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Holmes Report

Consolidated, one of the hot consumer public relations firms of the late 90s, had cooled off somewhat in recent years, with fee income hovering stubbornly around the £5 million mark, and when the departure toward the end of 2007 of managing director Sarah Robinson—who led the firm’s management buyout in 2001—was followed by a lengthy search for a new leader there was some concern among industry observers that the firm was adrift. But industry veteran and Lexis co-founder Tim Adams, who had been named chairman in the wake of Robinson’s departure, was determined to ensure that the search was as thorough as possible and eventually settled on the best possible candidate. That candidate turned out to be Nick Clark, who had joined Consolidated in 2003 as head of its financial services business and been promoted to deputy MD two years ago. 

The appointment of Clark, by his own admission not a consumer public relations expert, is a reflection of the way in which Consolidated has diversified beyond the consumer marketing arena where it made its name and the way in which it will continue to expand over the next few years. But consumer remains a critical part of the business at Consolidated, and one of Clark’s first acts was to promote board director Liz Fay to head of consumer, responsible for broadening the scope of the practice—developing the firm’s experiential capabilities will be a particular focus—and Chris Lawrence to creative director, managing the creative team (known as Source) and working across multiple clients and practices. 

The firm’s work in the consumer sector includes specialist expertise in food, consumer tech, travel, entertainment, education, the environment and personal finance, and Consolidated continues to enjoy a well-earned reputation for its creative work. But it’s not about creativity for the sake of it. Members of the Source team are also responsible for intelligence gathering, and the firm takes planning seriously, meeting with almost 100 national and consumer lifestyle reporters last year to keep up to date with the changing media landscape. Another dedicated unit, called Pulse, provides research, focus groups, media targeting and strategy development. And an evaluation system called Media Proof helps the firm measure reach, audience demographics, and value. 

Within the consumer arena, the firm has particular expertise in youth marketing, word of mouth campaigns, and targeted media relations, in sponsorship strategy and exploitation, and more recently in the digital arena, with the launch of another practice, Connect, which leads the way on harnessing new media channels for online and offline clients. But while consumer still accounts for about 60 percent of revenues, Consolidated also has a significant business communications practice, a growing financial services unit, and a corporate and public affairs practice that from a standing start a couple of years ago has established itself as an important contributor to the firm’s bottom line and some of its largest clients. 

New business over the past 12 months came from BMW Financial Services, the Department of Health (an HPV vaccination campaign), the Department for Transport (for its Act on CO2 initiative), The Institution of Engineering & Technology, M&S Money, NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts), NHS Scotland Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, Pelican Buying, SEMTA (the sector skills council for Science, Engineering & Manufacturing Technologies), Single Survey (the Scottish equivalent of HIPS), Strada, Travelodge, and UK Online. They join a roster that includes big names such as American Express, Barclays, HSBC, KLM, O2, Travelodge, Disney, and the Central Office of Information. Nevertheless, amid all the turmoil fee income was down by about 10 percent, and Consolidated ended 2007 with fees of around £4.5 million—still good enough to rank among the top 20 independents in the U.K., according to PR Week. But the fourth quarter of 07 and the first quarter of 08 saw £1 million in new business wins and the firm is on track for a strong recovery this year.

Revenues may have suffered slightly, but the firm’s impressive record as one of the public relations industry’s best employers did not. Consolidated ranked in the top 30 on the Sunday Times list of the Best Small Companies to work for in 2008 and in May secured a place in the FT Great Places to Work, confirming that the employee ownership model is resilient and beneficial, even though only three of those who led the buyout still remain at the firm. 

Consolidated does not belong to any formal international network, but it has experience in creating and managing pan-European campaigns, dating back to the introduction of Buzz, KLM’s low-cost airline. The firm has an informal network of 14 affiliates around the globe.

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