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

2017 UK 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: H+K Strategies (WPP)

Sometimes an agency's surroundings can serve as a metaphor for its performance, so it might be no coincidence that H+K Strategies has undergone a visible renaissance since moving in 2014 from a ramshackle affair in Soho Square to handsome new offices in fashionable Clerkenwell. Last year's Pan-EMEA Consultancy of the Year has much to thank its London operation for, notably the shift to a more creative, content-led approach, led by a global creative hub that blends the generalist and specialist skills that are required of the modern PR firm. Much of this is exemplified by the overhaul of the UK firm's leadership in recent years under CEO Richard Millar, who is now supported by such figures as global creative head Simon Shaw, publishing/content lead Vikki Chowney and behavioural lead Matt Battersby. A clear focus on such areas as creativity (including a partnership with Hyper Island), behavioural insights (a dedicated practice under Battersby) and purpose-led marketing has paid off to rare effect, driving growth of 17% at a 300-person agency that must now be bringing in fee income in excess of £25m.  

Always noted as one of the strongest consumer operation in the massive H+K universe, much of the firm's growth has been driven by a considerably more rounded offering than many of its rivals, often involving an ability to drive creative work for B2B clients. The firm's largest sectors are financial/professional services, technology and energy/industrials, while healthcare also grew rapidly in 2016. There was new business last year from the British Olympic Association, Campari, Danone, Envision, GoDaddy, ICMM, NCR, Nespresso, Rio Tinto, Rockwool and Westfield, along with expanded assignments for Adidas, Hitachi, Shell, HSBC, Huawei and Intel. Much of the new business, meanwhile, reflects an ability to build purpose into a client's creative positioning along with a insight-led approach that has driven behavioural change work for Duracell and Skipton among others, and often utilises the Sherlock+ digital platform to address influencer marketing.

The firm's Huawei Honor work deserves special mention, securing a big-budget global influencer assignment ahead of the company's advertising agencies, and moving up the value chain towards a clearer brand-building role. There have also been standout campaigns for Team GB, HSBC, Westfield, and Hitachi, reflecting a creative approach that has built a considerable level of training and process around the 3P methodology, a simple formula that suggests that performance allied to purpose generates preference. Indeed, that equation could serve as shorthand for H+K London's own progress over the past few years. — AS

Finalists

Brands2Life (Independent)

After three consecutive years as EMEA Technology Consultancy of the Year, Brands2Life secured its status as one of the decade's defining UK agencies by being named UK Consultancy of the Year in 2016, recognition of how the 130-person agency has demonstrated a singular ability to evolve with the times.  As comfortable handing B2B tech PR as it is with straight consumer or C-suite corporate counsel, Brands2Life is today bolstered by an an impressive digital capability and a staff culture that remains one of the best in the country, with founders Giles Fraser and Sarah Scales bringing the kind of restless, slightly paranoid leadership that often characterises the better PR consultancies.

Launched in 2000 and still fiercely independent, Brands2Life's momentum showed few signs of slowing down in 2016, even if growth tapered off after four record-breaking years to 1.2%, reaching £11.7m thanks to work that is increasingly integrated, supported by sustained investment in digital/social, paid media and content development, along with the firm's first international office launch in San Francisco.

Two-thirds of Brands2Life’s business still comes from the technology sector, reflecting a mindset that has helped the agency diversify and grow as technology becomes a critical component of every industry. In addition to a decent consumer practice that features such clients as Gatwick Airport, Appletiser, Virgin Media and Match, there has also been expansion into property & construction, destinations & travel, industrials and professional services, and recent wins have been as diverse as Carpetright, Rydon Homes & Tottenham Hotspur. Meanwhile, the group's technology remains in fine fettle, evidenced by new business from Dell, Experis and Emarsys, along with existing clients like Vmware, LinkedIn, Nikon, Gemalto, Intuit and USwitch.

The firm's ability to back its vision with investment continues to give it an edge over rivals, illustrated best by a string of senior hires in the digital and content space, notably head of digital Alan Parker from MullenLowe. That also pays off in the work Brands2Life does, which has has always demonstrated a creative verve in a market that sets the bar high. Last year, that included the #AccountsDone campaign for Intuit QuickBooks, which stretched beyond the bounds of traditional PR by including Brands2Life's first ever mainstream TV ad, generating the client's best sales week ever. There are also EMEA SABRE nominations for Bouncingham Castle for King; Better Family Life Index for uSwitch; along with an In2SABRE Awards for Arup (Best Use of LinkedIn).  — AS

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 increasingly high-profile revival, with double-digit growth for six consecutive years leading up to an 18% revenue increase in 2016. All told, the firm has doubled in size over the past five years, and now numbers more than 150 people in the UK, possessing both breadth (across consumer, healthcare and corporate/PA) and depth, via its vastly improved digital, content and creative marketing capabilities.

The consumer practice (up another 12% last year under the leadership of MD Rebecca Grant and new consumer MD appointment Tom Malcolm) continues to catch the eye, winning impressive new business from a number of clients including Air New Zealand, HMD (Nokia), Hotels.com, Sky, Campari, Kia, Maserati and the National Nuclear Lab — bolstered by a digital content capability that now regularly develops high-quality creative films. The firm's healthcare practice, meanwhile, has grown by over 30% in each of the past two years and now numbers more than 50 people, driving strong client growth from such companies as Pfizer, Bayer, Gilead Almirall and Intuitive into multiple European markets. And Cohn & Wolfe’s corporate capabilities see it handle lead strategic duties for such clients as Barclays and other brands.

There has also been a sustained effort to bring a more strategic focus to Cohn & Wolfe's efforts, resulting in a new planning methodology that is being rolled out to other global markets. That approach, along with a digital operation this has grown impressively under Kate Joynes-Burgess, helped deliver some standout campaigns over the past 12 months. These included the Nokia 3310 relaunch; the Barclaycard Pay at Pump solution; and Bayer's 'Manversation' about prostate cancer.   — AS

Golin (Interpublic Group)

Firmly established as one of this era’s iconic UK PR firms — after consecutive UK Consultancy of the Year honours in 2013 and 2014 — Golin's London office now resembles a high-performance Formula One car, with momentum assured after a seamless leadership transition that put Bibi Hilton in charge two years ago. 2016 brought another year of double-digit growth, with Golin’s 150-strong team combining serious consumer and corporate heft with some excellent digital and social media capabilities.

Not only Hilton continued to drive stellar business performance, but she has also ushered in 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. There is an unlimited holiday policy, for example, and a smart effort to boost social mobility by supporting new interns with London's soaring housing costs. Unsurprisingly, those measures have helped to boost retention and diversity, while providing a measurable uplift to Golin's employer brand, a critical asset among today's millennial market.

All of that hard work continues to pay off via the business performance, where Golin secured major new business from Adobe, Pepsico, Danone, Premier Inn and XPO Logistics, along with double-digit revenue growth from its top five clients, including Unilever, Oracle, Cadbury and Npower. There is far more pure digital work too, such as handling user-experience, front-end development and social/content for a range of Unilever brands, best demonstrated by the firm's work on Persil's 'Messy Adventures' campaign, and bolstered by a number of senior hires across creative, planning and digital. 

It may be too early for the impact of the 2016 acquisition of creative shop Brooklyn Brothers to be seen in Golin's output, but there were still plenty of campaign highlights. The firm's Milk Tray Man campaign for Cadbury has put PR in the lead role and notched a SABRE nomination, as has its 'Thinking Outside the Lunchbox' effort for Flora. And there was also notable work for Sainsbury's ('Vegetable Butcher'); Worldpay; and Danone Yogurts. — AS 

MHP Communications (Engine Group)

Formed in 2010, MHP has carved its niche creating and implementing large scale, integrated communications programmes for organisations operating in complex and regulated environments — mirrored in its specialist practices consumer, financial, health and corporate PR and public affairs.

The work ranges from launching new products for Unilever to helping TalkTalk celebrate the Oscars, amplifying L’Oréal’s CSR programme across national press, providing PR support in the build up to Luceco’s IPO, or lobbying on behalf of Roche. But the firm’s common denominator is focusing on the business outcomes of its work. And, of course, its Missing Type campaign for the NHS swept the board at numerous awards shows, including the SABRE Awards.

The team has advised on over 10 IPOs in the past two years (main market and AIM). The firm’s health team is involved in tackling the UK’s biggest killers and long term conditions: cancer stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, MS, ophthalmology and mental health, while the corporate team boasts six ex-journalists and five councillors and party activists. The firm lobbied on behalf of EDF Energy, which saw Hinkley Point approved after 10 years; and separately, gained the support of the public and governments to aim to achieve 25% five-year survival rates for lung cancer by 2025.

Fee income is up 17% to £19.3m fueled by new wins L’Oréal, Talk Talk, Adobe, Saga, Cobham plc, British Business Bank, Bupa, Forestry Commission, MQ mental health, Luceco that join existing clients American Express, EDF Energy, NHS Blood and Transplant, Bayer, Zurich, Kimberly-Clark, Huawei and Arla, among others. The firm has offices across the United Kingdom with a presence also in Sydney, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Singapore. CEO Alex Bigg joined the firm in 2016 and, before that, was GM of Edelman UK & Ireland. — AaS