NEWS ANALYSIS: Mapping out locations for lucrative business - With the need for financial PR agencies to have a global presence a given, deciding where to set up is a trickier matter. PRWeek predicts the next wave of financial hot spots

Ask any City PR firm what their current top priority is and there's an answer that is almost certain to be on top of their list: the need to go global.

Ask any City PR firm what their current top priority is and there's an answer that is almost certain to be on top of their list: the need to go global.

Apart from the niche home market players, the majority of financial PR experts are desperate to get ahead in the worldwide race. But with the constraints of budget, time and staff, international expansion requires careful consideration.

Dots on the map may look good in a client pitch, but when it comes to capturing the global financial PR scene there has to be a more strategic approach. How that strategy is formulated seems to be the key to overseas success.

An obvious first step is to go where the main markets are - London, Paris, New York and Frankfurt.

There's no denying these hubs are still high-income areas for financial PR agencies.

Germany in particular is a current hot spot. Tax reforms, changes in equity culture and new pension provisions suggest there will be a huge influx of capital and an important opportunity for financial PR.

Gavin Anderson & Company already has a 30-strong operation in Frankfurt, but is looking to deepen its footprint there, with Munich and Berlin possible targets.

'Germany has largely been driven by IPOs so far and now we are seeing many more opportunities there as German companies consolidate and are seeking international capital market support,' says GA global executive vice-chairman and head of financial practice Howard Lee.

Fellow international player Citigate Dewe Rogerson has also seized the potential in Germany, establishing offices in Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Bonn and Berlin.

Citigate executive director Andy Cornelius, who takes on the role of international MD in the new year, says Germany continues to play a big part in their cross-border strategy.

'At the moment there's a culture of privately owned companies and family businesses arriving on the German stock exchange - it's growing very fast there,' he says.

So once these main markets are covered, is there a need to set up financial PR capabilities further afield? A quick look at any agency's international network confirms there is.

Citigate has 56 international offices across the UK, mainland and eastern Europe, the Americas and Asia. Gavin Anderson has 12 wholly-owned offices worldwide, covering Australia, Asia, Europe and the US. Meanwhile City PR firms Brunswick and College Hill have homed in on emerging markets such as South Africa.

According to Cornelius, expansion is mainly investor-led: 'We have to have someone that understands the big picture and is competent in each territory because the investors are no longer based in one place - shareholder lists show investors are spread internationally and we have to be able to offer a service that reaches them.'

But the market is ever changing and financial PR agencies need to be able to predict where's hot and where's not when developing a network.

'You have to be ahead of the curve pretty much everywhere,' says Cornelius.

One current financial PR favourite for expansion is Latin America and Spain. Latin American companies are keen to access European financial markets and an easy way to enter Europe is via Spain - a country that is closest in both language and culture. Likewise, the new share index in Spain gives Latin American companies far greater access to the Spanish market.

Other areas tipped for activity include India, where there's huge growth in the technology sector, and Shanghai, which is seeing a surge in business.

According to Ogilvy's global corporate practice MD Rob Shimmin, this is the kind of place to move into now. 'Shanghai is really quiet at the moment and there's a very interesting amount of business going on, but it's so far totally untapped,' he says.

While networks mirror the state-of-play of the markets, there are additional considerations that are just as influential in deciding where to go.

Alex Sandberg, College Hill chairman, says you have to think carefully about language, staff, time zones and set-up costs.

'Tokyo is awash with big scale companies, but it's very expensive to open offices there and it's also in a different time zone, which makes it difficult to work with. One reason we chose South Africa was because it's in the same time zone,' he says. 'There's also staff and language to consider - neither happens by chance and can be real issues.'

Ogilvy PR Worldwide has tried to work around the time zone problem by developing an extranet system to share information across its four main IR centres - which are backed up by the main 49 office network - essentially ensuring a 24-hour IR service.

'As darkness falls on one office, the guys in the other centre are waking up and picking up all the latest info on current deals,' says Shimmin.

'Our IR strategy is to set up in the financial hubs and use the extensive network to handle specific on-the-ground work.'

Whatever the plan, going global in today's financial market is a tough job to get right. Everything suggests it's the way ahead: markets are consolidating rapidly; global communication is better than ever.

But to be where it counts you have to be ahead of the game and that may not be where the current bourses or clients are today.

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