Professional services updates

Finsbury Glover Hering, the WPP-backed corporate communications firm, is in talks to acquire US rival Sard Verbinnen, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The deal, if completed, would be the latest example of consolidation in the lucrative business of providing strategic and financial communications advice as well as lobbying services to corporations, boards and high-net worth clients. 

By combining with Sard, FGH would pick up a New York-based firm known as one of the leading advisers in communications around US mergers and acquisitions and activism.

Sard was ranked second in 2020 behind New York-based Joele Frank in an industry league table produced by Mergermarket that is based on the total value of deals the firms worked on. 

The talks have been taking place for several weeks and have been partly driven by US-based private equity firm Golden Gate Capital, which has been considering options for its 40 per cent stake in Sard.

Golden Gate acquired its stake in 2016 in a deal that valued Sard at $150m and was intended to help the US firm embark on a global expansion. However, the firm’s efforts to build out its operations in the UK and Asia have stumbled. 

One person close to the talks said the negotiations are complicated by a number of factors including structuring the deal. Both firms declined to comment.

Sard was founded in 1992 when George Sard left public relations company Ogilvy Adams & Rinehart to start a new firm with his colleague Paul Verbinnen, taking with them clients including Morgan Stanley. The firm employs more than 200 staff in total, but saw several of its top advisers depart around the time of the Golden Gate deal. 

FGH itself was created last year by the merger of three firms — London-based Finsbury, Washington DC-based Glover Park Group and Frankfurt-based Hering Schuppener — that were all controlled by UK advertising group WPP. 

That merger created a new US-based corporation with annual revenues of more than $200m a year that is 50.01 per cent owned by WPP and aimed to take on other global firms such as Brunswick Group and Teneo. At both FGH and Sard, partners own the remainder of the firms.

FGH has 800 staff, 19 offices globally and is run by chief executive Alexander Geiser, who was previously managing partner at Hering Schuppener. Roland Rudd, the founder of Finsbury, and Carter Eskew, the co-founder of Glover Park, are the firm’s co-chairs. 

People close to FGH have previously said that it is likely that the firm will consider an initial public offering in the next 18-36 months.

In June, FGH’s main rival Brunswick agreed to sell a 10.7 per cent stake to BDT Capital Partners which valued the firm at about £500m and enabled a £70m payout for its founder Sir Alan Parker. 

Teneo, in which private equity firm CVC has poured in more than $450m and has a controlling stake, has suffered a reputation crisis over the past year that has led to the departure of two of its founders, Doug Band and Declan Kelly. 

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