EMEA Consumer PR Consultancies of the Year 2017 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2017 Consumer PR Consultancies of the Year

Our 2017 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 be unveiled at the EMEA SABRE Awards in London on 23 May. Analysis of all Finalists across 21 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here. 

Winner: W (UK/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 £5.8m in eight years, expanding by an eye-catching 44% in 2016 alone. Increasingly acquisitive after buying two small UK shops, it is tempting to think that W is just about the money — which would be unfair, given the firm's ability to deliver creative work that is as good as anything on the market, including some strong digital and influencer marketing activity and a nascent ability to blend consumer marketing with corporate positioning.

For example, an ice-cream-powered direct-action campaign for Ben & Jerry’s persuaded more than 5,000 voters join the electoral roll in time for the London Mayoral election, while a Lynx effort took suicide from taboo to national talking point. There were also comedy brand films for tech brand Relish, and the Millennials First campaign for Marmite. Not that the commercial performance should be overlooked, of course. In 2016, the firm continued its stellar new business record, adding major assignments from Major League Baseball, Carabao, Laurent Perrier, WeWork, Shortlist Media, AB Foods, Argos, Camden Town Brewery, Cancer Research UK and MoneySuperMarket to a client roster that already features Unilever (Lynx, PG Tips, Ben & Jerry’s and Marmite), Levi’s, Evening Standard, Princess Yachts, V Festival and Kopparberg. 

Johnson has styled himself as one of the more outspoken figures in London's agency scene, but the show features a cast of talented actors at W, including MD Richard Tompkins; deputy MD Sophie Raine; strategy head Adam Leigh; head of media and corporate Becky Charles. 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

Finalists

Achtung! (Germany/Independent)

Last year’s DACH Consultancy of the Year, achtung! enjoyed another strong year in 2016, with fee income up 6% to around €15 million, and a team of 180 across offices in Hamburg and Munich. That’s enough to cement the firm’s place in Germany’s top 10 according to the definitive Pfeffers PR Ranking, and enough to find itself just outside the 100 largest PR firms in the world based on our own Global 250.

In Germany, as in other markets, the disruptive potential of social media and the newfound interest in engaging consumers rather than bombarding them with advertising has created an opportunity for public relations firms to expand their role. But in Germany, as in other markets, many marketing executives don’t believe PR agencies are fully equipped to take advantage of that opportunity. Over the past three years, achtung! has been actively working to persuade them that it can, undergoing a transformation of its own that include the establishment of an offer it calls The Lab, brining together art directors, copywriters, editors, community managers, video specialists, SEO managers, content marketers, and others to supplement more traditional PR resources.

Founder Mirko Kaminski has been bringing in new creative talent, and the firm has been producing some exceptional creative work. For computer company Acer, the firm created an unprecedented experience for journalists and influencers, who were summoned to Berlin and Munich for launch events and found themselves instead in a bunker, presented with a scenario involving a hacker and the challenge of cracking a code using Acer devices in order to “escape.” For eBay, the firm recreated the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree experience in the small Thuringian village of Crawinkel. And for German television stations RTL II and FOX, achtung! created an interactive Facebook live game to generate excitement for the new season of The Walking Dead. — PH


Cirkle
(UK/Independent)

For nearly two decades, Cirkle has built a reputation as an award-winning consumer shop that also takes culture seriously while also refining its approach to communications. The firm’s current positioning — ‘Influence in the Round’ — touts its unique 50/50 trade/consumer service offering.

Growth was solid in 2016 — 8% to £4m fee income. But the year also included several milestones like winning the Morrisons account; being crowned the Drum’s ‘PR Consultancy of the Year’; achieving 28 awards/nominations and being named one of the ‘best places to work’ by The Sun. The firm also recently invested in ‘Discovery Insight’ personality profiling for clients to optimise self awareness and team dynamics. Perhaps uniquely, Cirkle also created an internal working group for trade teams to immerse themselves in retail environments, like working the shop floor to understand clients’ challenges.

The 45-person firm continues to produce solid work for clients including PepsiCo, Premier Foods, Ferrero, Oxo, Absolut, Hovis, Mattessons, Mr Kipling, Walkers, Happy Eggs and GSK.

30% of its clients have been with the firm for nine+ years, and four for 14+ years. Notable work includes that for Morrisons ‘Daddy of All Steaks’ in which PR was the only driver for its Father’s Day “Tomahawk Steak” campaign (so called because of the steak’s axe shape and 6 times heavier weight than normal steaks), which led to the meat being sold-out on day one of the campaign. To launch new Kinder Joy chocolate eggs for Easter, the team brought its ‘Joy’ proposition to life through in-store’ Easter Egg Hunts’ for retailers’ customers.

Management includes MD Ruth Allchurch, board director Rikki Weir, alongside several directors, including a newly created position of HR director. — AaS

Hope & Glory (UK/Independent)

Now five years old, Hope & Glory has established itself as the dominant player in London’s fiercely competitive consumer PR market, churning out award-winning campaigns like a mainstream pop band that cannot help but reach number one with each of its new releases. Leadership duo Jo Carr and James Gordon-Macintosh combine substance and style to notable effect, with the firm's remarkable growth rate showing little sign of slowing down — up another 37% in 2016 to £4.6m. Hope & Glory now employs 58 staffers, working across an eye-catching roster that continues to feature Ikea, O2, Sony, Barclays, Virgin Active, Airbnb, Adidas, HTC, American Express and Accor Hotels. Last year, the group's new business haul reflected a successful effort to diversify into such areas as food & beverage and travel & tourism, including brands like Accor Hotels, Center Parcs, Beefeater, Mr Black, MEATliquor, Deliveroo, Whole Earth, MOMA Foods, the IMG sports portfolio, Merlin Group, Everyman Cinemas, Universal Home Entertainment, HTC Vive, Sega, Square Enix and Anyvan. 

Both Carr and Gordon-Macintosh continue to manage the growth well, alongside Adrian Chitty (client service director) and creative head Gavin Lewis, focusing on ‘fame, fortune and fun’ in a bid to keep staff and clients happy. Unsurprisingly, there has been continued expansion in the senior ranks, with new director-level hires in Seb Dilleyston and Anna Terrell.

What really sets Hope & Glory apart, though, is the mentality that the firm is only as good as its last campaign. And its work continues to wow award juries, with an improved influencer capability driving digital work for adidas, Virgin Active and STRIPPD Nutrition. There were 25 campaign awards in 2016, with another rich crop of campaigns, including standout work for Adidas Women ('Workout Series' and the PureBoostX launch), Virgin Active ('We've Got A Workout For That'), Barclays ('Visualising The Voice' and 'Creating a Springboard onto the Mortgage Ladder'), Meantime Brewing ('Make Time for it'), Ikea ('The Dining Club'), alongside some delirious stunts that included a DNA-ale, a campaign to pimp people's beards and — obviously, I guess — a Beyonce sculpture made of Brie.  — AS 

Mischief (UK/Engine Group)

Once best-known for founder Mitchell Kaye who departed the firm in 2013, Mischief today cuts a very different figure from the firm that launched a decade ago. That it has succeeded to such an extent is as much down to Kaye’s legacy as it is to the CEO he recruited to succeed him, Frankie Cory. Supported by planning director Gemma Moroney and creative head Damon Statt, Cory’s Mischief has achieved that rare feat, surviving the loss of an iconic founder to re-emerge as an agency capable of winning the biggest briefs in town. That much was amply demonstrated in 2016, when Mischief won a string of big assignments, including Asda, Cunard, Doddle, Sport England's This Girl Can, and the Home Office, adding to an existing client roster that features  
Vodafone, The FA, Dulux, Cuprinol, Odeon, Alton Towers, BAE Systems and Ella's Kitchen. 

Fee income reached £5.2m in 2016, and the firm now employs 70 staffers in London. The creative work remains in fine fettle, illustrated by SABRE nominations for 'Joy of Sticks' with the National Trust; 'Veg For Victory' with Ella's Kitchen; 'Socks Trust' for Dogs Trust; 'Every Gamer's Adventure' for The FA; 'Kids' Bedrooms: A Room With Their Point of View' for Dulux; and 'The Oscar Goes To...LEODEON' for Odeon Cinemas. Much of that work reflects the development of a new 'SOUL' planning methodology, which blends shared, owned and unpaid media, and has since been adopted across the Engine Group. 

Meanwhile, the agency's cultural focus also deserves special mention— there is considerable effort to build a strong, inclusive workplace, including a new coaching tool that focuses on life goals as well as work goals, and encourages staffers to develop their 'side hustles'. — AS