March 4, 2019 / 3:42 PM / 3 months ago

Exclusive: PR Newswire owner Cision explores sale -sources

(Reuters) - Cision Ltd, the owner of PR Newswire and provider of software for public relations professionals, is holding discussions with private equity firms about a potential sale, people familiar with the matter said.

The company has become an acquisition target since it carried out a string of purchases to consolidate the fragmented PR services market. Among its deals, Cision acquired PR Newswire for in 2016 and media intelligence service Gorkana in 2014.

The Chicago-based company, which is partly owned by private equity firm GTCR LLC, is working with an investment bank to reach out to potential buyers, the sources said on Monday, cautioning that there is no guarantee that the preliminary discussions will result in a deal.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Cision and GTCR did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cision shares rose as much as 11 percent on the news and were trading up 5 percent at $13.73 at midday in New York on Monday, giving the company a market capitalization of a little over $2 billion. The company also had $1.2 billion in long-term debt as of the end of December.

Cision offers cloud-based software that assists clients with marketing, public relations and government relations.

GTCR acquired Cision in 2014 for $170 million and combined it with PR software firm Vocus, which the private equity firm bought the same year for $446.5 million.

In 2017, GTCR took Cision public by merging it with Capitol Acquisition Corp III, a blank check special purpose acquisition company. GTCR owned about 38 percent of Cision as of the end of December.

Cision reported adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $255.2 million in 2018, up from $225.5 million in 2017.

Private equity firms have been moving aggressively to buy up cloud-based enterprise software companies in recent months.

This year, Hellman & Friedman LLC and Blackstone Group LP agreed to buy Ultimate Software Group Inc for $11 billion, and Thoma Bravo LLC agreed to acquire Ellie Mae for $3.7 billion.

Reporting by Carl O'Donnell and Joshua Franklin, additional reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Susan Thomas and Steve Orlofsky

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