London marcoms groups Huntsworth and Chime on hunt for acquisitions

M&A market shows signs of recovery as Huntsworth and Chime move to expand offerings.

Deal maker: Chime chairman Lord Bell
Deal maker: Chime chairman Lord Bell

The country's two leading PR groups are aggressively seeking deals, in a sign that the industry's economic fortunes are starting to stabilise.

Both Chime Communications and Huntsworth are in acquisitive mood, five months after the two firms faced off in an ultimately fruitless battle to buy Next Fifteen.

Huntsworth this week tackled the need for a stronger digital offering by making an early-stage investment in US agency Atomic PR's European launch. Huntsworth will take an evenly matched stake in Atomic's operations outside the US, beginning with its European hub in London.

Former Next Fifteen board director Sandeep Kalsi is appointed as Atomic PR's European MD, while global launch clients for the agency's London office include voice and data roaming firm Roamware and security company Arcsight. Huntsworth is also believed to be actively seeking an agency acquisition in India.

Meanwhile, Chime is understood to be in discussions with financial comms agency Pelham PR to boost its presence in the City PR space.

Chime's existing Bell Pottinger Corporate & Financial brand is no longer the industry heavy-hitter it once was and Chime is believed to be keen to make a move in the sector before valuations rise.

A tie-up would see the formation of a joint venture, with Chime likely to take a stake in Pelham. Both Chime chairman Lord Bell and Pelham chief executive James Henderson declined to comment.

One agency boss said that a tie-up would make 'perfect sense for both parties'.

KBC Peel Hunt media analyst Malcolm Morgan said: 'They are acquisitive because they can be. There are opportunities that are below the radar for the major holding groups but leave the market open for (Huntsworth and Chime).'

RECENT M&A DEALS

September: Huntsworth inks Atomic PR joint venture

September: Chime buys sports marketing and management firm Essentially Group for £18.2m

July: Chime chairman Lord Bell admits the company is looking at acquiring a healthcare PR shop

July: Huntsworth snaps up healthcare firm Tonic Life Communications.

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