Four Communications plans 'raft of acquisitions' after £10m Business Growth Fund investment

Four Communications has secured a £10m investment from the Business Growth Fund to take it "to the next scale", including a planned move into healthcare PR and expansion further overseas to South East Asia in particular.

Four CEO Nan Williams: Targeting a mixture of acquisitions
Four CEO Nan Williams: Targeting a mixture of acquisitions

Four CEO Nan Williams told PRWeek she was planning a "raft of acquisitions", and was in the "final stages" of negotiations on two as part of a three-year growth plan.

The investment has seen the BGF take a 30 per cent stake in Four, which owns PR agencies including Four Colman Getty, Kinross + Render, Four bgb and Consolidated PR; the latter was acquired last year. BGF investor Chris Hodges has also joined the company’s board.

In addition, Four has secured an additional debt facility with HSBC.

Williams said the expansion strategy has three parts: growing organically and investing in the current business; acquisitions; and geographical expansion.

"I’m expecting the next two acquisitions to be announced really quite quickly. I’m very much at the final stages with them," said Williams. She expected this to be followed by a "raft" of acquisitions "over the coming year or so".

Four is targeting a "mixture" of agencies, including some in its heartland of travel, culture and financial services PR. In May, Four bought healthcare media planning agency MSA Media, now called Four MSA. "We want to attach that to a PR offer in healthcare as well," said Williams.

There are plans to buy non-PR assets too. PR currently accounts for 50 per cent of the business, alongside its marketing services agencies.

Williams added: "Digital is always of interest but it’s hard to find as an acquisition. We are investing in that organically."

Four currently has offices in London, Edinburgh, Abu Dhabi and Dubai and is now targeting expansion in the UK, Middle East and South East Asia. Williams said the latter was a particular focus, either via an investment or by setting up an office in the region.

Four's turnover more than doubled over four years, from £15m in 2010 to over £32m in 2014, and it expects organic growth of more than 20 per cent this financial year. It was 21st in PRWeek’s Top 150 PR Consultancies report in May, with UK PR fee income of over £14m.

Asked why Four went with the BGF, which is a growth capital fund backed by five major banks, Williams said: "It has enabled us to get that investment and to move forward more quickly to a larger scale, while retaining the management team in place with a stake in the business, and an investor that takes a long-term view." She said there was no timescale on the BGF’s investment.

Four has had conversations in the past with a number of potential investors including trade buyers and private equity, Williams confirmed.

Meanwhile, she said she was "very busy at the moment" with pitches. Wins this year include regaining the UK business of Etihad Airways.

Founded in 2001, Four has more than 600 clients including The Man Booker Prizes, Sotheby’s International Realty, InterContinental Hotels Group and Kinleigh Folkard and Hayward. It has run campaigns including a number for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, plus integrated and digital campaigns for The Wales Millennium Centre.

The BGF’s other investments in the media and marketing sectors include London-based Unruly Media, Broadbandchoices.co.uk, Abacus e-Media, The Exchange Lab, Zone and Leamington Spa-based Palmer Hargreaves.

Hodges said: "Nan and her senior management team have a fantastic track record of delivering innovative communications services that are valued by Four’s diverse range of customers. Their ambition has driven organic growth in the business, which has been enhanced by a series of strategic acquisitions that have expanded the range of services Four offers, grown its presence in dynamic market sectors such as travel, property and healthcare, and successfully established its international footprint.

"The BGF is looking forward to supporting the team in delivering engaging creative work for Four’s clients and taking the business smoothly to the next level of scale."

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