Updated from 12:10 p.m. EDTA good rumor often starts with a solid -- albeit small -- nugget of information. Here's the rumor: Telefonica ( TEF), the world's No. 4 wireless phone company, is making plans to for a U.S. or U.K. acquisition. Here's the nugget of information: Telefonica is soliciting bids from four public relations agencies to handle its image in the U.S. and U.K. The four PR firms in the running are: Ketchum, Burson-Marsteller, MS&L and Text 100, according to sources involved with the bakeoff. Madrid-based Telefonica has been hitting the acquisition trail lately. On Monday, for example, Telefonica was reported to be vying against rival mobile giant Vodafone ( VOD) in a bid for Hansenet, a German broadband service provider, according to a Bloomberg scoop. "We work with agencies around the world and do these kinds of things from time to time but have no specific information to offer about any possible change in our current relationships," said Telefonica representative Javier Garcia. Some professional media grooming would presumably help Telefonica as it prepares to take a bigger role on the world stage, say industry analysts. "An agency can help them form a positive image in the press, so that if they make a takeover in this country, they don't get a reaction like: 'Oh my god, who are these people,' " says Nielsen analyst Roger Entner. Telefonica, while big with operations in Europe, South America, Mexico and the Caribbean, has very little recognition in the U.S. The fact that the company wants to spend money to expand its recognition level in the U.S. and the U.K., suggests a bigger investment is in the cards.
Likely candidates include Sprint ( S) and Deutsche Telekom's ( DT) T-Mobile unit. Sprint survived a steep swoon in its business last year, losing 4.5 million subscribers and posting a net loss of $2.8 billion. But this year, the stock is up 128% so far as investors take hope in the company's turnaround efforts and, obviously, its role as a buyout candidate. "I think Sprint is the most logical choice," says Entner. "If the credit markets weren't so bad someone would have picked them up a long time ago."