EMEA Corporate PR Consultancies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2018 EMEA Corporate PR Consultancies of the Year

Our 2018 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 were unveiled at the EMEA SABRE Awards in Amsterdam on 23 May. Analysis of all Finalists across 20 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Winner: Headland Consultancy (UK/Independent)

Headland was founded on the belief that, too often, clients are offered a false choice between strategy and delivery. Launched in 2005 by Gavin Anderson veterans Chris Salt and Howard Lee, the firm brought on board former Fishburn Hedges CEO Neil Hedges and COO Dan Mines in 2012 to expand its corporate capabilities, and has rarely looked back since — developing its offering into one that combines commercial acumen and creative talent across financial, corporate and public affairs to impressive effect.

Indeed, 2017 represented something of a watershed for Headland, with the firm surging by 51% to £7m in fee income, and headcount up from 40 to 55. There was significant new business from Lidl, Three Mobile, TSB, Mulberry, Aggreko, Aegon, eToro, Toys ‘R’ Us, Iberdrola and Arthritis Research UK, joining an existing client roster that features PepsiCo, UBS, Deloitte, New Look, Danone, Grosvenor, McColl’s, London Luton Airport, Ardian and MUFG.

Managing all of that growth can be a tricky proposition, but Headland has aimed to strike a balance between client service and topline expansion, recruiting selectively and opting to turn down some briefs. A specialist-heavy leadership team helps; in addition to Salt and Hedges, there is former Tesco government affairs head Simon Burton, financial specialist Lucy Leah and campaigning expert Dan Smith. In 2017, key hires included Stephen Malthouse (from Tulchan); Andy Rivett-Carnac (from Brunswick); former sell-side analyst Ian Shackleton; and Carley Sparrow from Teneo Blue Rubicon.

Headland’s work reflects the focus on integrating strategy and delivery. The firm position McColl’s leadership team as experts on the convenience market, helping garner unanimous ‘buy’ recommendations, an enlarged sell-side following, and a share price that doubled. For UBS, Headland has developed an award-winning global campaign that positions the bank as experts on billionaires. And for PepsiCo, the firm has supported its transformation towards sustainability and healthier products amid considerable political scepticism, spanning sensitive announcements and relationship building that ultimate secured public endorsements from the DEFRA Secretary of State and the Food and Farming Minister. — AS

 

Finalists

Hanover (UK/Independent)

Hanover is serious about its strategic growth. Founded by Charles Lewington in 1998, the dynamic consultancy celebrates its 20th year in business as a 150-strong firm with a formidable reputation, true trusted advisor status (helped by the 2016 appointment of group MD Michael Prescott) and year-on-year fee income growth of 32% to £14.4m. That’s four years in a row that Hanover has posted growth of more than 25%, with revenue projected to hit £20m this year, helping explain its perennial status as an Agency of the Year.

And that was in a year when Hanover acquired Bell Pottinger’s Middle East business, opened a Dublin office under the leadership of MD Lorna Jennings that posted income of €750,000 in its first year, hired 40 new people, invested heavily in technology infrastructure to support more flexible working and introduced its LiveSmart programme to promote employees’ health and wellbeing.

As well as its corporate heartland, led by MD Gavin Megaw, where wins included the global crisis brief for Carnival’s P&O and Cunard cruise brands and strategic comms for Virgin Atlantic, the consultancy saw a strong performance from the advocacy team, led by MD Katie Blower, where wins included Tesco and the Premier League. There was double-digit healthcare growth under MD Andrew Harrison (including new client Roche); and 30% of growth across the whole business from technology clients, including from digital policy clients such as Apple and Time Warner in Brussels, where overall growth was close to 50%.

Sister agency Multiple, specialists in the UK fast-growth start-up sector, achieved 50% revenue growth on the back of high-profile client wins such as Which? And WeTransfer, and Hanover’s creative, sports, events and consumer agency Playbook brought former Red MD Andrew Baiden on board to take it to the next stage of growth. — MPS

Hering Schuppener (Germany/WPP)

The death of Hering Schuppener founder Ralf Hering in February this year, at the age of just 61, sent shockwaves through the German public relations business and the global corporate and financial communications world, where Hering Schuppener has long been a partner of choice for mergers and acquisitions involving the German market.

Hering Schuppener was the German number one again in the mergermarket M&A rankings last year, handling 37 deals worth in excess of $100 billion. Highlights included Bayer’s takeover of Monsanto, Praxair’s merger with Linde, the defense of Innogy following a bid by E.on; and the defense of Uniper following a bid by Fortum. And through its increasingly seamless partnership with Finsbury (and more recently, public affairs powerhouse Glover Park), Hering Schuppener was also a significant player on the global M&A front.

Its capabilities don’t end there of course. The firm also handled global positioning, issues management and capital markets communications for ABB; capital markets and crisis work for adidas and Airbus; strategic communications for Audi, Deutsche Bank, LafargeHolicm and others; public affairs and issues work for Booking.com and Uber; ongoing crisis, litigation and leadership communications for Volkswagen; and two of the largest German IPOs of 2017, DWS and Springer Nature.

While Hering’s passing was a blow, he had spent 24 years building a strong leadership team, and managing partners Alex Geiser, Folker Dries, Brigitte von Haacke, Phoebe Kebbel, and Tina Mentner have the experience and expertise to maintain the firm’s pre-eminent position in financial, corporate, crisis communications, and public affairs. — PH

Instinctif Partners (Independent)

Four years after rebranding and repositioning as a international business communications consultancy, Instinctif Partners is effectively unrecognisable from the firm once known as College Hill. That is probably for the best, because Instinctif today is a multi-specialist consultancy with significant depth in capital markets, corporate and public policy, bolstered by considerable breadth across content, creative, research and insights. And much of the firm's work involves multiple practice areas, reflecting an interconnected approach that has grown 85% in three years.

Aiding that approach are internal initiatives which celebrate collaboration, part of a substantial cultural effort which saw the firm's 386 employees co-create a new set of values. Staff retention and client retention have both improved considerably, and these days Instinctif looks like an agency that takes its internal outcomes as seriously as its external results.

Those results remain in very good shape, with revenues up more than 10% to £39m. Unsurprisingly, given its own positioning, Instinctif has carved out a credible niche working for challenger brands, including Purple Bricks, Asos, Graze, Made and Eve Sleep, along with new assignments from Hype, Push Doctor, Airbnb, Oath and Ofo. A number of iconic brands were also added to the portfolio, including Bacardi, Tapestry, Google, CME Group and Burger King, while Instinctif’s blue-chip and mid-market client base expanded with Inchcape, Redrow and Razer’s IPO. These assignments join an existing roster that already features eBay,  Aviva, Biffa, Barclays and Inmarsat.

Meanwhile, the best of the firm's work demonstrates its approach to disrupting the traditional corporate PR template. Insticintif’s first group wide thought leadership effort, analysing the impact of fake news on more traditional media outlets, was ranked by the Holmes Report as one of its top 10 research efforts of 2017. For Westminster Abbey, Instinctif created the multichannel #makehistory campaign, helping it exceed its fundraising target. For Ofo, the firm provided government relations at a national and local level, helping the bike-sharing company expand from two sites to more than 50 across the UK. And for Eve, Instinctif led an accelerated IPO process that took just four months, eventually valuing the company at £140m. — AS

 

Seven Hills (UK/Independent)

Michael Hayman and Nick Giles have always cut a slightly different figure to their market peers since they launched Seven Hills in 2009, along the way becoming a perennial presence on this list and winning Global Agency of the Year honours in 2014. The duo have been avid creators of content, developing an events and campaign mentality that has seen them develop their intellectual property in a bid to showcase their thought leadership and connectivity credentials to clients. It is an approach that has paid off handsomely, with Seven Hills reporting fee income of £4.3m in 2017. While that was effectively flat growth, Seven Hills’ work continues to impress, not least after it literally wrote the book (‘Mission’) on how businesses tap into their core purpose to break through, and starting two TV shows — Change Makers and the Capital Conversation.

Best known for its focus on the entrepreneurial economy, Seven Hills has honed its positioning to focus on ‘change makers and future industries’, effectively representing a bet on whether traditional business will be disrupted by companies that are on a mission. Clearly, Hayman and Giles believe it will be, hence the duo’s focus on founding organisations such as StartUp Britain, the MADE Festival and Pitch at the Palace. That approach helps to underpin client work for a slew of emerging tech brands, including new business in 2017 from Canary Wharf Group, Blippar, Octopus Ventures, Rocketspace, BIMA, Bromption, Here East and Small Business Saturday. They join an existing roster that features One Young World, Grant Thornton, Adweek Europe, Ella’s Kitchen, Clearly, Cobra, Innovate Finance, GP Bullhound, Tech London Advocates and M Squared.  

And Seven Hills brings a similarly disruptive mindset to its own service model, often focusing on sprint goals over 30, 60 and 90 days, and projects rather than retainers, and developing the ‘MissionLab’ to describe its unique campaigning approach to public relations. The firm has also stepped up its focus on internal progression as the business grows, introducing a personal development allowance and running bootcamps to expose young talent to the campaigning mindset. 

Unsurprisingly, the best of Seven Hills’ work reflects its campaigning mojo — for One Young World’s Bogota Summit; for Tech London Advocates, and for Level 39 Canary Wharf — all of which brings together thought leadership and business opportunities to strong effect. — AS