Glimmer of hope for City's future

The City PR industry is steeling itself for arguably its toughest ever year, but hopes remain that by year-end conditions will be improving.

Challenging: City experts offer their industry predictions
Challenging: City experts offer their industry predictions

It is widely expected that Q1 and Q2 will provide extremely difficult trading conditions for clients and agencies.

According to Alex Sandberg, chairman of College Hill, these conditions will 'sort the men from the boys'.

Sandberg said he expected the financial reporting season to be 'very grim', with the retail sector being particularly hard-hit and further shake-out to come in the financial services sector.

But he did view some areas with optimism: 'The markets will get stronger at some point during the year. The FTSE looks to have bottomed out and some UK funds are starting to buy again now. Once the equity market starts moving, it will allow good companies a little more flexibility to start using the markets again.'

If the financial markets led the wider economy into recession, they may also be the first area to show signs of returning from this hardship.

Angus Maitland, executive chairman at Maitland, said: 'We view improvement in stock market conditions and the positions of private equity and corporate lending with a mixture of hope and expectation. An improvement in the wider economy remains more of a hope.'

An improvement in the corporate financial conditions by year-end could lead to project work growth. Andrew Grant, founder of Tulchan Communications, said: 'The key question for the financial PR sector is whether these transactions will come back should the debt market unfreeze. A huge wall of money has been pumped into the market by various governmental institutions and this has to find its way to the commercial sector at some point. It is an economic and political imperative.'

James Murgatroyd, managing partner at Finsbury, said he was 'optimistic there would be some M&A activity later in the year as clear winners emerge' and that in the meantime refinancings and restructurings would continue to be a feature of the market.

Charles Watson, CEO of FD, (see box) warned that agencies must be 'nimble, highly adaptable and versatile to be able to re-invest yourself'.

Business will clearly be far tougher for agencies themselves during the year. Hogarth managing partner John Olsen said: 'There is a school of thought that says "now's the time to forge strong client relationships" but I'd argue that, frankly, if you haven't done this already, it's probably too late - these markets will find you out.'

HOW I SEE IT - Charles Watson, CEO of FD

There is no question that 2009 will be an extended version of what we saw in the last quarter of 2008. There will be defensive sectors such as food and healthcare, but across the market it will be very tough for our clients.

Many companies are going through change and if comms mistakes are made there will be serious trouble. Those restructured companies that come out of the other end of the financial crisis will have a unique set of comms challenges.

We must offer a combination of financial and corporate PR. Firms must communicate with every single stakeholder from investors to supplies and employees.

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