Waggener Edstrom got to be the world’s second largest independent public relations firm—with fees of almost $125 million in 2008, it lags only Edelman—without straying too far from its heritage as a US technology public relations specialist. Even today, it continues to derive 90 percent of its revenues from North America, and a similar proportion from technology-related clients. In a bid to continue the spectacular growth that elevated it to its current market position, the firm continues to accelerate the diversification process that has been central to its strategy over recent years.
Following significant expansion of its European footprint, this year brought it first African office, in Johannesburg, adding to its four branded offices in the UK, Germany, France and Belgium. This network is supplemented by a growing roster of WE Global Alliance partners. Nevertheless, revenue growth in the region remains elusive, with UK fees flat in 2010 as the global economic crisis took its toll.
In addition, the year saw a considerable re-engineering of its of the agency’s senior talent base. Global client services director Kirsty Leighton departed for Text 100, while seven year Wag-Ed veteran Shaun Wootton arrived from Paris to assume the GM role in the UK. Wootton was succeeded by Xavier Latil in France, who joined the firm from Groupe Novedia. Jon Silk joined from Lewis PR to head Wag-Ed’s digital practice in the UK, with Chris Gent hired from Octopus to oversee the technology practice. And Bryan Taylor arrived from Brands2Life to take on the position of director of client development. Apart from Leighton, there were some other significant departures. UK COO David Ingle left, as did EVP Chuck Humble. Will Cameron departed the UK corporate team, as did Laura Peek.
The firm’s commitment to digital expansion remains intact, solidifying a reputation as a leader in this space. It followed up the launch of free Twitter analysis tool Twendz with an advanced version paid-for version, and also rolled out an automated campaign analysis service called Ripple Effect, to help clients understand how campaigns are reported in digital media, and how influence travels among reporters and bloggers.
Wag-Ed has paid particular attention to its multi-market client activity in EMEA; around 80 percent of client briefs involve tow or more markets. Digital has become another key driver, with 60 percent of the firm’s clients retaining these services. Key clients include BMC Software, Canadian Solar, GE Healthcare, Kingston Technology, Microsoft and Shire. There were plenty of new business successes during they year, but precious few that we can make public. The firm’s analyst relations practice, headed by global AR lead Annemiek Hamelinck, enjoyed particularly important growth. And the firm also took steps to better align with client marketing departments: a sensible move in search of greater budgets and influence. The agency has a relatively well-developed ability to understand sales teams, evidenced by the ROI it has driven in such campaigns as BMC Software’s ‘Driving Sales in a Downturn’. That campaign scooped EMEA tech campaign of the year at the SABRE Awards and was also recognised at other industry award shows. The programme included such components as a CIO-focused study produced in conjunction with the London School of Economics that studied buying behaviour and company performance in bear markets, helping BMC’s sales team attract new customers and upsell to existing teams
“The CIO study was a great campaign as it gave us a theme and content to fuel our field marketing activities for the year. The topic created a thought-leadership platform to drive customer acquisition through roundtables, users groups and customer engagement programmes,” said Sarah Pocock, BMC Software’s head of EMEA communications.
Other highlights included the Munich’s office work in the renewable energy space, where Manuel Huttl has led issues-based assignments for clients such as Canadian Solar and Green City Energy. When the German federal government announced radical cuts to feed-in electricity tariffs, Wag-Ed demonstrated the potential damage to medium-sized companies in the solar market, grabbed the attention of media across the country. The firm also promoted Green City Energy’s hydro pilot project in cooperation with the Stadtwerke München, Munich’s municipal utility company. The campaign educated stakeholders about the 4,000 households supplied with green energy from the river ‘Isar.’
Waggener Edstrom continues to enjoy a reputation as an employer of choice in the PR industry. Having won this publication’s Best Large Agency to Work For award several times in the U.S., it was identified as one of the U.K.’s 50 Best Workplaces 2009 by the Great Place to Work Institute and recognized with a bronze award in PR Week’s inaugural Best Places to Work survey.
The expansion of Waggener Edstrom’s international operations continued over the past 12 months, and it now has operations in almost every major market around the world; global practices in healthcare, corporate, public affairs and consumer in addition to technology; and a growing percentage of its revenues outside domestic U.S. market. Its 18 wholly-owned offices are supplemented by alliance partners in 45 markets, including seven additional affiliates in the EMEA region.