Friends Provident, the mutual life insurer, is on the hunt for a PR
agency, fuelling speculation that the company is moving towards a deal
with another insurance firm.
Five financial PR firms have been invited for preliminary talks with
Friends Provident over the next two weeks, although these will not
thought to amount to a competitive pitch.
Corporate communications manager Brian Wilkinson confirmed that the
Dorking-based insurer was ‘having a limited number of discussions with a
limited number of agencies’ but declined to name them. However, he did
reveal that the selected firms had ‘a strong bias’ towards City PR work.
‘We value the importance of PR very highly and we want to take stock of
what our requirements are for the next year or two and see if there is
an agency out there that can add value to our efforts,’ said Wilkinson.
Friends Provident manages its own corporate and product public relations
through a small in-house team of two headed by Wilkinson and assisted by
publicity manager Jim Murdoch.
It has not retained a PR agency since it ended a fixed term contract
with Ludgate last year. However, the agency continued to handle specific
projects, including Friends Provident’s bid to acquire British Coal’s
pension fund company, CIN Management, last year.
Although Ludgate is not one of the five agencies under consideration,
Wilkinson did not rule it out as a possible candidate.
With two million policyholders and pounds 15 billion under management,
Friends Provident has been tipped as a likely takeover target by another
insurance firm. Last month it was rumoured to have held discussions with
Sun Alliance. Abbey National is also thought to be interested in
acquiring the company.
The changes sweeping the life insurance industry could prove a bonanza
for public relations consultancies. As medium sized mutuals seek to
change their status through alliances and mergers, City institutions and
policyholders will need to be persuaded of the benefits of any deals.