Arun Sudhaman 15 Oct 2018 // 5:19AM GMT
Another week, another merger. Although it should be noted that Kekst’s integration with CNC hardly elicits the levels of surprise that greeted Text100’s alliance with Bite or, indeed, Cohn & Wolfe’s takeover of Burson-Marsteller.
As long ago as 2013, this publication was taking note of what one source called a “civil disobedience campaign” to keep Publicis Groupe’s corporate and financial PR agencies distinct from the single brand approach embodied by MSL.
And, to be fair, MSL itself rarely appeared intractably opposed to the notion of a second network, built around the trio of corporate/financial heavyweights: CNC, Kekst and JKL. While progress has not exactly been rapid, this reality has eventually taken shape, with CNC first merging with Capital MSL, then JKL and — finally now — with Kekst, to create a global consultancy with 12 offices.
As my colleague Paul Holmes noted when breaking the story, most of Kekst CNC’s direct competitors have some sort of international presence: Brunswick and FTI through their own multi-office networks, Finsbury through its merger with RLM and relationship with German market leader Hering Schuppener, and Abernathy MacGregor through its AMO partnership with Maitland in the UK and others.
So it makes plenty of sense for Kekst CNC to bolster its global presence in this manner. That it has chosen to do so via a separate brand rather than under the MSL umbrella is also unsurprising, given the brand and consumer PR focus represented by Publicis Groupe’s flagship PR network, which has become increasingly submerged in the Publicis Communications network under the leadership of group CEO Arthur Sadoun.
If nothing else, furthermore, the new incarnation of Kekst CNC serves as a reminder of the enduring value of corporate PR, amid the broader industry’s recent infatuation with the marketing budgets wielded by mighty consumer brands.
We live in an increasingly issues-rich environment — typified by fake news, cybersecurity woes and activist investors. Accordingly, sophisticated corporate communications counsel is more important today than it ever has been, helping to reassert the crucial value of issues management skills that have sometimes appeared marginalised in the rush to show up at events like Cannes.
Meanwhile the focus on consumer marketing has not necessarily paid off yet, if overall growth numbers are any guide. Agencies probably cannot help but feel the slowdown from major FMCG players, even as CMO spending — long touted as the saviour for savvy PR networks — becomes markedly more efficiency-driven. And that is before considering the investment and cultural discomfort required to truly transform big corporate-focused networks into credible brand-building players.
As one agency head noted to me — "there is a benefit to organising powerfully around markets, and the market for corporate/institutional communications is very different from marketing.”
Both, of course, are of critical importance to the PR industry’s fortunes. Kekst CNC’s decision to merge may be another sign of the times in terms of consolidation, but its separation from MSL is also a reminder that one size does not always fit all, particularly in an era of sweeping corporate disruption.