Corporate reputation management consultancy
Fishburn Hedges specializes in changing attitudes and, more importantly, behaviors. For the BBC, for example, it publicized enforcement of the licensing requirement, contributing to a revenue increase large enough to fund Radio 1 for almost a year. For the Department of Health, meanhile, it created the Give Life, Give Hope campaign to encourage egg and sperm donation, contributing to a seven-fold increase in enquiries. And for Barclays, FH created a media relations campaign that helped generate 40 new business leads for the business banking group.
While FH founders came from a financial public relations background at Valin Pollen, they de-emphasized those credentials, focusing instead on more holistic reputation management. Today, the firm has expertise in corporate, business-to-business, financial, public sector, and internal communications, as well as public affairs and corporate responsibility units and an in-house design group that is particularly strong in the annual report field, but also handles corporate identity and website development programmes. The Seventy Seven PR unit, introduced last year, adds a relatively new focus on consumer brand PR and has billings of about £1 million already.
After 14 years of uninterrupted organic growth, the firm now has revenues of £13.5 million, 120 people and more awards (including the Institute of Public Relations’ Best Consultancy Award in 2001 and 2003; a 2004 IPRA Golden Globe; and last year’s Holmes Report recognition as U.K. Consultancy of the Year) than it has shelf space.
The firm eschews hierarchy and formal divisions, preferring to put together teams from across disciplines to meet specific client requirements. For example, unlike many public affairs practices, which seem to operate independently of their PR brethren, FH’s public affairs unit is integrated with its corporate reputation and issues management work, a reflection of the fact that many broad corporate assignments now have serious policy implications. The firm’s internal communications practice is equally integral to the overall offer, with expertise in organizational change and brand engagement. The corporate responsibility group is another key strength, drawing on an approach built around stakeholder analysis and engagement.
The leadership team includes Neil Hedges, who recently became executive chairman as Ron Finlay, one of the firm’s original employees, took over as CEO. They are joined by a leadership team that includes deputy chairman Philippa Dale-Thomas, who led the firm’s Investors in People account; managing director, another refugee from Valin Pollen who has handled the BT and Investcorp accounts; and 21 directors—a top heavy model that puts senior counsellors on every account. New additions in the past year have included Andy Berry, formerly of Brunswick and CSFB, as director in the financial practice. One departure was Matt Wood, who had been brought in to head Seventy Seven.
Corporate clients include some of the biggest names in British industry—BAA, BT Barclays, ICI, Powergen, and Virgin Trains—as well as multinationals such as Amway, Pfizer, Shell, and SunGard, and financial service firms including Barclays, Commerzbank, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Visa. About a third of the firm’s business comes from the public sector—a fact that helped keep revenues stable during the recession—with clients such as the BBC, the Department for Education & Skills, the Department of Health, the Department of Trade and Industry, and Transport for London.
New corporate clients in the past 12 months have included the BUPA for public affairs support; e-Bay for brand building and PR; IBM for marketing consultancy; and Sainsbury’s for public affairs. FH also added several new public sector clients, including the Greater London Authority, for assistance with the London Olympics bid; HM Revenue & Customs, for strategic communications counsel; and the West Midlands transport authorities. Interesting assignments include counsel to Unilever on obesity food and health issues; positioning BT’s WiFi service BT Opernzon; the FRANK drug abuse education campaign; and the creation of international media partnerships for Shell.
As an Omnicom consultancy, FH can access a huge global network of PR offices, but it prefers to work with its own hand-picked partners. In 1996 it founded GFC/net, a global network of financial services PR specialists that includes Intermarket in the U.S. and several blue-chip European firms. GFC/net has handled multi-country assignments for Bank of America, Hiscox, Investcorp, and Mercer Oliver Wyman.