No major agency in the EMEA region has performed more impressively over than past five years than Fleishman-Hillard, which took our Consultancy of the Year title last year and was a strong contender to repeat this year. Despite the challenging economy, the firm has continued to grow—not only in terms of revenues, but in terms of talent and geographic reach—over the past two years, and is on track for another year of double-digit growth in 2010. While the firm won the Philips account (along with Omnicom sister agencies) in 2009, it didn’t really begin to feel the benefit until the end of that year, and more and more Philips work has come online during 2010, supplemented by other multimarket accounts, including SHV Gas, the World Innovation Summit for Education, and flavors and fragrances giant Firmenich. Local wins included Morgan Stanley, Lloyds Bank, Exxon Mobil and Johnson & Johnson in Brussels; Stella Artois, Qualcomm and Pepsico in the U.K.; Xerox and 3M in Italy; General Motors, Starwood and BNP Paribas in Russia; Ulster Bank and Volkswagen in Ireland; Pfizer, Azizi Bank and the World Economic Forum in the UAE; and lots of World Cup related work in South Africa. They join a roster of EMEA clients that includes AB InBev, Abbott Labs, AT&T, Avaya, Bayer, British Airways, Danone, Huawei, Novartis, Procter & Gamble, the Qatar Foundation, Tata, and the World Hepatitis Alliance.
With 450 people in the region, Fleishman-Hillard remains somewhat smaller than the market leaders, but clearly now has the breadth and depth of talent to compete effectively for pan-EMEA business. In London, home to almost a third of the regional staff, there is strength across all major practices, but the growth has come from financial services and public affairs. The other powerhouse is Brussels. A combination of management stability, expanded thought leadership, and strength in the financial services and energy sectors has helped the firm stay ahead of the competition. Fleishman is also among the leading multinationals in Germany, where it has offices in Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich; in Milan, which has really turned around over the past couple of years under the leadership of Gita Angeli; and Dublin, where the firm has bucked the recessionary trend during its 20th anniversary year. There are strong offices in Paris and Amsterdam too and in the developing markets of Prague and Warsaw. The firm bought well (not everyone can say that) in Russia, where FH Vanguard now has more than 50 people under the leadership of Elena Fadeeva and grew by 36 percent last year. The new UAE operation (which includes offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai) is making a strong contribution under the leadership of U.K. veteran Annalise Coady, and the South African operation enjoyed a good year thanks to World Cup work with Visa, Nike and others. Significantly, the European operations are now exporting more business to other regions than they are importing: close to a third of the firm’s top 100 clients are led from the EMEA region.
An impressive stat, and indicative of the way Fleishman-Hillard has developed from a U.S. agency with overseas operations into a truly global firm: eight out of its top 10 clients are serviced on five continents. Fleishman-Hillard is almost certainly the largest public relations firm in North America, where it has fee income in the $300-350 million range, about 60 percent of its worldwide revenue, and it also has more offices throughout the U.S. than any of its competitors. There’s strength in every part of the country: the central region includes the headquarters office in St. Louis, a major Kansas City operation, and teams in Chicago and the Twin Cities; the mid-Atlantic features a Washington, D.C., presence includes branded operations, plus GMMB and Mercury Public Affairs); the East includes New York and Boston; the West is a powerful presence in both L.A. and San Francisco, as well as smaller offices in San Diego and Sacramento; the Southwest continues to offer formidable competition in Texas. After two years of growth of close to 30 percent, Fleishman-Hillard continued to close the gap of the longer-established Asia-Pacific players in 2009, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. That means that over the past three years the firm has almost doubled in size in the Asia-Pacific region, which continues to be the fastest-growing part of the global business, and now has 13 offices in the region, with Jakarta the most recent addition to the network.
Fleishman-Hillard has a balanced portfolio of business in the EMEA region, with expertise in corporate communications, consumer marketing and public affairs, and industry expertise in the healthcare and technology sectors, all supplemented by a growing digital capability. The public affairs practice was a highlight once again, particularly in Brussels, where the firm has established itself as the clear leader in the financial services sector at a time of tremendous anxiety about the regulatory environment. The firm also reinforced its leadership in the healthcare sector: Abbott, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis and the World Hepatitis Alliance ranking among its top 20 clients in the region. Other growth areas include the food and agriculture sector, sustainability issues, and internal communications.
Stability has been the defining characteristic of Fleishman’s EMEA leadership team since Dave Senay (now global CEO) restructured the regional management team six years ago. Regional presidents John Saunders (Continental Europe, Ireland and Eurasia) and Kevin Bell (UK, South Africa and Middle East), are supported by Lucien Vallun (who took on responsibility for Central and Eastern Europe this year), business development lead Harald Simons, Caroline Wunnerlich (who leads practice groups as well as the Brussels office), Nick Andrews (responsible for affiliates), and new addition Liva Judic, director of research and insights. Significant additions over the past 12 months include Richard Kanareck, formerly eBay’s European communications chief, as managing director of the London office; Bertrand Huet as senior VP and financial services practice lead in Brussels; Paola Peretti as senior VP, digital integration in Milan; and intra-firm transfers like Annalise Coady, now leading the UAE offices, and digital guru David Lowey who moved to London from the St. Louis headquarters.
Long a leader in our Best Agencies to Work For in the U.S., Fleishman-Hillard continues to progress in EMEA, with talent development leaders Ariane van der Haegen and Christine Kenning aiming to deliver against the firm’s stated ambition of “offering the best professional experience of a lifetime. To that end, the firm continued to invest in professional development during the downturn, through its regional practice group meetings, a digital training initiative that has now touched everyone in the region, and courses focused on topics such business development, people management, negotiation skills, and more. Numerous high-flyers were also enrolled in Omnicom training programmes. Staff turnover was below 20 percent last year, and in an internal survey 95 percent indicated they would recommend FH to potential employees.
Much of the firm’s thought leadership activity has focused on the digital realm, including the second edition of its digital trends study in Brussels and its Digital Influence Index (which currently covers the U.K., Germany and France), and a digital event in Milan. But the firm also sponsored a “Financing Green” conference (in partnership with Barclays Bank) in Brussels. FH has also been working to increase the European presence on its international advisory board; following the addition of David Byrne and Sir Christopher Myer in 2008, Guenter Verheugen, former European Commissioner, joined last year.
As Fleishman-Hillard has grown in the EMEA region, so has the scope and scale of its client work. The firm is now involved in some of the region’s biggest communications campaigns. In 2010 it was part of an Omnicom team working on the World Innovation Summit for Education, the first ever global summit dedicated to monitor 21st century challenges and their impact on education, leading a global campaign that included content development, media relations, blogger and buzz activation, and participant recruitment. The firm’s “Am I Number 12?” campaign to raise awareness of Hepatitis B and C has mobilized patients, won awards, and secured World Health Organisation support. Other highlights include a community relations and public affairs campaign for SHV Gas, focused on rural energy issues; showcasing Avaya’s technology by focusing on flexible working practices; and demonstrating the aviation industry’s commitment to greener travel, underwritten by the Aviation Transport Action Group.
It’s not unusual for agency reputation to lag performance by a couple of years, and that might be the case for Fleishman-Hillard in Europe. Many competitors see the firm as an up-and-coming challenger when the reality is that it can now compete on equal footing with any of the region’s better-established agencies. But Fleishman’s record in awards competitions makes it difficult to ignore: the firm picked up two SABREs in 2010 (for work on behalf of Bristol-Myers Squibb and King Abdullah University of Saudi Arabia), as well as three Cannes Lions and one Cannes Lions Grand Prix. It also increased its pro-bono activity, working across the region on behalf of the Special Olympics.
After two decades of stagnation in Europe, Fleishman-Hillard has been on a roll over the past four or five years, expanding its footprint (although it would be nice to see a full-fledged FH office in Spain), strengthening its leadership, earning recognition for the quality of its work, and building its reputation in the market. And quietly, it has been forging good working relationships with other Omnicom agencies representing a range of communications disciplines, from ad agency TBWA to corporate identity and design firm Siegel & Gale. Management believes these relationships will stand in good stead as clients offer integrated or channel-neutral solutions.