Created through a series of mergers—the most recent bringing together the former BSMG, Shandwick, and Weber Group operations—Weber Shandwick has critical mass in Europe to match the biggest of its regional competitors, and has been working hard to create the kind of infrastructure, built over time, that will enable it to compete on equal footing. The firm has set ambitious targets for developing the amount of cross-border business and for achieving a better balance of local market versus international revenues in each office, and made significant progress toward those goals over the past 12 months. It picked up a number of global and regional healthcare assignments; benefited from clients consolidating work with a single agency (MasterCard, for example); expanded relationships with clients such as Microsoft, Nespresso, Siemens and Unilever; and added new clients including Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Fujitsu, Goodyear, Royal Bank of Scotland, Tesco, and UEFA.
Weber Shandwick remains (secrecy stemming from Sarbanes-Oxley notwithstanding) the largest public relations operation in the U.K., with offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast, six specialist practices, and 350 employees. Wins in 04-05 included Coca-Cola and Tesco, and the top 10 clients grew by 45 percent. But the U.K. still accounts for more than half of the firm’s European revenues. It’s a top five player in Germany (its strongest market outside the U.K.) and Italy, and probably in Brussels too, but is somewhat smaller in France. Still, with offices in 27 markets it has the reach to handle almost any European assignment.
Weber Shandwick is still probably the largest public relations operation in the world, with a strong U.S. network of offices (named Agency of the Year there by both The Holmes Report and PR Week last year) that includes market leaders in New York, Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis and Los Angeles and strength across multiple practice areas, with a consumer group that may be the best in the country right now, a formidable public affairs operation, and a healthcare unit that has emerged as a leader in recent years. In the Asia-Pacific region, the firm is strongest in Hong Kong and mainland China, and beginning to manage more pan-regional business, with the healthcare practice in particular expanding.
Weber Shandwick operates in six key practice areas, and is a major player in all six. The consumer practice includes specialty groups focused on food and travel, a youth marketing operation (SLAM) and entertainment marketing powerhouse Rogers & Cowan, with its product placement expertise. The financial communications practice, while not a player in the high-end M&A business, provides ongoing IR counsel and works with a host of financial services clients. The public affairs practice, strong in both London and (after some disruption in recent years) Brussels, handles government relations and litigation work. The tech group is equally adept at media and analyst relations, and has particular strength in telecommunications and enterprise software sectors. The healthcare group grew by 35 percent last year, and is perhaps the most genuinely pan-European of the firm’s practices. And the corporate communications group has an unparalleled strength in strategic media relations (thanks to a distinguished team of former journalists) and handles crisis and issues management and CSR assignments across Europe. There’s also an opinion research subsidiary, KRC.
Weber Shandwick’s U.K.-based leadership team is as strong as any in the industry. European chairman Tim Sutton, who helped quadruple predecessor BSMG’s European revenues in the late 90s, is surrounded by talent, including U.K. chief executive Colin Byrne (former advisor to the Labour Party and the National Farmers Union) and senior vice chairman David Yelland (former deputy editor of the New York Post and editor of The Sun). Then there’s Susan Ellis, head of the Square Mile financial communications practice; Sally Ward, who heads the consumer practice; public affairs managing director Jon Mcleod; corporate media relations expert Michael Prescott; tech practice Michelle McGlocklin; healthcare guru Fiona Hall; and CSR expert Brendan May. Rolf Olson, president of continental European operations, is looking to build similar depth across key markets, and his team includes Josep Catlla in Brussels; Miguel Lopez-Quesada in Spain; Furio Garbagnati in Italy; Hugues Andrade in France; Astrid von Rudloff, the new managing director in Germany; and Keith Stimpson, the new managing director of the Swiss operation. The other key newcomer is Jeffer London, named learning and development director earlier this year.
Because Weber Shandwick is the product of a series of mergers and because it is disproportionately strong in the U.K., there are two major cultural imperatives: the first is creating a culture in which sharing clients between offices becomes a matter of routine, and the second is ensuring that continental European offices start to think about exporting business, developing multiple hubs rather than seeing London and the U.S. as the primary sources of new business. The training programme has been expanded—44 courses around the U.K. and Ireland during the first six months of 2005—and the firm’s robust intranet includes a “virtual classroom” as well as knowledge resources designed to provide employees around the network with helpful information about their colleagues in other offices.
The KRC opinion research unit provides Weber Shandwick with a key resource. It provides European research that is invaluable in helping clients win public policy debates and market share, but it also provides the firm with broad insights on complex issues such as obesity, corporate social responsibility, and the European elections. Other interesting products include an issues tracking offering called CHIPS; Insight, the firm’s proprietary analyst relations package; and Brand Analytics, a set of brand evaluation tools developed with sister company FutureBrand.
Weber Shandwick has picked up 23 awards in Europe over the past couple of years, including a trio of SABREs for its work on behalf of Seven Seas in the U.K., Siemens in Scandinavia, and McDonald’s in Spain. The consumer practice, meanwhile, coordinated a 44-market programme for Siemens Mobile and helped NatWest in the U.K. with its teen outreach. On the technology front, the firm has continued its work building the Monster.com brand in Europe and with Microsoft, launched the Smartphone last year. And the healthcare team earned two Communiqué awards this year, for its international work for Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction drug Viagra. Other high profile assignments include corporate communications for Multiplex, the firm constructing the new Wembley Stadium.
One of the benefits of hiring so many ex-journalists is that they provide constant fodder for their former colleagues, helping to raise Weber Shandwick’s profile and attracting the kind of U.K. media coverage usually reserved for M&A specialists or companies that are publicly-traded under their own name. So David Yelland, for example, has been the subject of flattering coverage in the Financial Times and on the cover of The Independent’s media supplement. He is also a regularly guest commentator on CNBC Europe, discussing media and reputation issues. The result is that Weber Shandwick is viewed, in the words of the FT, as “the well-connected PR company.” But outside of the U.K., the Weber Shandwick brand is not nearly as strong.
Weber Shandwick is strongest in the three most important European markets: the U.K., where it’s the market leader; Germany; and Brussels. That’s a solid foundation, and the firm has been successful in building on it over the past couple of years, strengthening its offering in other markets and growing the amount of pan-European business it serves. It has the network, and now the culture, to compete with anyone for major European assignments. And while it doesn’t yet have the track record of the two or three long-established European players, it’s getting there.