City & Corporate: StepStone offers fillip amid gloom

An online recruitment firm has taken on PR support as it becomes the first company to list on the main market of the London Stock Exchange (LSE) for six months.

Hudson Sandler is managing PR on the listing of StepStone, supported by the firm's retained corporate PR agency Brands2Life, as well as launching a corporate website.

However, senior City PR professionals remain unconvinced that the listing is a sign that deal-related PR may resuscitate any time soon.

The Oslo-listed online recruitment firm will return to the LSE with a secondary listing this week, having de-listed in 2001 following heavy losses in the wake of the bursting of the dotcom bubble.

In a move that could be followed by other foreign-listed firms, StepStone sees the LSE listing as vital, as many institutions cannot invest in companies not listed on one of the world's primary exchanges.

Andrew Hayes, chief executive of Hudson Sandler, said: 'The LSE believes that there will be a lot of firms in secondary exchanges wanting a London listing over the coming months.'

This could be music to the ears of financial PR professionals who have seen the IPO market collapse from its highest volume and proceeds raised in seven years in 2007 to a complete standstill since May 2008.

'Secondary listings that do not require raising any money are likely to take place as firms look to improve liquidity,' said Tim Anderson, partner at Buchanan Communications.

Currently 43 per cent of firms that list outside their own country choose London.

But such deals are not the hugely profitable initial flotations, which look increasingly distant. For example, on Monday Dubai-based developer Emaar Properties joined the wave of companies ditching London IPO plans due to adverse market conditions.

Anderson said: 'The IPO market will come back in advance of the economy recovering, but I would guess that we would not see much activity before autumn next year.'

Gay Collins, CEO of Penrose Financial, said that the lack of deal-related PR business would have a 'big impact' on certain financial PR firms and doubted there would be a wave of secondary listing business in the near future.

Collins said: 'There are significant costs involved in conducting and maintaining secondary listings, so a company has to be confident it will generate a great deal of investor appetite in order to make it worthwhile. The number of businesses prepared to absorb these costs at the moment will be limited.'

HOW I SEE IT - TONY LANGHAM, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, LANSONS

The collapse in IPO volumes has hit financial PR and clearly the agencies affected most deeply are those where more than 50 per cent of revenue was from IPOs. The upside is that there are some big deals in terms of restructuring and mergers. Thus there is profitable work around for the agencies equipped to handle it.

Secondary listings may provide some opportunities, but listing activity in the first half of next year will remain minimal. Those agencies involved in insolvency and restructuring will be better equipped during the downturn, but clearly there are tough times ahead.

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