Huge business decisions await EU referendum result
A view from Gideon Spanier

Huge business decisions await EU referendum result

Businesses and brands are already thinking about what happens after the European Union referendum.

Life must go on. Just in the past week, there has been news of Kingfisher planning to merge its media arrangements across Europe in a £60m review and BT is looking to consolidate its £160m annual adspend following the acquisition of EE. Other big media reviews, such as the £55m British Gas account, are nearing their climax.

Meanwhile, Discovery, owner of the Animal Planet and TLC channels, is looking to review its ad sales deal with Sky Media and has been in discussion with Channel 4 and ITV amid talk of wider movement in the domestic TV ad market.

Other business decisions with an international angle that might have been put on hold temporarily because of the referendum need to be made. Telefónica, owner of O2, must find a way to offload its UK business after regulators vetoed its sale to Three despite them giving the green light to BT’s purchase of EE.

There could be other mergers, acquisitions and deals. Campaign reported last week that Platinum Equity, owner of Exterion Media, the European out-of-home media company that runs ads on the Tube, is considering a UK stock-market float or sale that could value the business at up to £1bn after the EU vote is out of the way. Platinum has declined to comment.

The assumption is that stock markets would rally if Britain votes to remain as it would be likely to guarantee stability, but it’s rash to make predictions. In any case, foreign investors looking at the UK will have noticed that some prize takeover targets have fallen in value because of the pre-Brexit vote uncertainty. ITV’s shares have fallen more than 20% in the past year and dropped below 200p last week. At the global talking shop that is Cannes, there are always rumours of M&A.

Giant reviews such as Volkswagen’s decision to consolidate its £2bn global planning and buying account into PHD underline how the big agency groups want greater scale to represent the biggest brands in their negotiations with the biggest digital media owners. Scale matters, as even the Association of National Advertisers in America might concede following its report into "non-transparent" practices at US agencies.

Three years after the doomed Publicis/Omnicom merger talks began, the logic of an M&A deal to reduce the number of players in global media buying from the current "big six" persists.