The talks that led to CAA acquiring ICM Partners came together in secret over a short period of time — so much so that longtime insiders at both agencies learned of the deal moments before the news was formally announced on Monday.
To CAA’s trio of leaders — Bryan Lourd, Richard Lovett and Kevin Huvane — and ICM Partners’ chief Chris Silbermann, the fact that the talks were kept quiet was a sign that the leaders are temperamentally in sync and trust one another. The deal was finalized Monday at 8:17 a.m. PT, barely an hour before CAA issued the news release, the key players confirmed.
“It’s a testament to the reason for the partnership” that word of the talks didn’t leak, Lovett told Variety.
Lourd conceded that the idea of a tie-up had been broached in the recent past. During the past 12 months, amid all the upheaval in the entertainment industry, “things did get more specific in the conversations that Kevin and Richard and Chris and I had, both individually and together, about what this could look like,” Lourd said. “And it accelerated only as we all realized that the time was now that the companies were both great alone, but could be better for clients together.”
The deal raises a host of questions that are still unanswered — from the specific valuation placed on ICM, to how ICM’s leadership team will be integrated into CAA, to the volume of layoffs that are inevitable in the union of businesses with so many overlapping operations.
It’s become clear that ICM’s strong publishing arm and its recent investment in U.K. soccer agency Stellar Group were among the big attractions for CAA. There’s speculation that the ICM moniker may be retained as branding for the publishing activities because ICM is the undisputed leader in the book field, but that could not be confirmed.
In a joint interview, Lourd, Lovett, Huvane and Silbermann emphasized that they agreed to link arms because they have similar visions of how to operate agencies and how to be most effective for clients. Both CAA and ICM have looked askance at recent years as WME and its parent Endeavor and to some degree UTA have branched out beyond the core Hollywood dealmaking market.
“For CAA our priority is to work for our clients and do everything we possibly can to best serve our clients and create opportunities for our clients,” Lourd said. He called Silbermann and ICM TV honcho Ted Chervin “like-minded partners” and said they would be a good fit “in the very special culture and environment we have here.”
Silbermann noted that while the talks to combine went swiftly, the agencies have had high-level “what if” conversations in the past.
“We’ve talked a long time about working together,” Silbermann said. “We’ve been on the same side of issues and projects together. And it’s been great. Sometimes we don’t agree with each other, but we don’t agree in a way that is respectful. We are aligned and the more we talked about the way they look at the world and the way we look at the world … it felt right.”
Huvane added that he enjoyed long professional relationships with his counterparts at ICM, citing stalwart talent agent Toni Howard, and he noted that ICM’s famed Boaty Boatwright is among his key mentors. “There’s a lot of deep friendships there that will make it especially satisfying now,” Huvane said.
As for the “why” behind the deal, Lovett acknowledged that even the mighty CAA can stand to benefit from some bulking up of clients and market share at a time when the traditional norms and standards and profit centers of Hollywood are in major transition. Lovett made reference to CAA’s bold swing in backing client Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney over the terms of her compensation for Marvel’s “Black Widow” feature.
“What is indisputable is that we have more resources as a result of working together for clients than ever before,” Lovett said. “And in that is the need for clients to have really strong committed advocacy in order to support the business, and ever more resources because they have ever more opportunities. And we’re laser-focused on that. It’s been our game plan. We’ve declared it, we’ve lived it, we have strategy going forward to enhance it. And that’s where this company is.”
The CAA troika and Silbermann tap-danced around some hard questions that will be sorted out in the months to come, including specifics on leadership decisions and whether the deal can secure regulatory approval.
CAA’s rivals are skeptical that the federal government will allow the agency landscape to drop from the Big Four (WME, CAA, UTA and ICM) to the Big Three. Sources inside CAA say the issue has been carefully considered and that dealmakers are confident it will pass muster with the Justice Department. Lourd said formal paperwork for that review is actively being prepared with the hopes of getting the deal closed as quickly as possible.
Among other highlights from the interview:
IPO – yes or no?: At the moment, no. But the notion of a public offering was not as roundly denied as it has been in the past from the CAA troika. “It’s not being done with the intent or the goal of going public. It’s not at the front of our brains right now. What was really at the front of our brains is there’s an opportunity in this moment, based on what we’ve seen over the last 18 months in terms of the change that’s occurring for a bigger, stronger offering,” Lourd said. Silbermann is joining CAA’s investor board with the trio and TPG’s David Bonderman and Jim Coulter.
Layoffs: There’s no doubt that the combination of two full-service agencies will lead to some layoffs. How many and when is still to be determined. “We’re going to begin that process now,” Lourd said. “We’re going to do it the way you’d expect us to do it — in a completely measured and careful way. There are a bunch of humans involved and none of us take that lightly.”
Integrating ICM into CAA: Lourd set the tone for a warm welcome into CAA for Silbermann in his new role as a larger-than-usual player in the CAA universe through his ownership stake in the expanded agency, should the deal close. “He’s going to lead the way we all lead together in all areas of the company,” Lourd said. “He along with everyone that’s been leading his company are going to be pulled into our system. There isn’t that sort of secret hierarchical room (at CAA). There’s a bunch of different people who lead things.” Silbermann’s “expertise and his energy around bigger issues is something that we all are excited to get to benefit from,” Lourd added.
(Pictured above: Bryan Lourd, Richard Lovett, Chris Silbermann and Kevin Huvane)