Corporate PR Consultancies of the Year 2019 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2019 Corporate Consultancies of the Year

Our 2019 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 2019 EMEA SABRE Awards dinner in London on 22 May. Analysis of all Finalists across 20 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Winner: APCO Worldwide (Independent)

APCO Worldwide is not trying to escape its heritage in public affairs—the ability to help clients solve their thorniest public policy challenges is one of the things that sets the firm apart from anyone else of its size and scale—but it is eager to demonstrate that it is not exclusively focused on the political, and in EMEA in particular, the past few years have seen enough growth in other areas—crisis and issues, corporate reputation, digital and social—that APCO should really be qualified as a broad-based corporate consultancy.

The firm’s regional management team is among the strongest in the industry, with president Claire Boussagol bolstering her team with the promotion of Theo Moore to managing director in Brussels and Arnaud Pochebonne joining from Weber Shandwick to lead the Paris office. They join a team that includes Paolo Compostella in Italy (where the firm has added a Milan office to its Rome location) and Mamoon Sbeih, president of MENA. The digital team has been expanding too, with the firm’s AI Comms Lab providing an intelligence advantage to an already sophisticated offering.

APCO’s global growth numbers were hit by the divestiture of the ill-fated Strawberry Frog acquisition in the US, but EMEA was up by 16% driven largely by corporate assignments. There was a host of new business, with new and expanded accounts including American Express, Facebook, Gap, IKEA,  Marriott, Match, Microsoft, Netjets, Roche, and Whirlpool. The healthcare practice fared particularly well, up by 26% across Europe from clients such as AstraZeneca, Cigna, Johnson & Johnson, Reckitt Benckiser, Shire, and Wrigley’s oral health programme.

The variety of work is impressive. For Roche, for example, APCO created a healthcare index that tracks patient outcomes across the 28 EU member states. For Bombardier, the firm worked to block—against all odds—the Siemens-Alstrom merger. For the Human Fraternity Conference in the UAE, APCO provided both traditional and social media support for the first papal visit to the Middle East. For Whirlpool, it handled a wide variety of CSR projects and employee communications.—PH

Finalists

Hanover (Avenir Global)

In what turned out to be Hanover’s last year as an independent before being bought by Canadian group Avenir in April this year, Charles Lewington’s agency grew by 28% in 2018 to £18.8m. Founded 21 years ago, the consultancy is now a 165-strong heavyweight with true trusted advisor status and five years in a row of more than 25% growth. And after taking the decision to be strategic and methodical about achieving organic growth last year, more than half the new revenue across the company came from providing extra services to existing clients.

Hanover’s corporate heartland, led by MD Gavin Megaw and deputy MD Gary Cleland, who joined from BCW, developed a new approach to C-suite leadership communications called The Art of Engagement, which became a significant revenue driver last year. The crisis and issues team works behind the scenes with some very high-profile businesses and organisations, while the value of the firm’s tech regulatory and advisory counsel allows it to work with some of the biggest and most demanding technology companies in the world.

The consultancy also saw a strong performance from healthcare, up 30% and now working with half of the world’s leading pharma companies. And the digital and content team delivered some outstanding creative campaigns over the year, including persuading Roche to partner with Ladbible to increase understanding of haemophilia.

Outside London, Hanover Middle East, led by Jonty Summers, tripled in size following the acquisition of Bell Pottinger’s regional business, and is now one of the top ten firms in the region. The Dublin office grew by 17% and Brussels grew by 25%, while sports, consumer and tech subsidiary The Playbook doubled in size under the leadership of MD Andrew Baiden.

Hanover’s “culture of confidence” is of as much note as its striking business performance: everyone from the big beasts of the executive committee to graduate recruits is encouraged to have an opinion. Hanover gives its young talent, which must be one of the brightest cohorts in the industry, a lot of responsibility, so has not only invested in a tailor-made MBA-style course it calls The Accelerator for future leaders of the business, but also developed a robust suite of wellness initiatives to support the team. — MPS

Headland Consultancy (UK/Independent)

Headland, our corporate consultancy of the year for 2017, had another year of impressive growth in 2018, increasing income by 56% to more than £11m, and growing its team from 55 to 72.

Initially set up in 2005 by Chris Salt and Howard Lee, both ex-Gavin Anderson, the agency started a completely new life in 2012 when former Fishburn Hedges CEO Neil Hedges and COO Dan Mines came on board: the all-new Headland was built around the idea that financial, corporate and public affairs clients needed a one-stop-shop that offered senior strategic and commercial counsel and also creative campaign delivery, not one or the other.

Seven years in, that integrated offer is well and truly chiming with the market, but there’s still a refreshing rawness and dynamism to the agency. Managing its level of growth could be a tricky proposition, as the agency balances finding the right people and then developing them as individuals, keeping client service at a high level, but Headland has maintained a culture where everyone feels they are part of the success, rather than being subjected to it.

The leadership team is also at pains to make it clear to potential recruits at all levels (a constant process since it’s growing in such as accelerated manner) that Headland is a work in progress. This self-selects people, from advertising planners to former politicians, who are up for contributing to the agency’s evolution. Last year, a third of new joiners were attracted back to agency from in-house roles. Notable hires included Ben Mascall, head of strategic communications at 10 Downing Street, Edward Young from Tesco as corporate communications director, and partners Jane Hadden from Teneo Blue Rubicon and Mike Smith and Rob Alexander from Brunswick.

It was Headland’s best year yet for new business: it won 65% of competitive pitches, picking up 36 clients including TSB, Pret a Manger, Fitch, AirBnB and Inmarsat, which joined Danone, Deloitte, Lidl, PepsiCo, Three and UBS on the agency’s roster. Award-winning work over the year included a multi-disciplinary approach to achieving a premium valuation for Cory Riverside Energy, which was then sold to Dalmore Capital for £1.5 billion. — MPS

Kirchoff Consult (Germany/Independent) 

For many, corporate and financial communications is considered the drier side of the business, driven by facts and figures and corporate-speak — minus the creative flair. But Kirchhoff, one of German-speaking Europe’s leading financial and corporate communications agencies, refutes that idea; That’s because members of the agency’s 61-person team — a well-mixed crowd including lawyers, analysts, project managers, journalists, designers and digital gurus — actually like getting in deep with the financials and other particulars that would be major turnoffs to many communicators. The way chairman Klaus Kirchhoff puts it, the firm finds even the utmost in arid material, and the challenge of making it sing, downright inspirational.

Which, perhaps, is one of the reasons that Kirchhoff has emerged as a regional leader in handling communications surrounding in IPOs, annual reports, CSR and investor relations. Active in Austria, Romania and Turkey as well as Germany, the agency in 2018 crossed the €6m threshold, earning roughly €6.1m n fees. With a commitment to “absolute precision” (although humor encouraged), Kirchhoff has built a client roster populated by big-name clients including Volkswagen, Deutsche Telekom, Aurubis, Pfeiffer Vakuum, Talanx and Munich Airport. Many of the clients have been partners for a decade-plus, a testament to the firm’s ability to grow and adapt with them. The year’s biggest challenge: too much work. Kirchhoff experienced such strong growth in its IPO and IR business that it had to quickly hire and integrated new talent. — DM

Pagefield (UK/Independent)

Media and political campaigning agency Pagefield bills itself as a “critical friend” to clients, providing public relations, lobbying, issues and crisis management, stakeholder relations, regulatory affairs and brand communications to the likes of Camelot, HS1, Kellogg’s, Motability and Experian.

The agency grew by 15% in its eighth year and brought 36 new clients on board, including British Airways, TalkTalk and Hitachi Rail. It also prides itself on being the best-connected agency in London, bringing influential friends including government ministers, personalities, editors and authors together at its “at home” events – famous for their signature negronis.

Over the year, Pagefield boosted its senior bench with a number of hires, bringing the total headcount to 44 led by Oliver Foster, who completed his second year as CEO. These included former editor of the Sunday Express and OK! magazine Martin Townsend; Laurence Jones from Dragon Advisory to lead the growth of Pagefield’s financial and investor relations work; Olivia Thornhill from investment and advisory company Delancey; and Dr David Bull, who joined as a specialist partner to lead the growth of Pagefield’s health and wellness portfolio in the UK and internationally. The firm also has an advisory board chaired by regulatory affairs expert Teresa Graham.

Last year saw significant growth in work for the fintech and challenger brand space. Led by partner Geoff Duggan, Pagefield works with several high-growth disrupters including Starling Bank, Wealthsimple, Zego and Ola Cabs. Its stand-out work for Starling Bank helped it grow from 40,000 customers to almost 500,000 in one year of relentless media relations. Pagefield also supported the launch of Starling’s business banking service and B2B payments, signing up 30,000 small businesses and landing contracts with multinational banks and Government departments.

The agency also grew its work in the transport sector: overseen by Pagefield partner (and former Times transport correspondent) Philip Pank, Pagefield now provides high-level PR and public affairs support to a number of airlines, airports and rail companies. And in 2018 it also introduced Pagefield Sport to make the most of the team’s expertise from grass-roots sports up to institutional level, and is now working with sporting personalities including former long-distance running world champion Paula Radcliffe and Olympic medalist Dina Asher-Smith. – MPS