When two or more companies are competing in an auction to buy a third business, the investment bankers and accountants will do a forensic examination of rivals' accounts in the hope of uncovering signs of weakness.
At a presentation given in Washington last week by one of the PR firms active on the US political scene, one could not help being struck by the gulf between the official figures and the public mood.
If a century ago the index of the cost of intermediation (the amount taken by middlemen) in the retail and financial sectors was taken as being 100, by the present day in retail it would have plummeted to one.
The latest trading update from the London Stock Exchange illustrates yet again how lean the pickings in financial markets are and how tough therefore the environment is for financial PR firms.
In a court case earlier this month, it was alleged that as many as one in seven road accidents in this country have been deliberately staged so those responsible can claim personal injury on the other party's insurance.
Of the many challenges in PR and comms for politicians, holding contradictory positions in public must be among the toughest. But to get credit for both has to be the supreme achievement.
In their quieter moments chief executives sometimes say the biggest challenge facing any big business these days is in defining the aims of the business in a way that will win the engagement of the staff.
It is always tempting to hit on conspiracy rather than cock-up as the key to what happens in public life.
People's reasons for talking to the media have always been varied. Some businesspeople gossip endlessly on the basis that the more stories they provide about others, the less likely journalists are to look too closely at them.
At this time of year it is normal to look back over the past 12 months and try to pick up on a single event that crystallises the mood of the times.
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