LONDON, August 2—Huntsworth, the communications holding company acquired last year by Shandwick founder Peter Chadlington, has made its biggest acquisition to date, snapping up leading U.K. public relations network Harrison Cowley for an initial consideration of £6.4 million, subject to approval by the company’s board later this month. The deal could ultimately be worth as much as £25 million, if “demanding but achievable” goals are met.
Earlier this year, Lord Chadlington—the former Peter Gummer—signaled his intention to build Huntsworth into a top 10 public relations company in the U.K. with three smaller acquisitions, adding food marketing specialist Stephanie Churchill PR, healthcare agency PBC Marketing, and technology boutique Woodside Communications to its existing PR operation, Counsel Public Relations.
The Harrison Cowley deal adds critical mass—the firm had revenues last year of £6.7 million and ranked 25th in the U.K. according to PR Week—and a network of offices outside London. Harrison Cowley is headquartered in Bristol and has additional offices in Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester and Southampton, as well as affiliated operations in Belfast and Dublin. Clients include Royal Bank of Scotland, Land Rover, The National Lottery, Marks & Spencer and Vladivar Vodka.
According to Chadlington, “The acquisition of a substantial U.K. and regional PR business marks another big step in the transformation of Huntsworth. It is only 11 months since the new board stepped in and carried out a radical restructuring. We are now moving forward with determination.”
Harrison Cowley was founded in 1962 in Bristol, and was acquired by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1984. It operated as part of Saatchi & Saatchi for 10 years, until it was bought back by management in a £1.5 million deal.
The firm will keep its name and management team, with David Heal, now chief executive, adding the role of chairman. Says Heal, “This deal opens up a whole new range of opportunities for Harrison Cowley. Since our buy-out from Saatchi & Saatchi in 1994, we have enjoyed seven years of sustained growth, with revenue increasing by an average of just under 20 percent a year. But as the competition hots up, and our ambitions grow, size matters. We believe that the best way forward for our clients and our staff is to link up with a PR-focused group so that jointly we can provide the full spectrum of PR and marketing communication services.”