The merger in October 2010 of full-service public relations agency Mandate, capital markets specialist Hogarth and financial services firm Penrose—all of them owned by the Engine Group—created a powerhouse public relations firm, instantly ranked among the U.K. top 10 with 160 employees and annual revenues of around £17 million. It also allowed the new agency’s management team to start with a blank piece of paper when it came to structuring the business to meet 21st century client needs.
Chief executive Sacha Desmukh (formerly CEO of Mandate) and chairman Gay Collins (who had been CEO at Penrose) appear to have been guided by two strong convictions: the first is that the new firm should function as a single profit center, without the usual matrix of P&Ls—which often lead to territorialism and bureaucracy that distract from client service; the second is that as client challenges become more complex, and some of the traditional lines between consumer and corporate PR and public affairs begin to break down, it makes sense to organize teams around industry sectors rather than communications disciplines. The result is an organization that emphasizes its expertise in a range of industries: consumer goods and retail; energy, utilities and natural resources ; engineering and industrials; health; media and leisure; professional and business support services; property; public and third sector; technology and telecoms; transport; and in the financial services arena asset management, banking and capital markets, consumer financial services, pension advisory and investor services and private equity.
That’s not to say the firm won’t also offer a depth of expertise in traditional practice areas—it has considerable strength in brand marketing, corporate reputation management, corporate responsibility and sustainability, financial and investor communications, and public affairs—but those practices will contribute team members as necessary to the sector-specific client teams. The key will be a culture that encourages collaboration and provides integrated thinking.
In addition to Deshmukh, formerly managing director of AS Biss and an expert in complex regulatory and legal issues, and Collins, who has deep expertise in the financial services sector, the leadership team includes Andrew Jaques, former CEO of Hogarth now leads the financial and investor communications team in MHP, and Paul Baverstock, former head of strategy at Bell Pottinger Sans Frontieres and director of strategic communication at the Conservative Party, who will lead MHP’s corporate reputation practice.
Each of the three agencies that came together to form MHP were holding their own during the recession and on average were on track for 10 percent growth before the merger. New business had come in from clients such as Total, T Mobile, Yahoo and American Express, while the firm continues to count EDF Energy, Kraft Foods, London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, Roche, Barclays and Tesco among its retained clients. Interesting assignments ranged from the launch of the American Express “Realise the Potential” campaign to the successful abolition of Home Information Packs for the UK property industry to securing the appointment of a National Clinical Director for Liver Disease and a U.K. government commitment to the creation of a new national liver strategy.
Nick Jenkins, Moonpig’s founder and chief executive, says: “We gave Mandate a very tight brief of the message we wanted to get across and the audience we wanted to reach. They followed the brief to the letter and delivered everything we wanted. They make it look quite effortless but my own experience of working with other agencies made me appreciate that this is the result of disciplined hard work and focus. They really understand the value of quality over quantity.”
The merger created a formidable U.K. force, but it also provided MHP with a platform for international expansion. The firm now has teams in Washington, D.C., and Brussels, and plans for further international expansion in 2011.