For an industry that’s at least partly paid to quash unsubstantiated rumours about your clients, you don’t half spread a lot of them about each other.
About once a month I hear – on very good authority, with absolute certainty – that one of your rivals is a) up for sale. b) going bust. c) already sold but not yet admitting it.
Not once has any of those rumours yet turned out to be true. The latest came last Friday. I’ll omit the name of the selling firm – it was in terrible trouble, apparently – but say that FTI was the rumoured buyer (they had nothing to do with the rumour in the first place, I should say.)
The story was, I’m pretty sure, total rubbish.
Which poses a question: why would anyone buy a PR firm in the first place? Why wouldn’t you just hire the talent?
The answer seems to be this: There is a Premier League of top firms, a magic circle of Brunswick, Finsbury, Tulchan and FTI. (If you’re not on the list and it makes you cross, I’d like your complaints, the ruder the better.)
Anyway, those four do the bulk of FTSE 100 and M&A work. And those accounts are very hard to shift. The low-risk boards and the other advisors – lawyers, bankers – don’t want to quit the big firm for a small player, however annoyed the PRs may make them.
Top PR folk do sometimes move from one firm to another, but it’s notable how few clients they ever manage to take with them. So the magic circle never gets broken.
There’s something unsatisfactory about this. Corporate Britain deserves more choice.