LEADER: Turn to Top 150 for investment ideas

As PRWeek publishes its annual report on the consultancy sector this week, many analysts are already predicting a very different 2008.

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

The fact that 2007 was a bumper year for PR is no longer news. The news lies in what happens next.

Can the industry really sustain double-digit growth for a fourth consecutive year? And are we about to see a flurry of M&A activity within an agency sector that feels over-supplied?

Read the full TOP 150 report

Both questions are of course intertwined. It may be that we'll see agency consolidation in order to protect margins at a time of client uncertainty.

We have already seen three long-coveted agencies - Hotwire, Frank and Cake - snapped up in the past six months, along with smaller shops. And the word on the street is that another similar deal is close to being signed.

Equally we know that the owners of many independent mid-sized agencies are in an acquisitive frame of mind at the moment, including 3 Monkeys.

Analysts say the most attractive buys at the moment are agencies operating in the healthcare, technology and investor relations sectors. Other hot growth niches are digital PR and broadcast specialists, although buyers will look to those with a high proportion of retained business rather than project work.

The other big question is whether acquirers can actually get their hands on the cash to buy anything.

The credit crunch means listed groups could find it particularly hard to raise the funds from banks, which are both cash-strapped and risk averse.

Privately-owned firms, backed by private equity, may find it slightly easier. But even venture capitalists could steer clear of a PR industry that has historically been a harsh victim of economic cycles.

However, enlightened investors would do well to look at the Top 150 report, because the picture it paints of the industry is consistently encouraging.

Email: danny.rogers@haymarket.com

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