NEW YORK, February 16—As the technology public relations sector as a whole experiences tough times, some firms continue expand. This week, Silicon Valley-based A&R Partners became the latest tech specialist to launch its own financial communications practice, opening an office in New York headed by former Burson-Marsteller investor relations executive Steve Maslow.
Maslow, a managing director in B-M’s investor relations practice until the agency’s downsizing late last year, will lead a team of six IR professionals in A&R’s new Wall Street offices. According to A&R president and managing partner Bob Angus, “We see demand heating up for integrated financial communications, investor relations and public relation services.”
The agency’s marketing manager, Robert Angus Jr., added that 12 of the firm’s clients had gone through IPOs last year and that in many cases there were difficulties in coordinating messages between the client’s PR and IR firms. He said the new group would offer services beyond IPO work, from helping start-up companies raise venture capital to providing strategic counsel to established companies.
As an example, he says, “One of our clients was contemplating relocating its headquarters to Bermuda. We were able to explain to them what the impact of that decision was likely to be on their reputation with shareholders in the U.S.”
For emerging companies, the group’s services include positioning, business-plan development, product definition, competitive analysis and support for capital-raising activities. For companies already active in public financial markets, services include initial public offering strategy and outreach, strategic investor relations, crisis management and merger and acquisition communications activities.
A&R—which counts among its clients industry leaders such as Agilent Technologies and Palm—is not the first tech specialist to expand into the financial communications arena. Three years ago, San Francisco’s Phase Two Strategies acquired Stuart Pearlman & Company of New York, an agency known for its IR work, while Brodeur Worldwide and FitzGerald Communications have both launched in-house IR groups over the past couple of years.
Phase Two president Bill Boehlke describes his agency’s move as “defensive,” because “most of our client base is public and most of the rest are nearly ready to be public. They want to know we can introduce them to the right people, and deliver business media. And we're very good at that. But we don't claim to be in the IR business. When a client feels the need to invest significant resources in investor relations, we partner with an investor relations firm. We have not invested in the tools necessary to support the low margin services like tracking all the buy-side institutions in Iowa.”
At Brodeur, meanwhile, Kelly MacDonald has built a $1 million IR practice in about 12 months. She says that while the IPO business has fallen off in recent months, the downturn in the tech sector has created a greater need for investor relations for the firm’s publicly-traded clients, while many non-public companies can benefit from looking at their business “through a financial lens.”
“Just because you are a private company, that doesn’t mean you don’t have investors,” she points out.
Meanwhile, the convergence of tech PR and IR is clearly working both ways. Investor relations powerhouse Morgen-Walke & Associates acquired a boutique PR shop last year and turned it into Greenhouse, which provides public relations and corporate branding services to clients in the Internet and interactive arenas.
“Some clients want that kind of integration and some don’t,” says agency president David Walke. “If they want it under one roof, we can provide it here. Some clients like the synergies they can find by having PR and IR under one roof. If they want separate agencies, we are very comfortable working with other PR agencies.”