US economy slump provides global opportunities

Although various sectors of the US economy - most notably the housing market - face grave difficulties at the moment, agency executives say that the tough times also present great opportunities for their corporate and financial practices.

Although various sectors of the US economy - most notably the housing market - face grave difficulties at the moment, agency executives say that the tough times also present great opportunities for their corporate and financial practices.

For example, Brunswick Group partner David Shapiro notes that while M&As and IPOs may be down in the US because of less access to easy credit, his firm is seeing an increase in communications work supporting overseas firms acquiring US companies, whose price tags seem a lot cheaper as a result of the weak dollar.

"[These deals] don't get as much attention and maybe are smaller in some ways, but that's a trend that's happening, and likely to keep happening," he says.

In addition, Congress has closely scrutinized a number of proposed mergers recently, including XM-Sirius and Delta-Northwest, creating more need for communications support, including preparation for Congressional testimony and managing increased media attention.

That scrutiny might be due to an active Democrat-controlled Congress, but might also be spurred by general concerns about the economy, Shapiro says.

Ryan Barr, Hill & Knowlton SVP and director of IR financial communications, notes that the US IPO market has been much quieter this year compared with years past. But H&K did work with several Asian companies that launched successful US IPOs this year, reflecting investor desire for diversification in still-booming markets like Asia-Pacific, as well as sectors such as alternative energy.

"We're also seeing a lot of prep work for IPOs planned for after Labor Day, [in part because] there's this belief right now that the tax-rebate checks will start to trickle into the economy," Barr says. "Whether that will be sustainable, I don't know."

Regardless of the state of the M&A or IPO market in America or overseas, companies will not cut back on communication reputation work, says Micho Spring, chairperson of Weber Shandwick's US corporate practice. The ever-growing transparency of corporate practices - from manufacturing, to customer relations, to environmental practices - means companies often seek to improve how they communicate with all their various audiences.

"The launch of a marketing campaign may be something a company can delay, [but] in building corporate reputation, the need is there no matter what the state of the economy," Spring says. "You can't turn it on and off."

Susan Stillman, global MD of Edelman's financial services and IR practice, agrees that not only does corporate reputation require constant tending regardless of any economic downturn, but that bad economic times can require even greater media outreach on the part of a company to maintain investor and consumer confidence.

"They are still good, strong companies, but just happen to be lumped in with, say, the financial services sector," Stillman says.

"It's important for those firms to stay out in front with the public and the media."

Key points:

Corporate practices are doing more international IPO and M&A work since the US economy slowed

Corporation reputation work must continue regardless of the state of the economy

Companies in troubled sectors are boosting outreach to highlight their financial success

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