Rowland Communications
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Rowland Communications

Holmes Report

It’s easy to forget that a little more than a decade ago, Rowland was one of the great names in international public relations, a top 10 public relations agency with operations spanning five continents. But today, with its once giant U.S. and U.K. offices now significantly reduced and operating as part of Publicis Consultants, the Rowland name lives on in a market leadership role only in Australia, via a firm that adopted the brand—while remaining entirely independent and locally-owned—in 1994 and has continued to thrive long after its larger namesake has faded into obscurity.

 

Rowland was founded by current chairman Geoff Rodgers as Rodgers Communication in 1992 and took the Rowland name two years later, via a license agreement with Rowland’s advertising agency parent Saatchi & Saatchi. Today the firm is one of the largest in the Australian market, with 150 people generating fees of $A15 million last year at its Brisbane headquarters and a smaller office in Perth. It also maintains a presence in Sydney and Central Queensland, and has an affiliate office in Darwin. It no longer has any relationship with any of Rowland’s successor companies, and enjoys a global affiliation with Edelman.

 

After growing its revenues from $5 million to $10 million over the course of its last three year plan, in June of 2008, Rowland’s management team unveiled a new three year strategy, called New Horizons, establishing four goals: to attract, retain and develop the best people; to become a more formal part of a global communication consultancy; to strengthen the consultancy’s core offering and leverage commercial opportunities; and to grow the business by 50 percent. By the end of the year, with revenues closing in on $20 million— growth came from three new practice areas, including digital communication; corporate sustainability and people and culture, and from a One Rowland philosophy designed to drive collaboration between practice areas—it was clear the firm was making good progress against all objectives.

 

The firm’s heritage is in corporate communications, but it now describes itself as “business and communication advisory firm,” with four core business units— Rowland Communication, Rowland Professional Development, Rowland Creative, Rowland Business Consulting—a positioning that reflects a focus broader than traditional public relations. The approach is typified by the firm’s work in “business continuity,” which expands on the crisis communications offering typical at public relations firms and includes risk audits, coaching, simulations, and proprietary crisis awareness tool Shockwave. It is also reflected in the diverse backgrounds of the firm’s employees: in addition to public affairs, media and marketing professionals, the team includes refugees from accounting, economics, the law, government, politics, applied psychology, organisational psychology, emergency services, indigenous relations, and—in the business continuity practice—several ex-military people.


In addition to Rodgers, the leadership team includes managing director Helen Besly, a veteran of Burson-Marsteller; director Alasdair Jeffrey, whose career includes six years in the U.K., where he worked at Brunswick  and as executive VP, investor relations, at a FTSE 100 company; and director Neil Rickleman, previously an accountant at the old Touche Ross before moving over to Comalco (a Rio Tinto company) in marketing and latterly investor relations and leading corporate communications at CS Energy.

 

Rowland’s client list includes global mining houses such as Xstrata Copper, Zinc and Coal, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto Alcan, property developers Sunland and corporates such as McDonalds and professional service firms such as BDO Kendalls and Laing O’Rourke, and there was plenty of high-profile work in 2008. Rowland provided strategic communication advice to iconic Australian food and beverage company Golden Circle during a recent $210 million acquisition by Heinz

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