Research by finance consultancy Results International, which tracks M&A activity, says that the combined value of the deals between January and March is likely to be $168m (£116m), although this is not an exact figure as the details of most transactions are not made public.
The 20 deals in Q1 was a large rise on the 13 deals done in the first quarter of 2015, but similar to the 23 deals in Q3 2015 and 22 in Q4 2015.
Britain was the busiest market during the past quarter, with UK firms bought in 40 per cent of all deals. The UK market accounted for around a quarter of deals in 2015 as a whole.
The only company involved in M&A deals last year and also in the first quarter of this year was Edelman-owned Zeno, which acquired UK agency 3 Monkeys in January.
Results International director James Kesner said: "There is a broad range of buyers, ranging from new entrants to the space and established marcoms players to large PR firms, small-to-mid-cap marcoms businesses and private-equity houses."
He went on to say that "specialist areas such as social, technology and content – or sector specialism in areas such as healthcare" were where agencies were most ripe for acquisition.
However, private-equity (PE) interest in the sector remains low, with just one deal in the first quarter of this year and just three in 2015. "It’s still taking a while for PE houses to become comfortable with what is the most people-based business in the marcoms mix. It’s better than five years ago, but still a slow burn," said Kesner.
At the start of this year, PRWeek UK reported an earlier Results International finding that US companies accounted for more than two-fifths of PR firms bought in 2015 - with 31 of the 75 deals last year involving the acquisition of a US agency. British companies came in second, with 19 acquired in 2015, followed by agencies in Western Europe and Asia-Pacific, with 10 firms acquired in each region respectively.