UK PR Consultancies of the Year 2016 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2016 UK PR 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.

UK PR Consultancy of the Year: Brands2Life (Independent)

After three consecutive years as EMEA Technology Consultancy of the Year, it seems a little unfair to keep comparing the rest of the region’s technology PR firms with a 125-person agency that has effectively defined that category. More to the point, however, Brands2Life’s singular ability to evolve with the times means that it comfortably ranks as one of the top PR firms in the UK, as comfortable handing B2B tech PR as it is with straight consumer or C-suite corporate counsel, bolstered by an an impressive digital capability and a staff culture that remains one of the best in the country.

Launched in 2000, the independent firm’s continued relevance is testimony to the restless, slightly paranoid leadership style that often characterises the best PR consultancies. In 2015, furthermore, founders Giles Fraser and Sarah Scales oversaw what was probably Brands2Life’s best year to date, growing 18% to £11.5m, led by a broad swathe of new business across technology, consumer and digital brands such as 888, Budgens, Virgin Media, Zoopla, uSwitch, Gatwick Airport, Canary Wharf and Thomson Reuters. They join a client roster that remains underpinned by big tech brands like EMC, VMware and Intuit, along with consumer-facing players such as Nikon, LinkedIn, Groupon and Pinterest.

30% of B2L’s business now comes from outside technology, reflecting a diversification strategy that has now only helped it grow, but also aided staff retention and development. More than half of the firm’s work, furthermore involves multiple markets, thanks in large part to B2L’s ability to develop integrated multi-channel campaign work that is among the best in the region, and an impressive digital capability that has grown rapidly in recent years to 25 people, covering such areas as data analytics, community management, customer service support, social app development, SEM and social ad buying.

This year alone there were In2 SABRE Awards for Qlik’s ‘How European Are You’ brand digital platform, and for Nikon Europe’s ‘Project Spotlight’, to go with eye-catching ATL work for Intuit; a full rebrand and website build for Redtail Telematics; the launch of Virgin Media’s ultrafast broadband capability; global and EMEA social media for LinkedIn; and excellent retail activity for John Lewis.Brands2Life's commitment to workplace culture and training also stands out — there is an excellent graduate internship programme, and a partnership with Ashridge Business School for senior staff. In addition to its digital growth, meanwhile, the firm's service offering is robust, covering content marketing, influencer analysis and some strong thought leadership work. — AS

Finalists

Cohn & Wolfe  (WPP)

When Scott Wilson took charge of Cohn & Wolfe in 2010, the agency was not exactly in the prime of its life, having shrunk to 43 people after losing a number of key clients. Since then, though, Wilson has overseen a quiet revival, with double-digit growth for five consecutive years leading up to a 16% revenue increase in 2015.

Now numbering more than 100 people, Cohn & Wolfe’s UK operation possesses both breadth (across consumer, healthcare and corporate/PA) and depth, via its vastly improved digital, content and integrated marketing capability. The consumer practice (up 24% last year under the leadership of MD Rebecca Grant) continues to catch the eye, winning impressive new business from a number of clients including Barclaycard, IHG, Danone and Kia Motors, to go with a roster that already features Colgate and Twinings. The healthcare practice works for such clients as Genzyme, Bayer and Pfizer, while Cohn & Wolfe’s corporate capabilities see it handle lead strategic duties for such clients as Barclays, Lloyds and APP, and produce the increasingly relevant Authentic Brands study.

Technology also remains in strong shape via Axicom, which added new business from Lexmark, Juniper Networks and Parallels in 2015, taking its European fee income up to almost £10m. And there was plenty of impressive campaign work from Cohn & Wolfe in 2015 — for Nokia Lumia’s ‘Mission 31’; Bayer’s internal change programme; and for  Barclays and Warburton’s corporate reputation efforts. Despite a relatively low profile, Cohn & Wolfe’s performance is increasingly difficult to ignore when assessing the best PR firms in the UK. — AS​

Four Communications (Independent)

Founded in 2001, it did not take long for Four Communications—drawing on the experience of founding partners led by former Charles Barker and BSMG exec Nan Williams—to establish itself as a leader in the UK market, a full-service independent capable of competing with larger firms for consumer and corporate assignments, and more recently for a broad range of sponsorship, content creation, digital and social media work. The firm built a national presence (offices in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and elsewhere) and later international reach, with a Gulf operation that now has 35 people in in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

But growth has really accelerated over the past year or so, after an injection of capital from minority investor Business Growth Fund helped with three acquisitions: healthcare agency MSA; financial services specialist Broadgate Mainland; and Welsh integrated agency FBA. With a client portfolio that includes The Man Booker Prizes, Etihad Airways, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, Visit Wales, The Crown Estate, London Business School and major new additions such as American Express, The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Scottish Government, England Rugby, Costa Rica and BNY Mellon, Four reported growth of close to 60% and fee income of £23 million in 2015—enough to rank among the top six independents in the UK and top 70 PR firms in the world—with 230 people, including former Consolidated PR managing director Nick Clark and public affairs chief Karen Alcock.

Highlights of the firm’s work in 2015 included driving greater international awareness for the Man Booker Prize (including a new visual identity and extensive social media and content work): an integrated a bilingual campaign to “Beat Flu” in Wales, increasing vaccination rates among infants; and work for the FCO to encourage people to better protect their passports when traveling around the world. — PH


Golin (Interpublic Group)

Firmly established as one of this era’s defining UK PR firms — after consecutive UK Consultancy of the Year honours in 2013 and 2014 — Golin’s continued stellar performance demonstrates the virtues of momentum, after all of the work put in by Matt Neale and Jon Hughes to turn around an operation that was once, believe it or not, ailing. With Neale now tasked with a bigger international remit, a seamless leadership transition has placed Bibi Hilton in charge of Golin’s 145-strong team, which combines serious consumer and corporate heft with some excellent digital and social media capabilities.

Hilton has brought a new brand of leadership to Golin UK, focusing in particular on on such areas as gender equality, shared parental leave and flexible working — to the extent that the firm’s progressive internal culture now provides a distinct competitive edge, something that remains a rarity in the publicly-owned agency world. But it is not just the soft stuff that impresses. Golin’s hard numbers are as good as you would expect from an Interpublic PR firm, with UK revenues up around 8% to more than £20m, once healthcare unit Virgo is factored in too. There was new business from Sainsbury’s, Honda, Great Western Railway and Kraft Heinz, joining a client roster that already features Unilever, Cadbury, Siemens and Smirnoff.

While Golin’s business results have sometimes appeared to outstrip its capacity to produce standout creative work, Hilton has made creativity a priority, a goal that is supported by the firm’s blockbuster 2016 acquisition of creative agency Brooklyn Brothers. Campaign highlights included Npower’s Fuel Bank, Cadbury’s Return of the Milk Tray Man and Persil’s Messy Adventures, the later of which included a sophisticated digital component. London is a key element in Golin's ambition to be the agency of this decade; the evidence suggests that the operation is firing on all cylinders. — AS

W (Independent)

In a market that often appears to prize creativity above all else, former Freuds executive Warren Johnson has stolen a march on many of his consumer rivals by demonstrating the kind of hard-nosed business acumen that has led his firm to £4.1m in seven years, expanding 25% in 2015  alone. But it would be wrong to suggest that W is just about the money — the firm’s emergence also reflects its ability to deliver creative work that is as good as anything on the market, including some strong influencer marketing activity such as ‘End Marmite Neglect’; Pokerstars’ All-In Kitchen; Campari’s ‘Red Night District; and, rather aptly, the W Hotel launch in Amsterdam.

But…back to the numbers. In 2015, the firm continued its stellar new business record, making further inroads into Unilever, for which it now handles Lynx, PG Tips, Ben & Jerry’s and Cornetto. There were other big wins — Lidl, Belstaff, V Festival, Campari and Ryvita — joining a client roster that includes Marmite, Kopparberg, Levi’s, Johnston Press, YSL and Evening Standard.

The firm's growth has meant that Johnson can assemble a talented leadership team, which now includes MD Richard Tompkins; strategy head Adam Leigh; head of media and corporate Becky Charles; and brand head Sophie Raine. And W continues to showcase a contrarian approach to much of its activity, particularly when it comes to investing in its own ventures — there is a BrandLab that asks staff to think like stakeholders, along with the development of products and ventures in spirits and retail. All of which has helped fuel a progressive staff culture that includes a strong learning and cultural component. — AS