Cieslok Media: A Serial Entrepreneur’s Journey with Private Equity
Photo Credit: Bell Media (Former Cieslok-owned Media Billboards, Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto, Canada)
A PE Partnership that took digital advertising to the next level
Ever wonder who the pioneer was behind the major digital advertising you see on the street in major Canadian cities? Meet Jörg Cieslok.
Six months after taking his first advertising sales job, Jörg Cieslok decided he wanted to run his own outdoor media business. The then 23-year-old was a mechanical engineer by trade, recently moved to Canada from Germany, with no background in media and advertising, decided to chart his own course.
“My love was always in sales,” Cieslok says. “I always knew that communications and marketing was in me and it came easy…I was learning quickly because I had a high level of interest in what I was doing.”
He started Toronto-based Cieslok Outdoor in 1990, navigating his way through advertising rules and regulations and investing in ad spaces around the City of Toronto. His niche was having artists create hand-painted advertisements on buildings. Clients loved the look.
“That’s what helped me stand out and differentiate from your regular sales rep selling paper posters,” Cieslok says.
The company then evolved to vinyl reproduction and then went digital, as technology evolved. Back then, Cieslok was the scrappy small player in the industry trying to win business away from his much larger competitors.
“I was blind to what I was up against and went out into the world and did it without looking back,” he says.
Cieslok Outdoor was sold six years later, when Cieslok was 29 years old, to Standard Broadcasting. He stayed on at Cieslok Outdoor for a couple of years and pursued other opportunities in the US before returning to Canada to start his second company which was sold to Titan Outdoor in 2004. In 2013, Cieslok partnered with Canadian private equity firm Clairvest Group Inc. to purchase the Canadian division of Titan Outdoor from its New York-based parent.
The company was rebranded as Cieslok Media and operated predominantly large format digital and static billboards throughout major cities in Canada. The partnership between Cieslok and Clairvest would bring the company to the next level.
Clairvest provided Cieslok a better understanding of how to grow the top and bottom-line revenue and achieve higher EBITDA, which he says he wasn’t really taught as an entrepreneur or someone working at the division of larger companies. Clairvest also had the capacity and network to negotiate with bankers, which he says complimented his sales and marketing expertise.
“They [Clairvest] had a significant part in not just the company’s growth, but my growth,” Cieslok says.
Then, Cieslok Media expanded rapidly across Canada, both organically and through the acquisitions in BC, Alberta and Ontario. Cieslok Media also launched an integrated mobile advertising product with the help of a U.S. technology firm.
Clairvest continued to lend strategic expertise to Cieslok and helped to assemble an executive team around him — built for the continued success of the company.
Clairvest and Cieslok Media co-created the charitable division of the company called Cieslok Cares, which supported non-profit organizations such as the Toronto Arts Foundation and Pride Toronto. Cieslok Media also offered non-profits ad space for free to promote their organizations.
Three years later — after earnings more than tripled and the employee count grew from 18 to 41 — Cieslok Media was sold to BCE Inc. subsidiary Bell Media Inc.
Cieslok says the private equity investment, as well as Clairvest management’s strategic guidance, was “instrumental” to the company’s success. “They were there to help me through and jump over different hurdles as we grew the company,” Cieslok says.