Reputation and issues management consultancy
When Blue Rubicon founder Fraser Hardie was heading corporate communications at Powergen he had difficulty finding consultants who could provide him with “joined up thinking.” There were people who could handle high-level media relations assignments, others who could address public affairs challenges, others who understood the social responsibility arena. But there weren’t very many who understood the convergence of the three, the need to communicate along multiple channels on the big, complex issues facing large corporations. So with partner Chris Jones—a former print and broadcast journalist—Hardie launched Blue Rubicon.
Blue Rubicon is distinguished by a rigorous approach stakeholder analysis and account planning—it employed its first researcher when it was just four people strong and it’s one of the few boutique PR firms to employ a head of planning (Rosie Heather, formerly of the research and information department at Lloyds TSB)—and by a flat structure, which keeps the people developing the strategy unusually close to the execution. The firm’s media evaluation system, meanwhile, tracks a wide range of metrics: share of voice, content analysis, and “power quotient,” an analysis of which players in a given debate are shifting the agenda.
The firm grew by close to 40 percent over the past 12 months—after two years of 50 percent or better—and now has about 25 people. Hardie and Jones recognize that growth brings its own challenges, and so they hired a third director, Gordon Tempest-Hay, formerly of Fishburn Hedges, who has experience at a larger agency (and one to which Blue Rubicon bears a passing resemblance). They also invested considerable energy in making sure the culture—no divisions, no practice areas, no profit centres—retains its distinctive feel, as well they might, since BR has not lost a single consultant to another agency in its five year existence.
Blue Rubicon continued to pick up new business: new clients in the past 12 months include Unilever, packaging trade group INCPEN, LandSecurities, and the Learning Skills Council (after BR landed a spot on the Central Office of Information communications and strategy rosters), and the firm also significantly expanded its relationships with Glaxo SmithKline and McDonald’s. Industry awards have come almost as fast: the firm was named Consultancy of the Year by the Institute of Public Relations and The Holmes Report’s Corporate Consultancy of the Year in 2004, and picked up two SABRE Awards (a public affairs assignment for Cable & Wireless, targeting BT’s network monopoly, and a cause-related marketing programme for the Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association).
One of BR’s most interesting assignments of the past 12 months was the relaunch of Happy Meals for McDonald’s, an assignment that drew on the firm’s strengths: the ability to understand and reach out to a highly targeted audience—in this case, busy mums—combined with an understanding of all the issues (obesity, in particular) that impact marketing these days. The firm also worked on the relaunch of Ribena for Glaxo SmithKline, another program that combined the firm’s creativity with its understanding of the media and regulatory climates. And the crisis management and media training practices are growing particularly rapidly.