SCOTTISH public relations industry veterans Alex Barr and Neil Gibson are selling The BIG Partnership to six fellow board members in an £11 million deal that values their stakes at more than £4m each.

Mr Barr, revealing a management buy-out deal that has long been kept under wraps, said it had been agreed back in 2014, with discussions having begun the previous year.

He and Mr Gibson have built BIG Partnership from a standing start in 2000 into a public relations and digital marketing agency with annual turnover of more than £8m.

The pair left Beattie Media to set up BIG Partnership, which now employs 115 people across five offices.

BIG Partnership made operating profits of £1.3m on turnover of £8.3m in the year to May 2015.

Mr Barr, 47, and Mr Gibson, 55, each own about 40 per cent of BIG Partnership. They bought out fellow co-founder Graham Isdale when he left in 2005.

Zoe Ogilvie, head of BIG Partnership’s Aberdeen office, has played a key part in helping Mr Barr and Mr Gibson expand the business, enjoying great success in the public relations market in the Granite City.

Ms Ogilvie also has a stake in BIG Partnership, and is the next biggest shareholder to Mr Barr and Mr Gibson.

Allan Buchan, a senior account director in BIG Partnership’s Fife operation, also has a stake in the agency. He acquired his shareholding when BIG Partnership bought the Catchline public relations business in which he previously had a stake. Public relations veteran Marjorie Calder, who left BIG Partnership last summer and works for Macdonald Hotels, also has a stake in the agency.

Under the terms of the deal, the existing owners of BIG are selling their stakes to the six-strong management buy-out team over a seven-year period to 2021. Mr Barr and Mr Gibson will retain small shareholdings following the deal, selling the overwhelming bulk of their stakes.

Among those in the MBO team are Ms Ogilvie, and Allan Barr, who is Alex’s brother and head of digital at BIG Partnership and joined the business in 2007. The others are longstanding employees Bryan Garvie and Sharon Mars, who both joined the board in 2014, Edinburgh office head Andrew Baird, and finance director Graham Leitch.

Explaining the structure of the deal, on which the co-founders worked with Glasgow-based adviser Craig Corporate, Alex Barr said: “Whilst the six other board members have put a modest investment in, the bulk of the consideration will come from the ongoing proceeds of the business.”

BIG Partnership said 11 of its senior people who had stakes in the business through an enterprise management incentive (EMI) scheme would benefit from the sale to the MBO team. A company source said these senior staff would each receive proceeds running well into the tens of thousands of pounds.

The MBO deal was revealed to staff yesterday.

Mr Barr observed that employees were happy that the buyers of BIG Partnership were people they knew from within the business, noting that a sale to venture capitalists or another public relations agency might have created uncertainty for them.

Mr Barr said: “Speaking to them, they are telling me this is really comforting.”

“There are 115 people working for the business. You have a responsibility to them for making sure the future of the business is very secure and there is a smooth transition.”

Asked about the timing of the sale from a personal perspective, Mr Barr replied: “We have been very lucky with our people and our clients. You just want to get to the stage where you secure the future of the business…and realise the investment you have made over 16 years in building it up from scratch.”

Over the next three to five years, Mr Barr and Mr Gibson plan to reduce their involvement in the business gradually.

Mr Barr said: “Neil and I will undertake a managed change in our input to the business, which is still currently full-on, and will retain a small shareholding.”

Ms Ogilvie, who joined BIG Partnership in 2002 and is a longstanding director, said: “As a management team, we started discussions in 2013 and it quickly became clear that there was a pretty straightforward and consensual route which would see the senior management group undertake a phased MBO over the next few years.

“We actually concluded the deal in the summer of 2014 and we’ve ensured a smooth transition for our people and our clients. We’re very happy with how seamlessly it’s gone so far and the new structure is working well.”

Mr Barr said: “We significantly strengthened the board in 2014, with the addition of Andrew, Sharon and Bryan and we recognised that, while Neil and I still have plenty of ambition to grow the business and expand its reach both sectorally and geographically, it was the right time to plan for the company’s long-term future.

“One of the major benefits of the plan was that the deal would trigger an EMI scheme we put in place almost 10 years ago for 11 of our senior people, through which they will also share in the proceeds of the sale.”

He added: “We’re currently examining how we replicate that scheme in some form, to deliver benefits to the team of people who will play a key role in the business over the next phase of our growth.”