About once a month, I receive emails from private equity firms looking to purchase Lowe Group. Recently, we saw that one of the leading financial communications agencies was absorbed by a larger PR firm backed by private equity. We have no intention of selling and love what we do, but it got me thinking about what consolidation in the industry might mean. 

As a boutique financial communications specialist firm, we coexist alongside larger firms. We can’t always compete with them on scale, but we can compete on insights, creativity, experience and service. Our senior staff have all spent time working at financial services organizations and bring decades of pure financial focus.  

As consolidation happens, ownership transitions can be disruptive, resulting in opportunities lost or key staff departing or let go. An acquiring firm may not have the tight financial or investment specialization, leading to a dilution in focus. In the meantime, clients could see their projects and priorities languish.     

Whether large or small, there are a few important attributes you should expect from your agency at any time, including during a transition: 

  1. A thorough understanding of your products and services. This includes awareness of your competitive set and how your products and team are positioned. They should be able to cite relevant case studies of their work on similar assignments.   
  2. Knowledge of the key media covering financial services and relationships with reporters at those news organizations. Your firm should maintain targeted lists and keep you informed of key media changes.   
  3. Messaging and strategic communications skills. You need a partner who can help you signal changes and communicate key messages in a way that is appropriate for your client base. This includes the ability to provide counsel on reputation or crisis management issues as they arise. 
  4. The ability to create content that reflects your unique voice and speaks to your target audiences. This is especially important for firms with complex products or unique niches. 
  5. The recognition of the dependency of your PR outcomes on an effective online presence—and the ability to provide strategic digital marketing support and execution (see post). This includes meaningful measurement of your investment in PR, including timely reporting and appropriate KPIs to gauge whether you are having an impact.
  6. Prompt and transparent communications. You should expect a timely response to your emails and the ability to schedule a call when it is convenient for you, not two weeks from now.   
  7. Awareness of the regulatory environment and the disclosures required on any written communications. 

When is it time to reassess?

  1. If your firm overpromises. Building your reputation in the media can take time and doesn’t just happen overnight. Be wary of a firm that promises coverage in top-tier outlets or dramatic outcomes in a short period of time. 
  2. If your firm lacks a planning process. You should expect your PR firm to clearly articulate the goals, deliver a plan that seeks to accomplish those goals, and regularly reports on the plan’s progress. You should expect regular planning calls to keep you informed. If your partner can share access to any project management tools, even better.   
  3. If your firm experiences high staff turnover or has inexperienced staff. You should expect consistency from the team managing your account and that it be led by someone with meaningful industry experience. 
  4. Lack of knowledge of your products or area of expertise. If your team can’t create technically accurate content or if their drafts don’t reflect an appropriate understanding of your compliance environment, that’s a red flag. 

We believe the Lowe Group is in the sweet spot between large acquirers or global agencies and small four- or five-person shops. We have a focused team that is still large enough to meet the needs of our sophisticated financial services clients.   

Given the fast pace and complexity of this industry, communications professionals must be able to depend on their agency as an extension of their team. Be sure to find a firm that can be your long-term partner in building your reputation to reach your target audiences. Let us know where we can help.