City & Corporate: Agencies gear up for Petrofac pitch

Energy Bell Pottinger Corporate & Financial prepares to repitch for Petrofac brief as big names step forward.

FTSE 100 oil and gas firm Petrofac has placed top City PR firms on alert by putting its retained financial PR account out to pitch.

It is understood that the firm will see pitches over the coming weeks from as many as eight financial specialists as it re-tenders the account currently held by Bell Pottinger Corporate & Financial.

The account is one of the two FTSE 100 names Bell Pottinger's financial business currently retains - alongside Imperial Tobacco - after Petrofac was admitted to the elite group of London-listed firms earlier this year.

Petrofac's head of corporate communications Hazel Meldrum declined to comment on any ongoing agency review.

But sources with knowledge of the process said the firm had seen agency creds and had drawn up a pitch list including many of the industry's heavy-hitters. The firm becomes one of the few FTSE 100 companies to review its financial PR arrangements in 2009, other than the flurry of activity around the UK banks earlier this year.

It is thought Petrofac is looking for agencies with sector-specific experience and names such as Brunswick, Tulchan Communications, Pelham PR and College Hill are believed to be under consideration. It is also understood that it may favour an agency with a Middle Eastern capability, given the strength of Petrofac's operations in the region.

Bell Pottinger Corporate & Financial is understood to be repitching for the account.

But one agency source said they felt Petrofac was looking to 'upgrade' its financial PR now the firm has risen into the FTSE 100.

After its entry into the FTSE 100 this year, Petrofac handed GolinHarris a retained corporate media relations brief, replacing previous 15-year incumbent Fifth Ring. The current review will not impact this arrangement.

Bell Pottinger Corporate & Financial will be keen to hold on to Petrofac as one of its marquee clients. According to Hemscott data, the firm is one of eight agencies with more than one FTSE 100 client.

The news comes as Ann-marie Wilkinson, previously a director at Bell Pottinger Corporate & Financial who worked on the Petrofac account, has joined M: Communications as a senior consultant.

In early October PRWeek reported that Bell Pottinger's parent, Chime Communications, was in talks with Pelham PR to buy a stake in the financial agency (PRWeek, 2 October).

HOW I SEE IT

Nick Rome, Director, Bishopsgate Communications

Clearly there has been a marked improvement in sentiment in the oil and gas sector - underpinned by booming commodity prices. Placings have become more commonplace and companies that had shelved development plans are back on track. With money more readily available and certain assets still looking cheap, a number of significant deals look set to unfold.

It remains important for firms to be transparent and not to blind investors with jargon. The Trafigura saga highlights the needs for a more comprehensive strategy regarding crisis management for natural resource companies.

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