Anthony Hilton: Is Wright making the right move?

Everyone knows these are tough times for the public relations industry in general and financial public relations in particular.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

Client budgets have been slashed less brutally than in previous downturns, but the squeeze is real enough.

In financial PR, the 'money is no object' work has dried up and the dearth of listings on the stock exchange, the near-collapse of the private equity industry and the shortage of big contested takeover bids mean firms have had to live on the bread and butter work of client servicing. That does not keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed.

The big question is how many of these firms are ready to chuck in the towel because they lack the scale to survive long-term? And from that list, how many are worth buying and how many of their executives are worth hiring? In particular, this is the question that David Wright will shortly have to answer, as he is in the process of taking over an AIM-listed sports marketing company TSE, which is little more than a shell, raising a few million pounds in new share capital that he plans to use to build a major new force in the industry.

Wright, 65, has a track record. He left the FT in the late 1980s to join Streets. When that business imploded shortly after, he and key colleagues left to form Citigate, which they built into one of the most successful financial PR firms, before reversing it into Incepta in 1997 and subsequently merging with Dewe Rogerson - a deal billed at the time as the 'Civil Service meets the bovver boys'.

Wright left in the 2003 downturn and, in 2005, the business became part of Huntsworth.

It is the first time, since Peter Gummer - now Lord Chadlington - did it 20 years ago with Shandwick, that a listed company has been positioned to consolidate the PR industry and build a major business. Is the time right? Should people businesses such as PR be listed on the stock market? Do large PR groups ever really deliver efficiency? Is there enough value out there to be captured by consolidation? And does Wright have the hunger to do it all over again? We are about to find out.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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