When organising coverage and publicity for an impending float on the London Stock Exchange, strict rules severely limit what can and can't be done in the run-up to a share issue.
These rules therefore had a profound affect on how the PR surrounding global reinsurance and risk advisory company the Benfield Group's float would be conducted.
Benfield's PR agency, Haggie Financial, understood that while the float in mid-June would generate significant interest from the business pages - as this was one of the largest floats in the last 12 months - a further challenge would be to ensure media relations were also handled carefully.
To publicise the Stock Exchange float of the reinsurance firm and answer factual questions from the press about Benfield in the run up to the shares sale.
Strategy and Plan
The strategy ahead of the float was largely dictated by the foreign stock exchange rules that prevent a would-be plc from talking itself up or 'conditioning the market'. Although the rules are not as strict in the UK as they are in countries such as the US, Canada and Japan, the regulations do still have a strong bearing on what British companies can and can't do domestically.
Bearing these rules in mind, Benfield chairman John Coldman, chief executive Grahame Chilton, finance director John Whiter and Haggie Financial - backed up by investor relations advisers Financial Dynamics, as well as company lawyers and accountants - had to be careful about the publicity surrounding the float and information plans.
Haggie Financial director Peter Rigby explained the strategy: 'We had to play it straight down the line as we couldn't be seen to be "puffing up" the company ahead of a Stock Exchange float,' he said. 'Therefore, although the team got together in January to begin talks on the float, it was probably in April before we started to put the plan down on paper.'
The PR team and Benfield then co-ordinated on the strategy with their colleagues both in New York and in Bermuda, where Benfield is incorporated.
'It was all a matter of timing,' added Rigby. 'With the financial markets generally not doing very well, and with the Iraq situation coming to a head, the timing of the float was especially important.'
Ultimately, institutional investors were the main target of the float, while print and wire journalists were targeted to provide the coverage.
Benfield - which was established nearly 30 years ago and built up by the late Chelsea Football Club director Matthew Harding - had said months before that it intended to issue shares for sale, but a date had not yet been decided. Benfield communications spokesman David Bogg added that both Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley were consulted before deciding on the flotation date.
And the date selected? Friday the 13th of June. 'There was a wry smile among some people, but so much work had already gone into it that we went ahead,' said Rigby.
Once the date had been established, Benfield issued a press release about news of the sale two weeks later, in addition to providing a guideline share price, followed by an additional release on the morning of the float.
Despite this being a straightforward approach, Bogg added that it had to go through lawyers, advisers and other experts before the release and guides were issued.
'We needed to keep it as straight as possible, yet at the same time ensure we gave people as much information as we could about Benfield, what it does and a bit of company history,' he said.
Rigby added: 'The phones were red hot when the first announcement was made. We then made plans for the 13 June. We would be at the Stock Exchange with Benfield executives from 7.00am, followed by a news wire conference call just afterwards. There was also one later on in the morning, which journalists were invited to attend.'
Measurement and Evaluation
Under the circumstances, it was difficult to set goals for the campaign, according to Rigby. 'We deliberately had to be even-handed,' he said.
'But it was not as if we had to generate lots of interest, because it was going to be one of the biggest floats of the year - so we knew we would get good coverage.'
And that's exactly what they did get. The Times, the Financial Times, The Sun, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, International Herald Tribune, the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Guardian, The Independent on Sunday, The Business, The Observer and The Wall Street Journal all featured articles.
Elsewhere, wire agencies Dow Jones, AFX News, Citywire, PA, Bloomberg and Reuters reported on the float, as did more than 70 trade magazines and websites.
The 250p-a-share float was 11 times oversubscribed, valuing the company at £575m, which had risen to £650m by the end of the day.
Insurance Day editor Richard Banks said that the campaign was run smoothly, with both Haggie Financial and Benfield being as helpful as they could within the rules laid down.
'Obviously with this type of float, there are some things they can tell us and things they can't,' he explained.
'They would get back to us when we asked questions, even if they couldn't answer the question.'
Financial Times writer Robert Orr also spoke highly of the way the PR was handled. 'Haggie Financial and Benfield were very efficient. But we did find it unusual that they could not provide us with a prospectus for the sale,' he said.
'They said it was because it was directed at the institutions, but this was puzzling for journalists.'