Pan-EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year 2016 | Holmes Report
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2016 Pan-EMEA Consultancies of the Year

Our 2016 EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 200 submissions and face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Winners will receive their trophies at the EMEA SABRE Awards in Berlin on 25 May. Analysis of all Finalists across 20 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Pan-EMEA Consultancy of the Year: Hill+Knowlton Strategies (WPP)

Now back on a considerably more even keel, Hill+Knowlton Strategies submitted its best EMEA performance for the better part of a decade, ensuring that one of the biggest PR networks in the region functioned as more of a benefit than a burden. A strong financial performance included revenue expansion in a majority of markets, led by double-digit growth in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the Middle East and South Africa.

All of that was enough for healthy single-digit growth and improved profitability across the 43 operations that make up H+K’s EMEA network, accounting for more than $160m in revenue. Major new business included Huawei, Arla, Norad, Norwegian Central Bank, Hurtigruten and the G20 meeting in Turkey, while the firm’s top clients grew their revenues by 30%. In terms of capabilities, H+K continues to retain one of the strongest energy teams in the business ( with 60 people in the region working on blue-chip brands such as Shell and Statoil), and also possesses a broad portfolio of clients across FMCG, technology and healthcare, reflecting its status as perhaps the region’s biggest PR network.

In addition to a UK office that now numbers 300 people, H+K retains a strong presence across Russia and Middle East/Africa — all of which saw standout performances in 2015 — along with substantial operations in Germany, the Mediterranean, France, the Benelux and the Nordics. The last of these is the home region of EMEA chairman/CEO Lars Erik Grønntun, who has overseen a visible improvement in H+K’s regional cohesion since he took charge in 2014. The firm’s performance in its traditional powerhouse UK market, led by Richard Millar, amounted to its best since the 2012 Olympics year, with double-digit growth led by strong energy and technology practices, along with the Bisqit content arm that now numbers 50 people. Key clients include P&G, Intel, Ford and Tata Communications, along with new business for Shire, Huawei, Chivas, HSBC and Novartis.

Much of H+K’s regional growth, meanwhile, is being driven by the shift to a more creative, content-led approach, led a global creative hub in London, as the firm attempts to build the blend of generalist and specialist skills that are required of the modern PR firm. This is exemplified by the firm’s partnership with Hyper Island, its development of a behavioural insights practice, its deployment of more sophisticated analytics tools, and a major expansion in its learning and development programmes across the region. All of it, furthermore, is underpinned by a genuine commitment to evolve the firm’s culture and skills — its London office plays a global lead role in this initiative, thanks to such executives as Millar, global creative head Simon Shaw, publishing/content lead Vikki Chowney, and global business development head Sam Lythgoe.  That commitment has also led to a noticeable uplift in campaign work, demonstrated by campaigns for io, Injaz Al-Arab, the Qatar Olympic Commission and Alibaba in Russia. — AS

​​Finalists

Burson-Marsteller (WPP)

Burson-Marsteller faces an interesting challenge. It needs to convince clients—and potential employees—that it is capable of leading the charge on innovation in the brand-building arena, but it doesn’t want to lose its reputation for providing a unique breadth and depth of senior counsel on critical issues in the reputation space. It’s a challenge that the firm is handling pretty well in the EMEA region, where it has quietly been producing some cool, cutting-edge work in social responsibility (its Swedish campaign to reduce usage of the inexplicably popular Snus smokeless tobacco) and integrated marketing (it still does grand-scale pan-European campaigns like promoting the European Week of Sport better than pretty much anyone). At the same time, the firm handled crisis response after the Germanwings crash and has been working with Egypt to revive the country’s tourism industry after a series of security scares.

The work is backed up with some industry-best thought leadership, from the Arab Youth Survey produced by Asdaa BM (now in its eighth year) to the Twiplomacy study focused on the use of social media by politicians and statesmen around the world. New talent reflects the balance BM is striking, from new senior advisor Geoff McDonald (previously overseeing change management at Unilever) to managing director of public affairs Andrew Cecil (formerly with Amazon’s EU public affairs operation). The results are impressive: growth in the high single digits across the region (with Africa, the Middle East, the Nordics, France and the UK among the standout performers) and new business from Oracle and Samsung in the tech space, Bayer and GSK in healthcare, Lavazza and the Jamaica Tourist Board in consumer, and easy Jet, Coca-Cola and Raytheon in public affairs. — PH

Edelman (Independent)

Despite high-profile pullouts from Russia, Turkey and Poland — leaving the firm without a branded presence in Central and Eastern Europe — Edelman, our reigning Pan-EMEA Consultancy of the Year, continued its impressive growth in the region, with acquisitions (more on that later) fuelling double-digit expansion to around $180m across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The pullouts remain a key pillar in European CEO Michael Stewart’s plan to focus resources on bigger European markets such as the UK, Germany and France. In all three of those, the firm has expanded its capabilities considerably via acquisition, of Smithfield in the UK (where Edelman reported around $80m in fee income), market leader Elan in France (where it now numbers more than 160 people), and Ergo in Germany (which gives it 300 people and $37m in revenue). In smaller markets like Spain and Italy, Edelman has focused on profitability, while its Swedish presence retains a demonstrable flair for creativity, thanks to the addition of boutique creative firm Deportivo.

Edelman's Middle Eastern presence, meanwhile, is now one of the largest in that region, with its Abu Dhabi operation complemented by the acquisition of Dubai powerhouse Dabo & Co, giving it 150 people across the two markets. A smaller South African presence continues to grow, with regional head Rob Holdheim reorganising management across the overall sub-region to better balance the firm’s corporate and consumer capabilities.

The firm continues to work for some of the region’s biggest brand names, including AstraZeneca, HP, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Novartis, Roche, Shell, Tata, Mubadala, Dubai Tourism and Unilever, and picked up impressive new business from PayPal, M&S, L’Occitane, Easyjet and Renault Nissan. There was plenty of new thinking too, via a new public affairs global campaign tool called The Edge; from the Edelman Intelligence research and analytics business; and from a more defined focus on CMO budgets. All of which led to some fine work, with Edelman netting 8 SABRE nominations on behalf of such clients as Ryanair, Dove, PayPal and Unicef. — AS

Ogilvy PR (WPP)

Two years after winning win Pan-EMEA Consultancy of the Year honours, Ogilvy PR continues to grow in stature and scope across the region, with a relatively seamless leadership transition seeing Michael Frohlich take over EMEA leadership from global CEO Stuart Smith. Regional scale remains a priority for the smallest of Ogilvy PR’s global regions, now weighing at around $70m in fee income, with approximately 700 people spread across 25 offices in EMEA. The firm's regional profile, now features strong operations in numerous markets, notably in mature countries like the UK and France and, notably, in MENA — where Memac Ogilvy’s network gives the agency 14 offices, generating an estimated $10m in revenue after another year of double-digit growth and impressive client work. Indeed, Ogilvy possesses an edge on many of its rivals in so-called emerging markets (it is also a market leader in South Africa and Ireland),  even as it seeks better growth in Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Brussels and Austria. Unsurprisingly, given its ambition of growing EMEA to $140m by 2020, Ogilvy PR is eyeing further geographic expansion, into more African markets, as well as places like Italy, Hungary, Israel and the Netherlands.

It is making those moves from a position of relative strength, thanks to the continued excellent performance of its UK operation, now led by Marshall Manson. Like many of its network peers, the UK has taken a leading role in retooling and reshaping Ogilvy PR’s capabilities to good effect — Ogilvy can credibly claim to be small and nimble enough for those changes to be adopted in a more seamless fashion across its network than more unwieldy rivals. Which has helped its overall business growth too: Ogilvy PR’s top 30 clients grew by 30% and its top 20 clients now account for 35% of revenue, with 90% shared across more than one office. Much of that comes down to Ogilvy PR's ability to play well in an increasingly integrated landscape. The [email protected] unit remains one of the best in the business, and the network's creativity is apparent in some standout work — particularly from the UK, Middle East and South Africa — for such clients as Coca-Cola and KFC.

There was plenty of significant new business too in 2015, from such companies as TK Maxx, Merck, the Suez Canal, Huawei and Ikea, joining a client roster that already features Google, Ford, Puma, Nestle, IBM, Amex, Pfizer and LG.  — AS

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

With more than 1,000 employees across 74 offices—the most recent being an African hub in Johannesburg—Weber Shandwick has one of the strongest networks in EMEA, and with 14 percent growth in 2015 (half of it organic, half of it coming from 2014’s acquisition of Swedish giant Prime) the firm appears to be firing on all cylinders. It’s easy to identify some of the important growth drivers. Digital, for one, now contributes 30 percent of Weber Shandwick’s revenues across the region and grew by 25 percent last year, with a host of new hires in data and analytics and content creation (executive creative director James Nester from We Are Social, EMEA head of content Al Berry from Bacardi), and expansion of the firm’s Studio offering. The work ranges from superb content creation (the Don’t Drink and Dive campaign for Swedish insurer Trygg-Hansa) to innovative new media use (the #washedaway billboard campaign for charity Action Aid) to creative crisis management (“Save the Squirrell” for Nestle in Greece) to health education (AstraZeneca’s anti-diabetes efforts in Spain).

There’s greater consistency across the region too: London, with close to 250 people, is still a powerhouse, but there was double-digit growth in key markets such as Brussels and Germany and—more surprisingly—in Spain. New business, meanwhile, came from AB InBev, British Gas, McDonald’s, Novartis, Ocado, Purina, Roche, Sealed Air and more, while existing clients contributed too: WS retained 92 percent of its top 40 clients, which increased their spending by a combined 32 percent last year. And finally, Weber Shandwick is making an impressive investment in learning and development, ranging from classroom instruction to webinars, self-directed learning and external programmes; in diversity and inclusion; and in an overall employee value proposition that is one reason the firm was names a top 100 employer by the Sunday Times yet again last year. — PH