NEWS: Friends Provident seeks City PR ally

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.

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.



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