OPINION: Barclays bid stirs financial tempers

If proof were needed of London's claim to be the world's leading international financial centre, it comes with the bid for ABN Amro from Barclays, and the prospect of a rival offer from a consor­tium consisting of Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander of Spain and Belgium's Fortis.

The key point is that each of the protagonists has its own London financial PR firm. Barclay’s has Brunswick, and ABN Amro has Financial Dynamics, both being long-term relationships.

There has, however, been some more nimble footwork among the putative consortium. RBS has signed up Tulchan, Maitland has renewed its links with Santander, forged by its bid for Abbey, and Finsbury has got Fortis, perhaps on the back of its strong Brussels office. Any firm not on the list must be feeling distinctly left out.

It is well known that when several investment banks are supposedly working together they spend most of the time scratching like cats – main­taining a basic civility on the surface while striving constantly behind the scenes to grab more of the deal for themselves. The same can be true in PR. Firms (or individuals ) with a reputa­tion for agg­res­sive growth are the worst. Failing firms strugg­ling to hold on to a franchise are almost as bad.

It is a sign of immaturity that so many PR firms see these deals as an opportunity to do down their colleagues when in fact their commercial interest lies in co-operation. It is normal in big deals to see two, three and sometimes even four law firms working for the same side in a co-operative and sensible way. That ought to be the model for PR firms, and there are good reasons to think that is in fact where the market is going. The work pressure in these deals is intense, and the communication demands are absolutely huge.

Everybody wants a say in something as big as the takeover of ABN Amro and it is ridiculous to think any one PR firm knows all the financial commen­tators in Europe, is equally at home with print and the web, can handle the consumer and financial audiences and still find time to schmooze regula­tors and politicians across the Continent. If they can learn to work together as lawyers do, the consultancies might discover that cartels can be so much more lucrative than competition.

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