Charting the future of public relations

Waggener Edstrom

The past few years have seen Waggener Edstrom make slow but steady progress on both client diversity and geographic expansion.

Holmes Report

Holmes Report

 

MOMENTUM
Waggener Edstrom’s North American operations—which continue to account for about 90 percent of the firm’s global revenues—experienced a double-digit decline in 2009, as the technology sector on which the firm has historically focused felt the impact of the financial crisis. As a result, revenues for the year were around $94 million, still enough for Waggener to claim rank number two (after Edelman) among independent PR firms in the U.S. There was new business from Microsoft Mobility, Toshiba, and beyond the core technology sector from Abbott Vascular, Tupperware, and Gamestop, while the firm’s Studio D digital unit picked up assignments from Avon and Bing.
 
REGIONAL REACH
Waggener Edstrom has its roots in the Pacific Northwest and the majority of its U.S. personnel continue to operate out of its Seattle and Portland, Ore., offices—it’s a market leader in both locations. But there has been a concerted effort to develop its national reach, and the other substantial offices include New York, where the firm has about 30 people; Washington, D.C., where there are close to 20; and Texas, where WaggEd has offices in both Austin and Dallas. There are smaller offices in Boston, a growing market, and San Francisco, where the firm is beginning to diversify beyond the tech sector. Waggener Edstrom now covers the Latin America region through an alliance with leading independent The Jeffrey Group, based in Miami and also offering a U.S. Hispanic capability, and partners in Canada with Apex Communications.
 
INTERNATIONAL REACH
In Asia, WE has been expanding at an impressive pace since its acquisition of Shout—a 20-person Hong Kong-based tech specialist—in 2005. Shout came with an impressive client list but perhaps its most significant asset was founder and chief executive David Ko, who over the past five years has been responsible for growing WE into one of the region’s top technology networks, and for expanding the firm’s offer into consumer and corporate work while developing digital capabilities that are at least the equal of any of the giant full-service networks. The firm has four offices (Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore) in the region, plus strong affiliates in other key markets. The past couple of years have seen an expansion of the firm’s European footprint, with its four branded offices (in the U.K., Germany, France, and most recently Brussels) supplemented by a growing roster of WE Global Alliance partners such as Ulled Asociados in Spain and Imageware and Italy. More recent additions include firms in Israel, the Nordics and Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, revenue growth in the region has proven elusive over the past couple of years as the global economic crisis took its toll. Having said that, the firm can point to some genuine successes when it comes to diversifying its client portfolio beyond the technology sector, with significant growth over the past 12 months from an increasingly robust life sciences practice—Abbott, Shire and GlaxoSmithKline—and in the telecommunications arena.
 
EXPERTISE
Waggener Edstrom is still best known for its technology work, and that continues to account for the vast majority of its revenues. But in addition to its technology practice, the firm now has significant practices focused on corporate (broad reputation work plus employee engagement and crisis and issues management), public affairs (where the firm’s grasp of the power of digital communications differentiates it from many established agencies), consumer marketing (where its own operations are supplemented by its Maloney & Fox subsidiary in New York, well regarded for its ability to combine traditional PR and experiential marketing), and healthcare, with a new environmental and social responsibility practice—which draws on WaggEd’s expertise in public affairs and clean tech—performing particularly well in 2009. There was also significant growth at the firm’s Studio D digital practice during the year, with revenues up by about 30 percent and a handful of new hires.
 
TALENT
The start of 2010 saw new roles for several senior Waggener Edstrom executives: co-founder Pam Edstrom added a new role as president of the firm’s global Microsoft business; Claire Lematta assumed full-time leadership of the North America practices; Marianne Allison was named to lead the social innovation practice; and Kent Hollenbeck added leadership of the client development group to his role as head of the marketing and corporate communications team. The moves were in part a response to the departures of Microsoft account leader Frank Shaw (for an in-house role with the software giant) and social innovation leader Matt Reid, who joined the Business Software Alliance. Otherwise, there were no new faces at the most senior levels of the firm, but Waggener Edstrom did add a number of VPs, including Joe Farren, from CTIA-The Wireless Association, in a Washington, D.C., global public affairs role; Jean-Louis Robadey, former CEO of the Pact Institute, is the social innovation group, also in D.C.; Shelley Stevens, formerly of Weiden & Kennedy, in the marketing and corporate communications practice in Portland; and on the digital front David Patton as editor in chief and David Mahlmann in a design role, both in Seattle, and Nadina Guglielmetti in New York.
 
CULTURE
Long a stellar performer in our Best Agencies to Work For research—it was among the top three large agencies again in 2009—Waggener Edstrom has managed to hold onto its entrepreneurial, collegial workplace culture even as it has expanded into a significant international player. In 2009, the firm added to its already-impressive professional development curriculum with two big new initiatives: Influence 101 training was launched in 2009—building on the firm’s Influence Manifesto, which examined ways in which institutions can influence stakeholders via engagement in new communications channels—with workshops in every office; and 100 percent of the firm’s account staff went through a Digital Bootcamp to ensure competency in the key elements of digital and social media.
 
INTELLECTUAL LEADERSHIP
Waggener Edstrom’s Influence Manifesto, published in 2009, was a thoughtful look at the ways in which digital and social media are changing the communications landscape and presenting new challenges to organization’s seeking to influence consumer and other choices. The manifesto focused on audience insight and intelligence, content creation, and engagement, drawing on the firm’s heritage in innovation and storytelling to present a compelling vision of the future of public relations. The firm also introduced two cutting-edge technology products: twendz and twendz pro, which measure Twitter sentiment and identify key Twitter influencers for a particular company or product. On the research front, the firm introduced Moments of Influence, which helps identify the right audience for a particular product or service based on segments of customers’ buying cycles.
 
PROGRAMS
Two big Microsoft assignments caught the eye in 2009: the introduction of the Windows 7 operating system and the launch of Bing, the company’s search engine. The firm also provided its flagship client with a Twitter campaign at technology security conference Black Hat and worked on anti-piracy issues. The firm also earned awards and kudos for its work in support of Half the Sky, a non-profit devoted to addressing issues that impact women, from sex trafficking to gender-based violence such as honor killings to maternal mortality.
 
BRAND
Seeking to leverage its expertise in technology while expanding beyond the technology sector, Waggener Edstrom has been positioning itself as the expert on innovation. Its vision: “To be the recognized leader in communicating world-changing innovations that influence markets, inspire people and improve lives.” It’s going to take a while before people associate Wagg Ed with anything other than technology, but it’s a credible platform, and the firm is making good progress.
 
THE FUTURE
The past few years have seen Waggener Edstrom make slow but steady progress on both client diversity and geographic expansion. The firm is clearly capable of good work in sectors beyond its technology roots—and its StudioD digital practice is opening a lot of doors with the kind of content creation capabilities other firms can only dream of—and it has now won Technology Consultancy of the Year awards from this publication in both Europe and Asia, a tribute to the speed with which it has established a leadership position in both regions. The challenge will be to take full advantage of the digital and social media revolution to accelerate that diversification.
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