Circle Media Group: what a sorry tale

By Jo Francis, Friday 26 April 2019

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Jo Francis ponders the dramatic – and rapid – fall of Circle Media Group.

The abrupt bankruptcy of Helio Charleroi at the end of January. What looked very much like a ‘fire sale’ of CPI Group. Further sell-offs, further closures. And now, the end.

Over the space of just 13 weeks things have gone horribly wrong at Circle Media Group. The business had looked increasingly like a house of cards built on the flimsiest of foundations.

Once contagion spread across the group it all came apart very quickly, and the concerns raised by continental union officials in February proved well-founded.

Wages being paid late, customers having to pay the bank directly, key suppliers concerned about not being kept in the loop... Once things get to this stage it rarely turns out well.

When former Polestar executive Peter Andreou arrived at the business in the summer of 2016 on a mission to consolidate the European high-volume printing industry, it felt like he was trying to out-Walstead Walstead.

Even the Circle press releases had a ‘me too’ tone in terms of extolling the scale of the group’s operations.

Not even six months ago Andreou was claiming a market-leading position as Europe’s biggest independent print group with pro-forma sales of €900m and 5,000 employees.

Unfortunately for Circle’s employees and suppliers, trying to be Walstead doesn’t make you Walstead. Observing from the sidelines, it felt like Circle Media bought too much, too quickly and then didn’t have the necessary cash or management bandwidth to successfully restructure its purchases.

In many years of writing about Andreou's former employer, I wondered on many occasions how on earth Polestar kept the financial plates spinning. Similar thoughts about Circle Media proved to be short-lived. 

And with a 'for sale' sign now hoisted over its remaining print operations, it will be somewhat ironic if Walstead does end up picking up some of the pieces. 

Meanwhile, volumes at that end of the market continue to decline, and we’re in the midst of another adjustment – compare and contrast the current carnage and uncertainty at Circle Media with the phased shutdown over two years of Bertelsmann Printing Group’s Nuremberg gravure site, where the company is standing by all of its obligations and everyone is fully informed about what's what.

Key learnings for print bosses of all sizes? You can’t acquire your way out of trouble, and if you do acquire you need a clear plan about how that will deliver real business benefits. And then you need the funds and the wherewithal to execute it.

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