Strong Demand Seen for Acquisition of PR Firms in 2020

[Editor's Note: This is the third article in a series of 2020 predictions. The first article emphasized personalization trends. Article two discussed the anticipated growth in crisis communications. In this third group of predictions, PR pros look at trends in finance, healthcare, measurement, media relations and influencer marketing. As we saw in the first group of predictions, the rise of personalization is anticipated in this batch. Among the predictions, the M&A market for PR firms will surge this year, as will communicators' use of sophisticated data. The full group of predictions appeared first in the December 2019 edition of PRNEWS. For subscription information, please visit: ]


Rick Gould, CPA, J.D., Managing Partner, Gould+Partners

PR's M&A field shows no sign of slowing in 2020. Expect a surge in deals…PR firm owners should consider selling sooner rather than later…as it takes up to a year to identify a buyer and facilitate a quality transaction. Buyers are angling for strategic acquisitions ($3 million-$10 million) as well as bolt-on deals ($1 million-$3 million). Bolt-on acquisitions increasingly are attractive to buyers because they fill a specific and immediate need — such as online analytics and influencer marketing — and can be completed relatively quickly.

PR firms specializing in healthcare, financial services, consumer and tech will hold special appeal for buyers, due to their high-growth potential. Similarly, interest will be strong in public affairs firms, in light of what’s expected to be a furious election. Demand for valuations will grow. PR firms still suffer from too much over-servicing. Look for a much sharper focus on utilization and human capital.



Gil Bashe, Managing Partner, Global Health Finn Parters

In the 2020 presidential election, candidates will find common ground in attacking the drug-development sector on medication costs. Don’t expect one of this nation’s great innovators to take continued policy blows lying down. Pundits always seek easy answers to complex healthcare cost issues. Biopharma is an easy mark; however, if healthcare costs are a whopping 18 percent of GDP, drugs make up only 14 percent of that. What’s wrong with this picture?

Along with political campaign sound bites, expect biopharma and medical device trade associations…to be front-and-center in telling how they benefit society and contribute to cost containment. Can we afford Alzheimer’s? How about epidemic-level diabetes? Just as patients with unmet medical needs won’t be silent, the industry will find its voice.


Michael Lamp, SVP, Digital, Hunter

The saturation point for influencer marketing is somewhere in our collective rear-view mirror. But that doesn’t mean the tactic is any less valuable; it just means we’ve got to be a lot smarter about how we do it. Selfies with overly nebulas ‘#brandpartner’ hash tags are proving less and less effective (not to mention in violation of FTC guidelines on disclosure). We must not settle for inauthentic, transactional efforts with influencers and creators. Just like the old school practice of managing relationships with editors, influencer partnerships should be groomed. At the executional level, we need to look for unexpected ways to integrate influencers into brand storytelling vs. simply using them to distribute messages that don’t reflect their personal brand(s).

Allison Fitzpatrick, Partner, Davis & Gilbert, LLP

Throughout 2020, the FTC will continue to bring actions against fake reviews, sponcon and other fraudulent indicators of social media influence. In response to mounting pressure from Congress during an election year, 2020 will see the FTC and the Children’s Advertising Review Unit take a closer look at influencer marketing directed at children, including some of the most famous child influencers. Everyone’s focus in 2020, however, will be on virtual/CGI influencers – as regulators try to figure out how they fit into the legal landscape and, specifically, how the law applies to them.

Internal Communications

Chris LaPlaca, SVP, Corporate Communications, ESPN

Companies will increasingly recognize the importance of internal communications. While we may not always be able to control the external narrative at any given moment, working hard to ensure employee alignment around your organization’s mission and vision is absolutely achievable. It is critical in turbulent times.


Mark Weiner, Chair, IPR Measurement Commission/Chief Innovations Officer, Cision

The walls between marketing and PR will continue to fall as data-driven campaigns enable more holistic marketing and communication decision-making, planning and evaluation. For those who seek to optimize marketing’s ROI, 2020 will be glorious. And for those who view PR as more than just marketing (it is) and wholly distinct from marketing (it is not), they will need to reinforce and quantify PR’s unique contribution to the enterprise to validate the wisdom of management’s investment.

Karen Mateo, CCO, PRSA

If data isn’t your best friend already, you better be prepared to spend a lot more time together in 2020. As the quality of data communications professionals have access to gets more sophisticated, so does our ability to make smarter decisions based on sound analytics. Highly customized campaigns that can be measured more effectively will result in better experiences for consumers and demonstrate the value of PR in driving successful business outcomes. Audiences are becoming harder to reach. Expect even more personalization in our messaging using the wealth of data we now have access to.

Media and Media Relations

John Conrad, EVP/Partner, Merritt Group

PR pros will continue to draft press releases this year. On the other hand, journalists will push for short, provocative story ideas with supporting content. Press releases won’t disappear, but they shouldn’t be the metric of a successful PR program.

I hear this often during PR proposal meetings: “We want to leverage your media contacts to drive awareness for our executives, company, and solutions.” Wrong. Media relationships are critical, but if you have nothing interesting to say, you will be talking to yourself. Your media “friendlies” may take a briefing, but if there isn’t a story, they won’t write. Leverage PR to help build compelling storylines and then provide the right validation. That’s what media want. Creativity and validation are critical. That will be true in 2020.

Michael Smart, Principal, SmartPR

In 2020, sophisticated media relations teams will give up fighting in the crowded mosh pit for fleeting coverage from the usual suspects in the old media. Instead, they’ll carefully cultivate relationships with unlikely content partners, such as associations, prominent individuals, and even PR teams and other organizations with complementary audiences. They’ll abandon chasing one-time impression boosts, recognizing that for PR, trust is the new reach.

Seth Arenstein is editor of PR News. Follow him: @skarenstein