College Group acquires financial PR agency Merlin

College Group has bought independent financial PR shop Merlin, marking the group's first acquisition since its private equity cash injection in October.

Paul Downes: New chief executive of College Group's capital markets division
Paul Downes: New chief executive of College Group's capital markets division

Following the merger, College Hill’s capital markets practice will be led by Merlin MD Paul Downes, who will become chief executive of the integrated division. The physical integration of the Merlin business into College Group’s offices will take place in early September.

The acquisition will bring the enlarged College Group head count to more than 320, including 59 managing partners and partners, working across 16 international offices.

Managing partners in the new business include Adrian Duffield, Tony Friend, Mark Garraway and Matthew Smallwood from the College Hill side, and David Simonson of Merlin.

The deal is the first large-scale acquisition since private equity firm Vitruvian Partners took a majority stake in College Group last October.

Richard Nichols, chief executive of College Group, commented: ‘Merlin represents an excellent complementary fit with our established Capital Markets practice. In addition to extending our sector reach considerably, the acquisition further enhances the strength and depth of our senior consulting team.’

Nichols also pledged to continue investment into further senior-level recruits and agency acquisitions, saying: ‘We plan to make further acquisitions of specialist businesses in key global financial centres and markets.’

Downes added: ‘The business plan and investment strategy behind College Group, together with Vitruvian’s financial backing for further strategic acquisitions in key markets, are absolutely compelling and represent the most exciting opportunity in the business comms industry for the coming years.

‘We could see immediately how our business and approach would fit into the continuing evolution of the group, especially as our clients increasingly want an integrated comms service with specialists and industry experts immediately available from across a broad platform.’

Merlin was founded in 1994 by Downes, formerly deputy chief executive in the UK of Georgeson, and Simonson, formerly of Gavin Anderson.

The agency has traditionally focused on M&A, financial restructurings, debt refinancings and general financial PR work in industry sectors including aerospace and defence, financials (particularly private equity and hedge funds), infrastructure, leisure and natural resources.

Merlin has worked with clients including EADS, Airbus, 3i and Barclays Private Equity.

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