Technology and consumer technology specialist
When founders Giles Fraser and Sarah Scales left Hill & Knowlton to launch Brands2Life in 2000, the tech sector was booming. Like other big agency employees before them, Fraser and Scales believed there was an opportunity for a firm that combined access to the strategic savvy of seasoned professionals with large agency experience with the service and results orientation of a boutique firm. They quickly went to work providing corporate, business-to-business and consumer public relations support to technology-driven brands. Within a few months, however, the market had flattened out and B2L found itself operating in a very different environment from the one it had anticipated, one that made the fiscal discipline the founders learned as part of the WPP empire extremely useful.
The focus on brand-building has paid off, however, and B2L has quickly established itself as one of the hottest consultancies (it was named PR Week’s Best New Consultancy in 2001) in the U.K. market. The firm starts by looking at the brand attributes, and develop messaging that can run through advertising, public relations, direct marketing and other materials, using its public relations perspective to develop branding programmes that address multiple stakeholder audiences—a broader perspective than traditional marketing experts bring to the process. About a third of the firm’s business comes from U.S. corporations looking for advice on branding in Europe, which often presents unique challenges: while the core brand has to be the same, positioning and key messages frequently need tweaking for the different demands of the European marketing place.
But the focus on branding doesn’t mean the firm can’t deliver good, solid, nuts-and-bolts media relations too. Branding is not just an abstract exercise: it’s something that drives awareness, attitudes, and ultimately sales (and the fact that B2L has considerable control over message development means the firm is quite comfortable being held accountable). It measures programmes using a system that tracks positive, negative and neutral messages, as well as the influence of individual journalists or analysts, against specific objectives developed in partnership with the client.
The firm’s impressive growth has continued over the past 12 months, up 11 percent in 2004—to around £2.3 million in fee income—and on track for a 25 percent increase this year. The firm’s speakers’ bureau has been a strong source of new business, adding clients such as Motorola and Equant, and its analysts’ bureau has brought in clients such as Salesforce.com. Other new assignments came from Borland; Cable & Wireless subsidiary Bulldog; SunGard; RS Components; and the Natural History Museum, a consumer assignment promoting the recent diamonds exhibition. About a third of the firm’s business comes from the telecommunications sector, about a third from information technology, and about a third from Internet-related companies—although B2L can also handle consumer and financial services business when appropriate.
Other interesting assignments included a partnership between teleconferencing client Webex and the not-for-profit environmental group Future Forests, planting trees on behalf of Webex clients in an attempt to reinforce the environmental benefits of electronic meetings; the re-launch of a “slimmer, fitter, more modern” AskJeeves; the introduction of wi-fi service on London-to-Brighton trains for T-Mobile; sponsorship and CSR activities for Cisco; and media relations around the second Bridget Jones movie for computer graphics client Double Negative.
Brands2Life has some sort of international role for about half of its clients. Fraser and Scales are well equipped to design and implement pan-European programmes, having worked on numerous cross-border initiatives at H&K, but today they work primarily with either the client’s own network or one of their own selection, tailored to the specific challenge. In the U.S., the firm formalized its relationship with tech specialist The Horn Group, and with the hiring of Chris Cartwright, formerly of Bite, as board director responsible for international development, expects to expand its international network.