Four creates 'UK's biggest public affairs agency' as takeover spree continues

Four Communications Group has acquired John Lehal's Insight Consulting Group (ICG) for an undisclosed fee, creating a 50-strong public affairs team.

Joining forces: ICG founder Lehal (l) and Four boss Williams
Joining forces: ICG founder Lehal (l) and Four boss Williams

It is further evidence of public affairs and politically-savvy corporate comms being a boom area for PR in 2017.

Four was tipped as one of PRWeek UK's 11 agencies to watch in 2017, after it secured £15m in funding from the Business Growth Fund across 2015 and 2016 to fuel M&A.

ICG, which has 30 staff and clients including Bristol-Myers Squibb, the Local Government Association, Novartis and Paddy Power-Betfair, will all move into the London Bridge offices of Four Public Affairs, which has 20 staff. Four Public Affairs has a particular focus on regeneration and planning.

A news release from Four says the combined team "will be the UK’s largest public affairs agency", noting that the businesses' combined 2015 revenues of £5.2m, as recorded in the 2016 PRWeek Top 150, are in excess of the £3.5m earned by top-ranked Newington in the same year.

The combined team will trade as Four Public Affairs, and be overseen by Lehal as CEO. Lehal founded ICG in 2006 and is well known in political circles for having worked on campaigns for a number of Labour politicians, including Andy Burnham and Owen Smith.

Lehal will be supported by deputy MDs Sarah Jones, currently a director at ICG, and Ralph Scott, practice director at Four.

Current Four Public Affairs MD Karen Alcock will leave in the spring "to pursue new opportunities", according to the Four release, with Lehal saying this was unrelated to the acquisition.

Four co-founder and group CEO Nan Williams said she had "been looking for a strong Westminster public affairs agency for a while" - and said she was "very hopeful" the group would to continue on the acquisition trail in 2017.

The deal was facilitated by Madsen Advisory. It was the third Four acquisition brokered by the company, which is led by Mark Madsen.

I am delighted to announce the successful sale of my client, Insight Consulting Group, to Four Communications. This deal in fact represents the third sale by Madsen Advisory into Four Communications and my 83rd sale of a PR agency to date.

Lehal said: "With organisations facing considerable political uncertainty and regulatory risks in the years ahead, we look forward to working with new and existing clients to build their political reputation, maximise commercial opportunities and create compelling campaigns."

The acquisition of ICG will also add to Four's healthcare capabilities - the company acquired MSA (now Four Health Media) in 2015, and healthcare PR agency Packer Forbes last year. Other acquisitions have included Broadgate Mainland and Rain Communications.

Four ranked at number 15 in the 2016 PRWeek UK Top 150.

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