APCO and Teneo investment talks end as APCO narrows down options

Talks about a possible investment in global public affairs consultancy APCO by the US group Teneo have ended, PRWeek has learned, with APCO's executive chair Margery Kraus saying the firm has a "few preferred options" for its future.

Margery Kraus: Has not ruled out any category of potential investor or partner
Margery Kraus: Has not ruled out any category of potential investor or partner

PRWeek reported in December that APCO was in discussions with potential investors.

Teneo, which has made a number of acquisitions recently including Blue Rubicon, was understood to be among the favoured options, but is now no longer in discussions with US-headquartered APCO, which operates more than 30 offices worldwide and had revenue of $118.1m (£79.3m) in 2014.

Chinese agency BlueFocus was also reported to be in talks with APCO, which is majority employee owned, last year. Kraus told PRWeek UK on Tuesday that Teneo and BlueFocus were "only two of a number of firms" to which the consultancy had spoken, and she declined to comment on specifics of the discussions.

Kraus added: "As of now I have a few preferred options but nothing is ripe enough to talk about, and in many cases we’re under confidentiality agreements so I can’t say too much anyway."

Kraus, who founded APCO 31 years ago, said it had been a "mutual decision" between the agency and minority investor WindRiver to look at options, explaining: "WindRiver came in as private equity partners in our management buyout [from Grey Global], and that was in 2004. It was highly unusual that any private equity people would be in this long. I thought it was time to re-evaluate and they were amenable to that, and we started to talk to some outside parties and so did they."

She said she had not ruled out any category of potential investor or partner, highlighting adjacent industries such as consultancies, as well as private equity and "wealthy individuals", as possibilities.

But she added: "I would hope that the nature of the next investor would also be somebody who would invest beyond their shareholding, either through having a more strategic alignment with what we’re doing, or in other ways to enhance our business strategy."

She said talks with interested parties progressed "in earnest" in the fourth quarter of 2015, and will now proceed in a more "methodical" way,

Kraus said she had no timetable in mind, pointing out that there are no penalties for either APCO or WindRiver if a sale does not occur, nor are there mechanisms for a forced sale.

"Neither one of us is in a particular hurry - it has to be the right thing," she said. "We started talking to people and that started prompting several people we hadn’t started talking to to call us. Some were unsolicited offers for the business, some were other investors we hadn’t contemplated talking to, but so far none of them fits the criteria I’ve set up for what we want to do.

"I don’t really see that much pressure to conclude something fast," she added. "I just want to make sure that when I retire, when I leave the firm, it’s in a good place – and I’ve no immediate plans to do that."

At the end of 2014, international president Brad Staples was named as her successor as CEO alongside a change in senior leadership. "For me, just as we’ve changed our leadership, I think it’s time to move on in terms of the resources the company has to move forward," Kraus said.

Kraus was upbeat about current trading at APCO, which has doubled revenue over the past 10 years, although it fell two per cent in 2014.

"As far as I’m concerned, APCO is in the best place it’s been in a number of years," she said. "I think we not only have a strong team, I think we have really good plans in place for this year. We’ve had a good year, I think we’ve seen a lot of improvements within the company in terms of our ability to grow."

Teneo declined to comment on reports that discussions with APCO had ended. PRWeek has asked BlueFocus to comment but received no reply.

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