This week, let’s talk about PR. It’s been an exciting week for this most professionalised of marketing communication disciplines, with two major acquisitions in three days.
As a discipline, public elations is – and has been for years – a highly segmented one. It’s an industry full of highly-focussed specialists carving out highly profitable niches in pharma and healthcare, lobbying, crisis management, influencing, trade press comms, entertainment, luxury, tech, fashion and more. There are far fewer “all things to all men” agencies than there are, say, in advertising or direct marketing.
Way to Blue, which was set up in 1996, is one such specialist. Based in London but with a global network of offices in Europe, Australia and the US, its particular speciality is entertainment. Its clients include most of the big players in that space – studios and music labels like Fox, Universal, Sony Pictures, Paramount, Disney, StudioCanal and Mad Men maker Lionsgate (and their individual releases, such as the Bond movie Skyfall); but also the Royal Opera House, and events sponsored by big brands like Red Bull, Grey Goose vodka.
It could fairly be said that the agency, which employs some 35 people is a leader in its field. It has also over the years broadened its offer beyond “straight” PR, adding research, communications strategy, social media, creative and media planning and buying to the mix (all of which play a part in any successful PR campaign, of course).
This week (Wednesday 3 September to be exact) it consolidated its position with its first-ever acquisition, swallowing up 10-strong PR and marketing agency Abundant in a cash deal for an undisclosed sum (and subject to due diligence).
Abundant’s clients include Universal Pictures, Paramount, Lionsgate and CNBC, so it’s a particularly good fit, bringing in new names to fill out the client book, but more importantly adding talent and contacts without diluting the core specialism.
All of Abundant’s team will transfer over to Way To Blue on or by 1st October, with the exception of managing director and current owner Shane Wall, who is to focus another of his companies, Unusual Productions; and the acquired agency will lose its name and be fully integrated in the Way To Blue fold. James Wilkins, Abundan’t highly-rated creative director, will become CD at Way To Blue.
Way To Blue chief executive told The Drum that this would be the first of many acquisitions; he’s certainly not short of ambition: “Our goal is to become the biggest and best integrated entertainment agency on a global scale. As the first of a number of acquisitions, we are delighted to have the opportunity to integrate new talent within our existing team of communications experts. We are now in an even stronger position to offer the very best in innovation, creativity and value to our clients.” And Wilkins and his colleagues get to work on a global stage – this could be a marriage made in heaven.
Elsewhere, on Monday (1 September), another specialist, food-and-drink-focussed Richmond Towers bought the award-winning boutique shop Van Communications, again for an undisclosed sum.
Richmond Towers claims to be the UK’s longest-established PR agency – it was set up in the 1930s – and has over the years carved out a very large and profitable niche for itself in trade and consumer PR for food brands, currently including Alpro, Fisherman’s Friends, fruit giant Dole, General Mills and Maldon salt; and a fabulous blue-chip drinks portfolio, including Havana Club, Plymouth Gin, Chivas, Beefeater, Abelour and Jameson. It also launched what many marketers regard as the world’s most successful-ever promotional tool, the Book Token.
Van, which was co-founded by Mark Cooper and Matt de Leon back in 2004, has a slightly more eclectic client list – London Transport Museum, VW, University of Sheffield and Seat as well as food and drink brands such as Iceland and Illy coffee – but it’s still a good fit. Richmond Towers does I think have a large over-reliance on Pernod Ricard within its drinks portfolio, so this buy will address this to an extent.
The acquisition also brings a wide range of skills into the acquirer – Van started life as a media relations agency, but its expertise these days extends to digital and social relations, events and experiential, sponsorship (search, management and exploitation), creative development and crisis communications.
Staff from Van have already relocated to Richmond Towers’ Frith Street, Soho offices as part of the deal and the newly-acquired shop will become a separate division within the parent agency, joining the food and drink teams, Richmond Towers’ sustainability-focused Eco agency and its social media specialist Straight Social.
This is another deal that’s a love match. It puts together two businesses – one aged over 80, the other a mere decade old, but both effective and successful in their different ways – to their mutual benefit (Richmond gets young talent, a more varied client book, while Van gets to move to the next level of its ambitions more money, more exposure and the opportunity to play on a bigger stage), and to that of clients both existing and prospective.
Over the past few months we’ve seen some deals and proposed deals which, for various reasons, may have not quite worked out as planned. In these two cases, however, things might just turn out swell.
Tony Walford is a partner at Green Square, corporate finance advisors to the media and marketing sector.