How Mob Scene went from a pandemic low point towards the continuous close - a Hollywood type of finance story via Sage Intacct

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 29, 2021
I'm always in for a finance transformation story, and the Sage Intacct analyst day brought a stand out. Mob Scene's financial transformation reads like the movie productions they market. Bet your career on cloud finance? Here's how Brett Abbey and team pulled it off.

Sage Intacct customer panel
(Sage Intacct customer panel - October 2021)

Stefanie Maragna, Sage Intacct VP of Corporate Marketing and Events, is a woman with a plan.  She always schedules Sage Intacct's analyst day two weeks before Transform, Sage Intacct's user conference.

One reason? Sage Intacct's executives get to roll out news - and keynote messaging - to a group never at a loss for colorful feedback. The timing also means: we must hold news and analysis until Transform hits.

But we don't have to wait on this: Sage Intacct lured a few customers to join our group - and field our pesky questions. The panel included Mob Scene (entertainment), Oxford Collection (hospitality), and Room to Read (global non-profit) - three industries that took it on the chin during the pandemic. All three organizations came out in a strong position - with streamlined processes, and more financial agility (example: Oxford Collection has turned annual planning into a monthly exercise).

"All our crews got shut down - and we were just remote"

During the panel, Brett Abbey, CFO at Mob Scene, a global leader in entertainment marketing, shared his "Where were you when covid hit" moment:

We had our crew going out to Jurassic World in the UK to start filming. They were somewhere over the North Pole when England got shut down. They landed at Heathrow; they hung out for a couple days because you couldn't get a flight out of England. All our crews got shut down, and we were just remote.

By this time, Mob Scene was already live on Sage Intacct:

Now the good thing for us - and here comes the Intacct plug. Our accounting team was very old school. We went paperless in two days... No, we were not going to courier checks around anymore. We're going full digital, full ACH. We changed our reporting, we changed our deliverables and everything to make it work.

Whatever-it-takes paid off. As Abbey told us:

They don't want to come back to the office, because they're more efficient or faster from home.

"P&L actually means something in a creative environment now"

But here's a twist: during his push to transform finance, Abbey purchased Sage Intacct - without board approval. Yikes - how did that go down? Abbey:

I needed a [new] system. My predecessor actually attempted to install another software program, a much larger, much more expensive one that failed. And so I came in and said, 'Okay, I have to do something. If I'm wrong, I'm done.'

Abbey put his job on the line:

I selected Sage Intacct and did the implementation with just myself, the controller and the implementation partner. I never told anyone. I never told the board, the CEO or anybody. We ran parallel for the month of May. On June 1, we reconciled our old books and the new books. So I woke up, turned off the old system, and we were up and running on Intacct.

Yes, the board had questions for him:

About two or three weeks later, at a board meeting, they started to fire off all these questions. I literally answered one after another. They're like, 'You've been in this room all day with us. How do you know where you're at with stuff'? I flipped my monitor around, and there's our dashboard. It's up to date, bar chart lines, all the cool stuff you can do? And they're like, 'What is that?' 

Abbey told them:

We're rocking - every producer, every department head has access to this. They can log in; they can see their own numbers. P&L means something in a creative environment now. A margin is not a foreign word anymore. We're actually going for target margins, etc. - and away we go.

"Every week they get the deliverables - they know what's happening"

I joked with Abbey that his play must have worked - after all, he still has a job. As he said:

That's what I was brought in to do. Tell the story of Mob Scene like a bank, like a finance guy, like a business, if you will - do what you need to, to get that part done.

Every week, they get deliverables from me; they know what's happening. This is why the forecast changed; this is what I think will happen in January, March, June, whatever it may be, and it happens with a pretty high degree of confidence. So they like it, and yeah, I'm still here.

During our subsequent 1:1, Abbey told me the real-time views that won over the board were a new thing. In the pre-Sage Intacct days at Mob Scene, the finance books were static:

From a cultural perspective, the numbers came out so late, they were almost irrelevant... The numbers, the data, followed everything. It was never close enough to the actual decisions.

Abbey's comment that "The P&L means something now" really grabbed me. I asked him to elaborate:

I have a very unusual approach at my company. I rarely ever talk titles. I don't care about Batman, or Spiderman or Superman, or whatever the blockbusters that we're working on. I care about: we built this $100,000 project. Are we going to make the margin; are we going to make money out of it? The old way was, 'Hey, I worked really hard.' My way is: 'No, work smart. Get me margin, hit targets, and we'll get there.'

Every project must confront change management. Sure enough, Abbey did too:

I also had to fight a lot, certainly when I started. 'Jon, let me give you your numbers for the year.' And you're going to disagree with them. These are your numbers for the year. You can see them every single day if you want, but certainly every week or every month, so you know where you sit... Let's dive into this.

The wrap - on the road to "continuous close"

Needless to say, the analysts had to corner Abbey for the skinny on upcoming movies. Mob Scene is involved with some cool projects ahead - including the Dune remake. But for Abbey, it's all about making sure that Mob Scene's moves are not just high profile, but financially sound.

Abbey's team has come a long way - from scrounging up Excel files to being out in front; during our talk, Abbey even described his finance environment as "laid back." Abbey didn't mean his team doesn't work hard; he means they are not chasing their own tail anymore. So what is his advice to other finance teams caught up in the admin cycle?

The best thing to do, for lack of a better word, is to ask, 'Why are we doing this?'

Asking "why" leads to Abbey's discipline of simplification. He told me about a prior role where a team member dedicated Sunday to building a Monday report that nobody really read.

We were having a discussion out here before the session. 'Why is the GL this big? Do I need this post-dated by UPS, FedEx, and the Postal Service? Why are we so complicated in this? Let's simplify - let's drive to what we need.'

That's a huge start - but then you need to serve up relevant data.

The harder part is to understand, 'Okay, what information do we need? And how do we get it?' Then focus on that.

Example? Abbey says slicing and dicing data via Sage Intacct Dimensions is the way to go:

That's where the interesting stuff comes in: let's slice-and-dice by studio; let's slice-and-dice by client at the studio, slice-and-dice by the movie star, or the director, or the genre. Is there something there? We have the expression in our accounting group, 'Half of what we do is wrong.' Because we're trying to find something.

We're trying to find out, 'Hey, do sci-fi movies perform as well as action? Does that matter?' Okay, well, all the data doesn't support that hypothesis. Throw it away. Let's try something else now. That's kind of the fun stuff.

With Abbey's belief in greater accounting speed, is he a believer in the Sage Intacct "continous close" vision? Or is that too far out for him?

Absolutely. Our business is hours times rate - it's a professional services type environment. The projects don't line up on month. Things carry over, but I'm stuck reporting based on October 30. If I could close every night, you would know that on October 27, here's our revenue; here's our expense. Here's all the way down to the income statement. We're cool. Now we have three days to go. Part of it is flipping that mindset from reporting on it, to doing something with it.

The other customers on the panel also delivered. In other words, I have plenty more to write about.

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