$390,000).

However, although Black Marketing Singapore has closed, Reed said the brand was active in a number of other global markets. Meanwhile, the UK-born marketer recently set up three new brands to be housed under his company All Black Ventures. These include The Dark Art of Marketing – for personal branding, Mohawk Marketing – for TripAdvisor marketing, and Chris J Reed Mastery – a series of personal branding masterclasses.

The company is said to currently employ 25 people across the board. Reed claimed he was able to set up the competing companies despite opposition from TMG’s board, due to its lack of stipulation in the founding members’ contracts. Graham has denied this and said there was a non-compete clause in the founders’ charter. 

 “TMG only bought Black Marketing Singapore,” said Reed. “All the other Black Marketing operations were making a lot of money and were very successful. The brand is very strong. Even though we have closed down Black Marketing in Singapore, we didn’t lose a single person or client.”

On the lessons he learnt from his experience with TMG, Reed added: “Not in one million years would I sell again. It’s been an interesting journey, but I like being independent.”


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