OPINION

My first year with a private equity partner – by Grant Mansfield, Founder of Plimsoll Productions

9 Nov 2020

As featured in South West Business Insider.

You may not have heard of Plimsoll Productions, but we are the company behind shows including Tiny World, Night on Earth and Wales: Land of the Wild. Headquartered in Bristol, we are one the biggest independent production companies in the UK, with clients all over the world including the likes of Apple, Disney and Netflix. We have grown very quickly over the past few years and we’ll double in size again over the next 12 months.

Three years ago, I decided to look at investment options for the business. I wanted capital to support our expansion plans including potential acquisitions, new hires and expanding our US office. I also wanted to find a way to ensure our talented team remained engaged in driving growth, and to give some of my existing shareholders the opportunity to realise some of the value they had generated in the business.

I spent two months in Los Angeles, talking to about 15 trade buyers. We had some attractive offers from some of the largest media companies in the world. Before meeting LDC, I hadn’t considered the private equity route at all. In my industry, trade sales are the norm. But when we looked at some of the offers on the table from trade buyers, they were all predicated on the buyer taking complete control of the business.

I wasn’t ready for that – with private equity, I could raise the investment I wanted whilst still retaining a majority stake.”
Grant Mansfield, CEO & Founder
Plimsoll Productions

I spoke to a handful of private equity houses back in the UK. The financial terms were similar but in the end it all came down to personal chemistry. You need to spend time with the people who want to invest in your business. You have to like them and trust them. The deal was completed in August 2019, a little over a year after our first meeting.

We all want to make money and I’m not sentimental – we did a good deal at a good valuation – but I’ve also really enjoyed working with LDC. Their insights have been invaluable and we’ve had quite a lot of fun building the business together.

I had a lot of preconceptions about private equity before this process started. I imagined ruthless moneymen coming out of the City, without much empathy or understanding of how to run a creative business. Instead, from day one, LDC have added value and have been very respectful of our culture and the way I run my business.

Every month, we sit down with input from LDC and talk through recent developments and discuss where we want to take the business next. We are currently pioneering a new way of funding natural history shows through a co-production model, which means we can retain some of the rights, which can then be sold globally. Our LDC non-execs have been really helpful in creating that model, alongside us.

We also recently acquired a distribution business, Magnify Media, and LDC advised us on the best way to embed that business into Plimsoll. They bring significant financial expertise to the party, and are strategic thinkers. This is a proper partnership.

Our relationship is even weathering a global pandemic. People think that private equity partnerships tend to sour when things are going wrong, but that is the opposite of my experience. I really feel that we’re in this together. Our business has continued to perform strongly but there have been significant challenges along the way. We’ve had to film with smaller, local crews, for example. But the team at LDC have been on hand to discuss ideas and problems.

Throughout this year, I have thoroughly enjoyed this partnership. I still feel as though I am in the driving seat but that I’m supported by an experienced team to help me navigate the bumps in the road.”
Grant Mansfield, CEO & Founder
Plimsoll Productions

My advice to other founders: don’t discount private equity. This has been a genuinely positive experience for me and for Plimsoll, and we’re on track for great things.