The steady trickle of agents leaving ICM Partners over the past nine months has grown into a stream in the last week, with dozens of reps making inquiries to other agencies and management companies as they mull their future ahead of the pending Department of Justice ruling on ICM’s proposed acquisition by CAA.
With the merger decision expected in the next couple of weeks, the prospect of ICM staff moving to CAA has become real, and so have the invites to join the combined agency after months of hints and winks. While no hiring/layoff decisions can be made while the regulatory approval process is ongoing, by now everyone knows where they stand. Staff reductions are an inevitable byproduct of any merger, and with the proceedings dragging on for so long, a number of ICM agents already left for other jobs ahead of the deal close — either because they chose to move on or because they knew or feared that they were not chosen to go to CAA or both.
The list of notable departures of agents who already have landed elsewhere include Jeff Barry, Dan Baime, John Burnham, Josh Rahm, Matt Sorger, April King, Ariel Meislin, Adam Ginivisian, Nathalie Didier, Christina Bazdekis, Denise Draper, JR Ringer, Kevin Hussey, Brett Passis and Will Kircher.
There are a number of other agents who are now in play, also under different circumstances: some have not been invited, others have opted for a new start instead of moving to another major agency job and some were not satisfied with the offer they have received. Most of the agents who have signaled an exit from ICM are already plotting their next career move and some are close to landing elsewhere. The list includes Daniel Cohan, Chris Von Goetz, Katie Cates, Andrew Rogers, Joanne Wiles, Kyle Jaeger and James Robins Early.
The offers, which have caused a lot of the discontent at ICM, are described as take it-or-leave it with no room for negotiation or questions. According to sources, many pacts include pay cuts or salaries on par with what agents are currently making at ICM, no cash for partners at the close of the deal but stock that cannot be exercised right away and contract lengths as short as one year. One person notes that a shortfall in salary for top agents is largely made up in stock, with the hope that the growth in CAA’s EBIDA that the ICM acquisition would bring would lead to an IPO in the next couple of years. Still, most agents are not happy about the proposals.
From what I hear, a lot of the pent-up anger is directed at ICM CEO Chris Silbermann, who orchestrated the merger along with CAA’s Bryan Lourd. According to sources, senior agents feel blindsided as there had been no consultations or meaningful communication from the leadership on the post-transaction future. Some of it is due to the intense scrutiny the deal has received from the DoJ given the size and position of the two Big 4 agencies in the marketplace.
In compliance with the guidelines for running the businesses separately, there has been very little interaction between CAA and ICM agents during the lengthy review process, creating an uncertainty and high anxiety, which contributed to some decisions to depart, I hear.
Additionally, with ICM being the acquired entity, it would have to adjust to CAA’s needs, and I hear some agents were asked to change fields, which was met with resistance and contributed to some exits.
The protracted approval also played a role, with continuous agent departures creating a domino effect. As one person described it, when agents leave, that creates gaps in client coverage which, in turn, could lead to clients leaving or their main agents moving to another company in order to be able to keep them.
While most people I spoke with are disappointed and some are even furious about the situation, several current and former ICM employees praised the efforts of the agency leadership — especially in some departments– to handle the transition as humanely as possible.
There are mitigating factors for the strife, including the fact that the two merging agencies are trying to unify two different compensation structures. CAA compensation is based on a lower base pay and bigger bonuses while ICM’s is weighted more heavily toward base salary.
Of course, this is just a prelude to the far more daunting task of blending cultures which the combined entity would face as one of its first challenges, if the merger is approved. If it is not, ICM will be left to rebuild a company whose roster and morale have both taken a major hit over the last nine months since the surprise acquisition was revealed by Deadline.