The Savile Row-suited world of financial/corporate PR has thrived since the pandemic. It is also changing fast: the leading firms are consolidating and seeking global growth, the founders gradually cashing in.
The latest indicator of this came on Good Friday when it emerged that one of the most famous consultancies, FGS Global, is on the verge of securing a major investment from US private equity giant KKR.
FGS is regarded as one of the “legacy” City shops, having been founded, as Finsbury, by slick PR man Roland Rudd in 1994.
Rudd, brother of former home secretary Amber Rudd, remains chairman of FGS with a significant shareholding. Well known in financial public relations, he helped orchestrate the EU-remain campaign as chairman of the People’s Vote campaign that unsuccessfully championed a second referendum following the UK’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.
Over the past few years – working with his biggest shareholder, WPP chief executive Mark Read – Rudd has amalgamated Finsbury with like-minded financial PR shops such as Germany’s Hering Schuppener and America’s Glover Park Group and Sard Verbinnen. Indeed, Hering Schuppener’s former boss Alexander Geiser is now head of FGS.
As such it’s become one of the world’s “big four” financial PR firms, second in size only to the other legacy shop, Brunswick, also set up in London three decades’ ago by Rudd’s rival Sir Alan Parker.
However, the KKR deal – which will involve the private equity shop taking a 30 per cent stake of FGS – shows how big these PR firms are becoming, and much less British.
The new investment values FGS at around $1.4bn (£1.1bn). But it will soon be billing $500m in consultancy fees each year. Brunswick is already thought to be achieving that, having itself sold a 10.7 per cent stake to US merchant bank BDT Capital Partners in 2021.
Founders such as Rudd and Parker are becoming very rich as they gradually pass the baton on to American investors who strive to further scale up these consultancies. They say that the world’s biggest corporations are seeking consistent strategy and reputational advice in business hubs across the globe.
So these consultancies now offer financial PR integrated with political comms, sustainability, campaigning and reputation strategy. And blue chip firms are lapping it up.
But while there are glittering prizes for the best corporate PR consultants, such consolidation and scale bring their own, cultural challenges. As the founders cash in, these agencies will see a jostling for position from the next generation of ambitious leaders and investors.