Exclusive: ZPB Associates acquires fellow health agency

Health comms agency ZPB Associates has acquired fellow sector specialist Journalista for a seven-figure sum in a significant boost to the agency's growth, PRWeek can exclusively reveal.

Holly Sutton (left), communications partner, ZPB Associates, with the agency's founder and chief executive Zoe Bedford

More staff

The cash deal, thought to be worth more than £1m, was concluded on Monday night. As a result, Journalista will move into ZPB's existing office in Vauxhall by Christmas.

Journalista will remain as a brand, but will be wholly owned by, and trade as, ZPB, which has grown to 17 staff as a result of the acquisition.

Holly Sutton, who founded Journalista a decade ago, will become communications partner at ZPB.

Both agencies celebrated their 10th anniversary this year and have previously worked together on campaigns for Dr Foster and Patient Opinion, among other clients.

Larger client base

ZPB will benefit from adding Journalista's roster – which includes Healthcare UK, Big White Wall and Enterprise Research Centre - to its existing client base of companies such as Novartis, Amazon Web Services, and Push Doctor.

Greater experience

The acquisition also means that its expanded team includes individuals who have worked at NHS England, health regulators, pharma, key sector media, hospital trusts, and data firms.

Long-term strategy

The expansion is part of ZPB's strategic growth programme. Earlier this year it appointed three senior advisers: Paul Mears, former chief executive of Yeovil Hospital NHS Foundation; Mike Bell, chair of Croydon NHS Health Services; and Matthew Campbell-Hill, former non-executive director, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Zoe Bedford, founder and chief executive of ZPB, said: "We have worked alongside Holly and her team at Journalista for a number of years, often sharing clients, so this feels like a natural move."

Clients prefer "independent, highly specialised consultancies" and the acquisition "allows the two businesses to remain independent while having a bigger team with more resource to compete with some of the larger players", she said.

The agency's point of difference in a competitive health comms market is what Bedford describes as its "particular skill in bringing new insights through our strong understanding of health system dynamics, data, what you can and can't do with it, and how to use it in high-impact campaigns".

Acquiring Journalista has boosted ZPB's comms offer and "is a really exciting development for us", she added.

Journalista was advised by SI Partners, which worked on the sale of Westbourne to Cicero last year.

The M&A firm was also involved in Next 15's £5.9m acquisition of digital agency Velocity Partners, and the Hanover Group’s purchase of the Middle East business of Bell Pottinger, in 2017.

Sutton commented that the two agencies "operate in similar spaces, with shared values, mutually supportive services and a vision for making complex issues clearer for people across health and social care, research and digital". 

Her agency came 35th in the Healthcare Comms rankings in PRWeek’s Top 150 UK PR consultancies 2019, with healthcare revenue of £347,000 in 2018 - a big increase on the £139,000 reported the previous year.

"Becoming part of ZPB means we can offer a stronger proposition to compete for the opportunities arising in the fusion of health and social care, research and digital," Sutton said.

The acquisition comes just weeks after PRWeek revealed a surge of M&A interest in specialist health agencies. 

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