PARIS--I&E Consultants, France’s largest independent PR agency, is considering a potential sale as it gears up for a future without its two key principals.

The 150-person agency has begun talks with a range of groups, confirmed co-chairman Jean-Pierre Beaudoin, aimed at an orderly transition of ownership. The development is likely to spur considerable interest among the holding groups, given I&E’s powerhouse status in the French market.

Beaudoin, together with co-chairman Tristan Follin, together own around 85 percent of I&E. The duo are both aged 65, with Beaudoin pointing out that this means they must look for a plan to ensure “continuity of capital”.

“Clearly we must consider transition of ownership at some point because this is not a family business,” said Beaudoin. “But we have no fixed idea as to what form this could take. It is not necessarily a sale - we are not going to take the money and run.”

Beaudoin added that “the usual group” of companies had been “knocking on I&E’s door over the past few years.”

“It’s normal that everybody would consider their options on both sides,” he continued. “So we have indeed indicated that we would start the review of our options to ensure continuity of I&E, and the conversations have started.”

I&E Consultants reported fee income of around $18 million in 2010, according to the Holmes Report 2011 Global Rankings, making it the biggest privately-owned French PR firm. That figure represented a drop of 15 percent on the year before, due largely to the sale of its Opinion Valley subsidiary at the end of 2009. On a like-for-like basis, fees dropped by around 3.7 percent, and the firm is forecasting five percent topline growth this year.

Key clients include Beiersdorf, Microsoft, EDF, Mars, PWC and UPS. “What we are looking for is a project which opens a new future of the team, and ensures continuity of the level and quality of service for clients,” said Beaudoin.

He added that there is “every reason” to maintain the I&E brand given its “value in the market.” The firm has unveiled a new positioning this year, around the “value of relationships.”

The search for a partner comes after the the firm reorganized its management into an eight-person executive committee that report to Beaudoin and Follin. The duo took over the 60-year-old firm in 1984, and have grown it six-fold since then.