SAN FRANCISCO — Independent PR firm Lewis has raised $27m from HSBC as it looks to further expand globally and put more resources into its training program Rise.
The funding round comes as a loan from the bank — rather than as exchange for equity in the firm. The loan is being offered on basis of the firm's existing track record and future plans, said Lewis founder/CEO Chris Lewis.
"We’re owned entirely by people that work in the business," Lewis said. "There are no outside investors yet. The partners share the profits, capital growth and investment decisions."
In 2014, Lewis the firm had 17% organic growth and is expected to reach $70m in global revenue at the end of its fiscal year in July. Its US revenues are approximately $37 million. Lewis currently has 28 offices across North America, EMEA and Asia Pacific.
As part of the funding, Lewis plans to invest in new offices across the US, India and China — as well as other regions including Latin America later this year. In addition, Lewis says he plans to invest $1m to $3m in the firm's training program Rise Academy to open it to more levels within the agency, clients and potentially to others within the industry.
Rise was launched last year in conjunction with the University of the Arts London — and so far, has trained 44 staff from 17 countries. The idea is for the program to teach employees about all areas of the marketing mix, as well as visual storytelling and creative thinking.
"We don’t think of our employees as being this year’s ROI," Lewis said about the $100k cost to run each two-week Academy training. "I'd advise other companies to pour more resources into training and developing their staff...And if people do end up leaving, you have to ask yourself 'would you rather they leave with training or without?' I consider their leaving with training to be word of mouth marketing."
Tutors are flown into the Academy — based in San Diego — to teach courses related to both analytic and conceptual thinking. The curriculum, which is tailored for the professional level of each class, ranges from balance sheet and investment analysis to painting. Four programs were conducted in the last six months with several more planned this year.
Earlier this year, Lewis acquired the San Diego digital shop Piston for its digital marketing expertise, which includes SEO, display advertising, media planning and buying and creative services. Its clients include Intuit, Mophie, Skullcandy and Sunglass Hut.
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