x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Huntsworth starts push into region

Public relations firm to add staff as it tries to increase revenue.

Huntsworth, a global public relations company based in the UK, plans to quadruple the number of staff it employs in the region within five years as part of an expansion drive in the Gulf. The company, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and operates in the Gulf through the Grayling Momentum and Citigate Dewe Rogerson brands, is understood to be considering a number of acquisitions in the region.

"We're currently the number five (PR group) in the region and I'd like to be number one or number two by revenue within three to five years," said Lord Chadlington, the chief executive of Huntsworth. "We're going to invest very heavily in the region. I'll pay whatever it takes … in the Gulf, we currently have a business of 30 people and I'd like to see it at between 100 and 120 within three to five years."

Guy Taylor, the managing director of the Huntsworth company Grayling in Dubai, said expansion would be through "acquisition and organic growth". Rivals in the Middle East's PR industry cast doubt over whether Huntsworth, which has offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Jeddah, could overtake the more established players in the industry. "[Lord Chadlington] has come to the party late. He either has to dress up or rapidly build some muscle," said Sunil John, the chief executive of the consultancy Asda'a Burson-Marsteller.

Mr John said his own company had seen an "increased spend" this year, with "almost US$2 million (Dh7.34m) of new business in the first four months of the year". Dave Robinson, the chief executive of the PR firm Hill and Knowlton in the Middle East and Africa, said the move by Huntsworth could bring more healthy competition to the region. "They're very welcome to take the number two place in the region," Mr Robinson said.

Another rival, who did not wish to be named, said Huntsworth was a "low-margin" business, a claim disputed by Lord Chadlington, who claims margins of 20 per cent, which he insists are "the highest margins of any public relations company in the world". Huntsworth has Gulf clients including the property consultancy CB Richard Ellis, the management consultancy AT Kearney and the computer games firm Electronic Arts.

The group said this month it expected to return to revenue growth this summer after its pre-tax loss last year of £9.8m (Dh51.5m). Lord Chadlington, who is a close ally of the British prime minister David Cameron, was keynote speaker at a symposium held in Dubai by the Middle East Public Relations Association (MEPRA). MEPRA released a survey conducted by the market intelligence firm Insight Discovery, in which 30 per cent of respondents said they would increase their communications budget (excluding advertising) over the next 12 months.

But the survey of 318 UAE professionals from the business, government and media sectors found that just 39 per cent of respondents said communications had positively affected the image of their company. bflanagan@thenational.ae