Consumer and business-to-business marketing consultancy
QBO Bell Pottinger was formed just three years ago, when parent company Chime elected to merge QBO with the consumer operations of sister firm Bell Pottinger. Both firms had been buffeted by the recession, and neither had the critical mass to compete across the board with larger competitors. But the merger created a firm with strength in three sectors, reinforced by a restructuring earlier this year that created three divisions: business and brand; consumer; and sports and sponsorship.
QBO specializes in developing public relations programmes that build brands, make news, promote social responsibility, and ultimately change attitudes and behaviours. A look at its client list provides some insight into its strengths. The firm works with innovators such as Body Shop, smile, and Virgin and with established brands seeking to transform or recreate themselves, companies such as the Co-op, MFI, and Vauxhall (with a new focus on design). It has an impressive track record generating hard news in low interest categories from insurance (helping homeowners persuade the government to address flood risks) to windscreens (promoting Autoglass as a safety brand). On the issues front, it’s helping the British government with its Skills for Business initiative, designed to address the country’s skills crisis. And on the crisis front, it helped the Motor Insurers’ Bureau publicize the problem of uninsured driving after a train and car crash near Reading.
The leadership team includes former journalist David Wilson, a veteran of in-house PR positions at P&O Ferries, British Airways, and Pfizer, who took over as managing director last May; and deputy managing director Jo Carr, an expert in the financial services sector. The consumer practice is led by Tricia Moon, founder of legendary creative shop Green Moon and a doyenne of the brand building business, and Matt Fearnley, a new addition from H&K and Mantra. The business and brand group is led by Kevin Read, and the sports and sponsorship division is helmed by Susan McMahon. Other additions included Tom Webb, formerly of GEM/Craigie Taylor International, as director in the sports and sponsorship division; and Rodolfo Milessi, former press attaché at the Argentine Embassy, who is developing a branding offer for Latin American companies.
With about 55 people, QBO is the largest of the Chime brands, which overall were up about 9 percent in 2004 after a tough 2003 (Chime, like many holding companies, doesn’t break out growth by consultancy brands). The new business pipeline was healthy in 2004, with wins including Bridgestone (a pan-European assignment), the European Swimming Federation, Fortnum & Mason, Imperial War Museum, MK Airlines and Unilever, and so far in 2005 the firm has added Argentine Tourism, Budget Rent-a-Car and the Motor Insurers’ Bureau.
Interesting assignments including the launch of the only long-haul air route to operate eastwards from Scotland, with the development of a new Glasgow-Dubai service for Emirates; an integrated campaign for Thameslink to ensure consumers, employees, the media and opinion formers fully understood how to deal with a nine-month period of travel disruption caused by the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to St Pancras; and national media relations to support the launch of a fundraising appeal for the Armed Forces Memorial Fund.
In addition to working closely with other members of the Chime family, which have expertise in public affairs and corporate and financial communications, QBO handles international assignments for several clients, typically developing strategy in-house and then building pan-European and global agency networks—customized to meet specific client needs—to deliver the execution. For Emirates, for example, the firm coordinates 35 agencies in 70 markets, while assignments for Dubai Sports City and Rolex are global in scope. And because QBO isn’t tied into a specific network, it can choose from a roster of firms in each market, depending on sector expertise and practice area experience required.