Huntsworth PR shops return to like-for-like growth; proposes sale of Grayling Middle East

Huntsworth saw like-for-like revenue growth in its comms agencies for the first time in "a number of years" in the first half of 2019, with Grayling UK highlighted for its "standout" performance.

The group also said in its half-year results it had taken a £3.4m write-down from the proposed sale of Grayling Middle East. Huntsworth alluded to the "underperformance" in the agency's Middle East business, but gave no more details in the announcement.

While overall revenue in the Communications division was flat at £36.3m, growth on a like-for-like basis was 0.9 per cent. That compares to a like-for-like revenue decline of 5.4 per cent in the first half of 2018.

Operating profit in the division grew from £2.7m to £3.2m, with margin up from 7.4 to 8.7 per cent.

Huntsworth said of the division's performance: "The strategy of eliminating unprofitable client contracts and operations, streamlining infrastructure and investing in quality staff is beginning to be rewarded."

Like-for-like revenue at Grayling fell 3.2 per cent to £17.1m, resulting in a loss for the period of £0.1m (2018: loss of £0.3m).

Huntsworth said that performance was "largely the result of a decline in revenues in the USA for clients terminated last year and an underperformance in the Middle East". The UK "continued to be the standout performer" at Grayling, with 10.9 per cent like-for-like revenue growth "on the back of further good client wins".

Revenue at Red grew 1.5 per cent on a like-for-like basis in H1 to £8.5m. "Good client wins continue to underpin the business and we anticipate further growth in H2," the firm stated.

Like-for-like revenue growth at Citigate Dewe Rogerson was 7.2 per cent as revenue hit £10.7m, with a "further strong improvement in profitability".

"The improved performance was driven by good trading in Asia, especially in Hong Kong and China, along with the UK and France," Huntsworth stated. "The Netherlands continues to operate in a difficult market with little transaction and IPO activity. The second half of the year may prove softer in the UK, but this is likely to be offset by continued good trading in Asia."

Group performance

Across Huntsworth, revenue grew 21 per cent to £123.5m in the half year, which saw the acquisition of majority stakes in agencies KYNE and Creativ-Ceutical, both added to its Medical division.

Pre-tax profit rose three per cent to £11.4m. Dividend per share grew from 0.7p to 0.75p.

Growth was strongest in the Medical division, where like-for-like revenue rose 8.6 per cent, and the Immersive arm, where it grew 9.2 per cent.

Growth in the Marketing division was flat on a like-for-like basis, which Huntsworth said was "in line with expectations" and it expects a return to growth in the second half, given the "increased number of new business pitches and client wins".

Huntsworth said it invested over £3m in staff and property in H1 "ahead of expected stronger second half performance". It cited an "increased number of new business pitches and wins which have contributed to a stronger second half pipeline".

"We also rationalised our UK property portfolio, bringing expanded space in London to accommodate the growth of the Health divisions whilst reducing excess space in the Communications division. We expect profits to be second-half weighted as a result."

PRWeek previously reported that Huntsworth has been moving its London staff from Citigate and other agencies into Grayling’s office near Holborn and Red’s premises in Soho.

Huntsworth CEO Paul Taaffe said today: "The first half of the year has seen the group continue to focus on extending its capabilities to meet its client needs through investment in new staff, offices and two new agencies. With the acquisition of Creativ-Ceutical and KYNE, we have added world-class, award-winning agencies which will help us to continue to grow our business.

"The group expects to see a strong performance in the Marketing and Medical divisions in the second half of the year following recent client wins, and this will be further enhanced by the first-time inclusion of KYNE and Creativ-Ceutical. The Communications division will continue to show improved revenue and profit performance, although Immersive is expected to be flat against strong comparatives.

"The group retains a strong balance sheet and as we head into the stronger cash-generating second half of the year, we anticipate a reduction in our gearing levels from the current 1.8x EBITDA towards our target of 1.5x. The board remains confident in the full-year outcome and the longer-term prospects of the group."

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