Campaign: Phones4U parent sells up with a media bang


Campaign Sale of the Caudwell Group
Client Caudwell Group
PR teams In-house and Smithfield Group
Timescale Sep 2005-Sep 2006
Budget Circa £100,000

Last November, mobile phone entrepreneur John Caudwell announced his intention to sell off the Caudwell Group, in which he held an 85 per cent stake, comprising high-street retailer Phones4U and handset distributor 20:20 Logistics. Despite deciding that the time was right to sell, Caudwell was reluctant to hand over his business to direct competitors.

To secure backing from private investors and support a trade sale, Caudwell's in-house PR team worked with corporate and financial comms specialist Smithfield.

To manage market expectations and  promote the business as an attractive investment. To minimise any disruption to the day-to-day running of the group and reassure customers, suppliers and employees.

Strategy and Plan
The main thrust of the communications strategy centred on helping the group move through the various stages of the formal sale process. This included supporting press announcements and maintaining confidentiality agreements as interested buyers were whittled down through two rounds of offers.

To broaden understanding of the strength of the group, in January the firm released its financial results for the year to December 2005. The PR team supported this by promoting the profiles of the Phones4U and 20:20 management teams in trade press,
emphasising their autonomy.

To quash potentially harmful rumours about the timing and value of the sale, which many analysts originally put at £800m, a flow of press releases and briefings was established, predicting proceeds of over £1bn. Finally, to keep staff and customers informed, the PR team briefed local media, while Caudwell took to the airwaves.

Measurement and Evaluation
As expected, national media interest was widespread, ranging from the Financial Times and The Daily Telegraph to The Guardian and The Independent. Local media coverage included The Stoke Sentinel, Manchester Evening News and regional BBC and ITV news programmes.

Broadcast mentions appeared on Radio 4's Today programme, Radio 5 Live, the BBC's Working Lunch, CNBC and Radio 2's Drive Time.

Profiles of the management teams featured in Mobile News, Mobile magazine and Retail Week.

In September, the Caudwell Group announced that it had completed a sale agreement with Doughty Hanson & Co and Providence Equity Partners for a higher-than-expected £1.46bn.

Under the terms of the acquisition, Doughty Hanson retained 20:20 Logistics (renamed 20:20 Mobile Group), with Providence Equity Partners bagging Phones4U.

Guardian City editor Julia Finch says: ‘It had to be a good story - it involved a huge brand and a man who had built a company from scratch to one worth over a billion pounds.'

She adds: ‘For me, releasing details of the successful deal in August as a "Sunday for Monday story" was a wise and highly unusual move, guaranteeing huge headlines - especially in The Guardian as I got access to John Caudwell on the Sunday afternoon.'

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