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Working with U.S. technology clients in the early 90s, Julian Tanner had plenty of opportunity to think about what he would want if he was hiring a European agency network.

Holmes Report

Technology public relations

Working with U.S. technology clients in the early 90s, Julian Tanner had plenty of opportunity to think about what he would want if he was hiring a European agency network. He decided he would want a single point of contact through which he could manage European public relations; a firm could provide strategic counsel on a regional basis, but could execute locally, using local talent; that could handle complex assignments but was flexible enough that if a client wanted a press release issued in Italy, for example, it could provide that service without charging an arm and a leg. Then Tanner forged a partnership with former technology journalist Helen Ridgway, and together they created AxiCom, a firm designed to meet those needs.

AxiCom launched with a European network in place, after Tanner called technology reporters in major markets and asked them to identify the best tech PR practitioners in each market. On that basis he selected partners such as Martina Brembeck, who three years later opened AxiCom’s first office outside the U.K. in Germany. The firm now has additional offices in France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden, and in June 2003 added an affiliate network that includes firms in Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South Africa.

AxiCom handles public relations for several clients, including Sierra Wireless and Red Hat, on a pan-European basis, but almost every client uses the firm in at least two markets. And while AxiCom has worked with some of the biggest technology companies in the world, including IBM, its approach is best suited to companies with small or medium sized European operations and ambitious growth plans, entrepreneurial companies that don’t yet have an army of local PR managers engaging in turf battles over who gets to pick the PR firm in each market. The firm still gets a good deal of business from the U.S., where it maintains strong relationships with a number of technology PR firms including Greenough Communications Group, Schwartz Communications, and Sterling Communications.

“The way AxiCom works has really helped us extend our PR outreach in a manageable and cost-effective way,” says Paul Salazar, managing director of EMEA for Red Hat. “By ‘dipping our toes in the water’ and running small projects locally before starting larger, ongoing campaigns, we can be sure that each country is ready for ongoing PR before committing ourselves to it.”

But ideal AxiCom clients are distinguished by attitude as much as by size. The firm does its best work when it is being disruptive, working with clients who challenge the established order. In the early days of the firm, for example, AxiCom worked with Citrix as it promoted the cause of server-based computing, and helped the application software company grow from 40 people to a $4 billion market capitalization. More recently, it has worked to position VMWare as a pioneer of on-demand services. New business in the past 12 months has come from VNU, Europe’s top IT publisher; Sierra Wireless, a new entrant in the smart-phone market; and JBOSS, a disruptive middleware company.

The firm enjoyed its best year in quite some time in 2004, with turnover up about 5 percent to around £4.2 million, enough to rank it number eight on PR Week’s list of the top 10 technology PR firms in the U.K. And 2005 has started strong, with new clients including RealNetworks, PC World and ZTE, and growth from existing clients such as Red Hat and VMware, now working with all six AxiCom offices. Of particular note, the launch of a consumer technology practice led by Ridgway and associate director Stephen Orr was instrumental in the first two wins above, while the mobile and wireless technology sector continues to be a source of strength, as indicated by Axicom’s heavy presence at the recent 3GSM trade show in Cannes, where it represented 10 clients. A key addition to the staff was Jennie Sinclair, who joined the firm in early 2005 from Text 100 to head operations in the Nordic region. She joins a team of country managers that includes Brembeck, François Gobillot in France, Chiara Possenti in Italy, and Alistair Verney in the Benelux region.

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