Dragons’ Den star Arlene Dickinson strikes merger deal to create marketing and communications ‘super firm’ – The Globe and Mail

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Financier and Dragons’ Den star Arlene Dickinson at her downtown Toronto office in 2009.Sheryl Nadler/The Globe and Mail

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Veteran financier and Dragons’ Den star Arlene Dickinson is merging her marketing and communications firm with five other agencies to launch a larger company with an international reach, backed in part by the Canadian Business Growth Fund.

The new company, called Believeco:Partners, will have nearly 300 employees in seven offices across North America, serving clients in a variety of sectors including technology, food, health, agriculture, government and financial services. It is combining Ms. Dickinson’s agency Venture Play with leading Canadian marketing firms Argyle, Brightworks, Zync, Revolve and Castlemain.

Three brands will emerge out of the amalgamation arrangement, which is designed to preserve the independence of the six firms while scaling up their business under the same banner. Significant staff reductions are not expected, the companies said. Believeco:Partners will be headquartered in Calgary.

Ms. Dickinson said in an interview that she first conceived the idea for a “super firm” such as Believeco about two years ago. She described it as a way to fill a void in the communications and marketing space in Canada, which she believes lacked a distinct voice to serve all parts of the economy and diversified clients with different business lines.

“The way that we’re doing this is quite unique. We’re still keeping the founders of these firms at the wheel, with skin in the game, committed to the long-term future of their teams and their clients’ business success,” Ms. Dickinson told The Globe and Mail. “It’s six firms coming together right now, but we definitely have plans to acquire other independent companies in the future.”

Toronto-based Argyle and Vancouver-based Castlemain will remain as stand-alone brands, drawing on their strengths in different sectors. Castlemain, which has long served Indigenous communities and peoples, will continue as an advisory firm under Rob McPhee as president. Daniel Tisch will remain chief executive officer of Argyle, an established name in the tech, financial services and government sectors.

But Calgary-based Venture Play, Halifax-based Revolve and Toronto companies Zync and Brightworks will all be combined to create a single new brand: Believeco. It will focus particularly on the health, wellness and food and beverage sectors.

Brightworks founder Neil Follett has been appointed as CEO of Believeco. Mr. Follett and Mr. Tisch have also been appointed as managing partners of Believeco:Partners, while Ms. Dickinson will act as executive chair of the new parent company for the three brands.

George Rossolatos, CEO of the Canadian Business Growth Fund, a private equity firm based in Toronto, said his team is a minority investor and will sit on the board for Believeco:Partners. “We’ll leave the operations to the management team, but we’re involved in the high-level strategy, thinking about where to expand and how to garner other acquisitions effectively,” he said.

Mr. Rossolatos acknowledged that current pressures such as rising inflation, high interest rates, a slower economy and a stronger dollar could affect Believeco’s clientele, possibly making its services a harder sell to a broader range of companies. “We’re in choppy waters, there’s a lot of volatility out there and this adjustment period is affecting everyone,” he said.

“But we’re not here for the short term. This is a longer-term play for us and everyone else on board.”

“In a weird way, this downturn is actually good for us. Businesses tend to need more communications and marketing services during a recessionary period – whether that’s crisis work, communicating about layoffs or what have you, we speak their language for them,” Ms. Dickinson said.

“There’s always going to be ups and downs, now we’re together to confront them. And just with the large roster of clients that we have already, we’ve quickly become a massive force to be reckoned with.”

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