In the years since the last slump – at the turn of the millennium – many City agencies, such as Brunswick, Citigate and FD, had been coining it in from feverish global mergers and acquisition activity, financed by an over-inflated banking sector.
But, according to Mergermarket, by the fourth quarter of 2008 European M&A deals had fallen to a level last seen in the summer of 2004.
And we are likely to see a significant further fall for the first quarter of this year.
There was a theory that despite the drop in M&A, City agencies could make up the shortfall through a sudden demand from clients for refinancing or crisis management advice. But talking to leading figures in the industry, it is clear that revenues from this new ‘recession PR’ have fallen far short of the mark.
As a result, most UK City PR agencies have been quietly shedding staff. For many outside this traditionally lucrative sector of PR, there will be a touch of schadenfreude. The level of fees – and often salaries – earned from being an adviser on big corporate deals is on a different scale to most corporate or consumer work.
Worst hit have been those City consultancies that are too narrowly focused on European M&A or IPO work. Agencies that have diversified into the Middle East or Asia, for example, are reporting better fortunes. Equally bullish are those that have effectively combined financial PR with public affairs and wider corporate advice.
However, over the past week we have heard more promising noises from the financial markets, with greater confidence among US analysts and a leap in the UK’s FTSE index.
If share prices continue to recover – and let’s hope that this isn’t a famous ‘dead cat bounce’ – then one could predict a rise in M&A activity towards the end of this year.
Nevertheless, we should expect a more cautious financial PR world after the tumultuous events of the past six months.