Consolidated Communications
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Consolidated Communications

Today, all the firm’s 90 employees are shareholders in the business, an arrangement that fosters a high degree of entrepreneurialism and collaboration, and does wonders for staff retention: employees stay at Consolidated for an average of four-plus years.

Holmes Report

Multi-specialist best known for consumer work

When Consolidated founder Alastair Gornall decided to get out of the public relations consultancy business in 2001, senior management at the firm—led by current managing director Sarah Robinson and finance director Stephen Marsh—saw an opportunity: not only to takeover the firm but also to create a unique ownership structure and agency culture. Today, all the firm’s 90 employees are shareholders in the business, an arrangement that fosters a high degree of entrepreneurialism and collaboration, and does wonders for staff retention: employees stay at Consolidated for an average of four-plus years, compared to the recent industry standard of about 18 months. In turn, that leads to unusually strong client relationships: Buena Vista Home Entertainment has been a client for 15 years and blue-chip brands like Anheuser-Busch Europe, KLM Royal Dutch, Northwest Airlines, Telewest Broadband, and the Walt Disney Company have all been with Consolidated for five years or longer.

Best known for its work in the consumer sector—including food, consumer technology, travel, entertainment, and personal finance—which accounts for about 60 percent of revenue, Consolidated has a well-earned reputation for creativity, driven by an in-house unit called Source that is responsible for injecting extra creativity into every client programme. The firm has trained facilitators at all levels of seniority to run brainstorms. 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. It has another dedicated unit, called Pulse, which provides research, focus groups, media targeting and strategy development. And an evaluation system calls Media Proof helps the firm measure reach, audience demographics, and value.

Within the consumer arena, the firm has particular expertise in youth marketing, using guerrilla stunts, word of mouth campaigns, and targeted media relations, and in sponsorship strategy and exploitation, having handed Budweiser’s involvement with World Cup 2002 and more. But Consolidated also has a significant business communications practice, now about 30 people strong and accounting for 37 percent of the agency’s revenue, with new business over the past year coming from Scottish Executive’s Fresh Talent initiative and the Energy Saving Trust. The financial services unit, led by Nick Clark, has also been growing at a healthy pace with new business from American Express, Alliance & Leicester, Friends Provident, Chelsea Building Society joining the likes of Standard Life Bank.

Consolidated reported fee income of around £5 million in 2004, earning the firm a spot just outside the top 10 of the PR Week league table once again, but while revenues were flat the firm did win some of the most high-profile pitches of the year, capturing the American Express business from long-time incumbent Hill & Knowlton (Consolidated will handle the company’s card portfolio in the U.K., handle its sponsorship of Wimbledon, and advise on policy issues); adding trade and policy communications for Energy Savings Trust in addition to its existing consumer assignment; and retaining the Buena Vista Home Entertainment in a competitive shoot out with Cohn & Wolfe and Porter Novelli. Other wins included Coca-Cola Africa, Disney Consumer Products (a pan-European brief), Fruit of the Loom, Quality Meat Scotland, the Scottish Institute for Enterprise, and Titan Wood.

Robinson’s management team includes Will Holt, an 11-year Consolidated veteran who heads the firm’s new Edinburgh office, which grew to eight people over the past 12 months; Katie Eva, an eight-year veteran and brand building expert; Rachael Sansom, a 10-year veteran who runs the Buena Vista and Budweiser accounts; Paul Davies, who runs the business communications practice; and Nick Clark, who joined from GCI and has helped expand the firm’s portfolio of financial services clients. Significant newcomers over the last year included Ian Hagg, former head of social policy at British Gas, issues advisor at Shell and founder of H&K’s CSR practice, who joined as board director to build a public and corporate affairs practice and got off to a flying start with the addition of Coca-Cola Africa as a CSR client; and Chris Lawrence, who joined earlier this year from QBO and will build a new consumer team.

The firm does not belong to any formal European 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 also handled PR for Blockbuster store openings in Europe.

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