Good buys: No sign of pre- or post-Brexit slowdown for PR agency M&A

The market for buying and selling PR firms shows no sign of having slowed before or since the UK voted to leave the EU - despite some reports of deals being postponed in related sectors.

PR agency M&A's are showing no signs of a pre- or post-Brexit slowdown (©ThinkstockPhotos)
PR agency M&A's are showing no signs of a pre- or post-Brexit slowdown (©ThinkstockPhotos)

This is according to a variety of M&A experts speaking to PRWeek, and new PR-specific data published by Results International.

The M&A advisory firm's report shows that there were 36 purchases of PR firms across the globe in the first half of 2016, up from 30 in the opening six months of last year. Ten of those were cross-border transactions, and the same number involved UK businesses, two more than in the first half of 2015.

Since the UK's surprise vote to leave the EU, British PR M&A activity has included the agency Threepipe acquiring an SEO agency, acquisitive Four snapping up Rain Communications and Italian group SEC reaffirming its pre-vote declaration of intent to buy a London agency

Nicola Horton, principal in the corporate finance team of the accountancy firm Kingston Smith, told PRWeek that the firm was "currently working on a number of sales that are in train, and are going ahead as planned".

However, she did say that two deals covered by the firm's media sector practice had been called off in the past weeks. One was an adtech firm that was going to be acquired by a French private equity firm, which had always said was conditional on a vote to remain. "We did just think they were being super cautious, but actually it didn't go ahead," Horton commented. The other was an Australian firm considering listing on AIM in London. "They're now considering Frankfurt, and other places," she said.

While both those deals were in early stages, Horton said she thought large-scale marcoms buyers like WPP and Dentsu Aegis "are not going to stop expanding here", and that Kingston Smith had two deals involving PR firms currently in the pipeline.

David Blois, managing partner of the firm M&A Advisory, said his sense was that Asian or US prospective buyers of UK firms "may perhaps be a little more nervous about the situation". But he said that for transactions where both parties were in the UK, "people seem very confident, these agencies have come out of recession, they’ve got a fair amount of cash, there is no sign of client fall-off".

David Elm, head of UK media at PwC, echoed Horton and Blois' sentiments, adding that while the UK may no longer be able to so easily act as a "bridge into Europe" for US or Asian buyers, it would remain an attractive place to invest in a "strong economy in its own right".

Keith Hunt, managing partner at Results International, said of his firm's report: "There’s no real sign of Brexit impacting the market as yet, even though there is some uncertainty in the UK in particular.

"The analysis also found that private equity [PE] interest in the PR sector remains strong and the number of PE-backed deals we’ll see by the close of the year will equal or surpass the figure for 2015. However PR also remains an attractive prospect for networks, trade buyers and other businesses looking to expand their footprint in marcoms, and as such PE houses will see keen interest when it comes to bidding for hot properties in the sector."

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