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Three years after the merger of WPP’s UK financial communications specialist Finsbury and US corporate consultancy Robinson Lerer & Montgomery, the combined business rebranded under the Finsbury name and began to see the results of a combination that clearly boosted its transaction credentials globally, elevating the US business into the front rank in terms of special situations support.
Now capable of providing global reach, the firm advised AstraZeneca on its defense against a hostile Pfizer bid; Citizens Financial Group and OM Asset Management on their New York Stock Exchange IPOs; Walgreens and Alliance Boots on their trans-Atlantic merger; and Holcim on its merger with Lafarge—all while continuing to offer top-of-the-line corporate reputation, crisis and issues and management and public affairs expertise. It has also handled high-profile corporate assignments for clients such as Verizon, Starbucks, Statoil, and Reed Elsevier (now RELX Group).
New business came from AIG, Alcoa, Alibaba, BAE Systems, Charles Schwab, Citizens Financial Group, Duke Energy, Holcim, Nielsen, Old Mutual Asset Management and Qualcomm. And in a series of personal moves that put the firm on a solid footing for the future, Michael Gross, based in New York, was appointed to succeed RLM co-founder Walter Montgomery (who continues to offer senior counsel) as CEO; Stephen Labaton, a former The New York Times award-winning journalist, stepped into the US president role; and Kal Goldberg, former senior managing director at FTI, joined as partner to further strengthen the M&A practice.—PH
Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher (Independent)
Founded in 2000 by Adams & Rinehart and Abernathy MacGregor veteran Joele Frank and a handful of longtime colleagues, Joele Frank Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher quickly established itself as one of the top firms in the US M&A arena. But while the firm handled 111 transactions in 2014—including five of the 10 largest by value—M&A now accounts for about a third of JFWBK’s revenues: the fastest-growing part of the business is probably the firm’s work in the shareholder activism realm (it focuses on defending corporate clients against short-sellers and others), while ongoing corporate communications and investor relations counsel is another mainstay.
The firm has a team of 85, including 17 partners in New York and (new last year) San Francisco working with clients such as Amgen, American Airlines, Delphi, Hertz, Merck, Motorola Solutions, Procter & Gamble, Sears Holdings, Verizon, and Warburg Pincus, with new business from Allergan, DirecTV, DuPont, Halliburton, Sprint, and Time Warner. The firm repesented Time Warner in its defense against the hostile proposal from Twenty-First Century Fox; DirecTV in its pending acquisition by AT&T; Allergan in its defense against an unsolicited proposal from Valeant and Pershing Square and its subsequent agreement to be acquired by Actavis; Covidien in its acquisition by Medtronic; and Halliburton in its pending acquisition of Baker Hughes. Its track record in helping companies deal with activist investors is second to none; since its inception it has faced Starboard 38 times, Icahn Associates 30 times, Elliott 14 times, JANA 14 times, Third Point 11 times, Pershing Square 11 times, Corvex nine times, and Trian seven times.—PH
From its inception as an investor relations specialist in 1998, ICR has grown to become one of the top 10 independent PR firms in the US with 500 clients, 160 employees, and fee income in excess of $50 million. It has also expanded its capabilities considerably, supplementing its formidable financial calendar work—often dismissed as an off-the-shelf offering—with broader corporate PR expertise (corporate positioning and stakeholder engagement), crisis communications (product recalls, accounting issues, data breaches), special situations (flirting with a top five spot in the M&A rankings), and most recently public affairs, with the recent addition of industry veteran Michael Robinson as managing director.
It continues to differentiate itself by hiring former sell-side analysts (more than 60 of them) in the image of co-founder and CEO Thomas Ryan, who blends an understanding of the information needs of financial stakeholders and strong storytelling expertise. The firm has impressive expertise in 20 industry sectors, notably in financial services, technology, healthcare, retail, and apparel. There are plenty of big name clients too—most of which now use ICR as their retained corporate and financial counsel.
Interesting work has included helping Keurig rebound after criticism from a prominent hedge fund manager; supporting Freedom Group after a YouTube video-inspired product recall; and working with Diamond Foods on its recovery from an accounting scandal and leadership transition. What these efforts have in common with most of the firm’s work is a tangible impact on the company’s market valuation.—PH
Kekst and Company (Publicis Groupe)
Kekst and Company was a pioneer in providing investor and public relations support to companies in “special situations,” a term that encompasses mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies, corporate governance crises, leadership transitions, litigation, and other mission-critical issues. And while the firm’s leadership in M&A continues to draw much of the attention—and provides evidence that Kekst is trusted by CEOs, CFOs and other C-suite executives when the stakes are high—the firm has expanded its capabilities in a host of similarly critical areas, with much of its recent growth driven by work in shareholder activism; crisis communications; corporate governance matters including numerous CEO changes; bankruptcies and restructurings; as well as legal and regulatory communications.
Kekst also handles ongoing financial communications and broader reputation work for many of its retainer clients, with particular strength in private equity and hedge fund communications. A leadership change in 2014 saw Jeremy Fielding take the helm as Kekst’s president and CEO—though as always, the firm’s depth of senior talent (Tom Davies, Todd Fogarty and Lissa Perlman, as well as vice chairmen Jeffrey Taufield and Robert Siegfried and executive chairman Jim Fingeroth) made the transition pretty seamless.
The firm experienced a surge of work for clients on activist shareholder matters (confidential assignments for a major chemical company and a major Detroit automaker, as well as work for EMC, Zoetis, Jos A. Bank). It handled CEO succession announcements and executive transitions at International Flavors & Fragrances, Yum! Brands, Unisys, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, and Teva Pharmaceuticals. And it worked on transactions, advising General Electric on its $16.9 billion acquisition of Alstom’s power and grid businesses; Beam on its sale to Suntory Holding; Charter Communications on its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable; and Publicis Groupe on its acquisition of Sapient. And it handled RadioShack’s restructuring and bankruptcy.
Sard Verbinnen (Independent)
Over more than two decades, Sard Verbinnen & Co has established itself as one of the top financial, crisis and corporate communications firms in the country, and a leader in the mergers and acquisitions arena. It also ranks is among the top advisors for crisis communications and litigation support, as well as handling investor relations, corporate positioning work, and a variety of complex special situations.
The firm has also created a dedicated digital communications group that integrates online tools and social media into many projects. Led by founders George Sard and Paul Verbinnen, who cut their teeth at M&A pioneer Adams & Rinehart, Sard Verbinnen has a team of 26 partners, including former investment bankers, lawyers, analysts and public affairs advisors, with impressive longevity.
Last year saw the firm consulting on more than 190 M&A transactions globally, advising Beats Electronics on its sale to Apple; eBay on its spin-off of PayPal; PetSmart on its sale to a consortium led by BC partners; Dollar Tree on its pending acquisition of Family Dollar; Hillshire Brands on its acquisition by Tyson Foods; and Time Warner Cable on its pending acquisition by Comcast. Beyond the M&A space, it worked with Alibaba Group on its record-breaking IPO on NYSE; Takata Corporation on airbag inflator malfunctions and related recalls; Herbalife on its defense against agitation by Pershing Square; and Essex Property Trust on a data breach.—PH
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