Pan-EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year 2019 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2019 Pan-EMEA 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: H+K Strategies (WPP)

In October of last year, Hill+Knowlton Strategies promoted Lars-Erik Grønntun and Richard Millar to global leadership roles, fitting recognition of their success running the firm’s EMEA operations over the past five years. Europe has been H+K’s strongest region for quite some time, and H+K has been Europe’s dominant network agency for almost as long, having been our European Consultancy of the Year in two of the three previous years and UK Consultancy of the Year in the intervening year. The elevation of the two chief architects of that success (followed by the promotion of UK-based Simon Shaw to global chief creative strategy and innovation officer) does not appear to have disrupted anything on this side of the Atlantic, with the firm doubling last year’s impressive growth rate.

The elevation of Grønntun and Millar was followed by a restructuring of the firm’s global network to make it both flatter and more agile. The so-called “5 plus 5” strategy splits the network into five key markets—in EMEA, they include the UK and Germany, led by newly-promoted CEOs Simon Whitehead and Rüdiger Maessen respectively—and five “clusters,” including the Nordics, continental Europe, and METIA (the Middle East, Turkey, India and Africa). There’s growth almost everywhere—H+K was up in 25 out of 30 markets in EMEA—but the UK, the Middle East and Russia/Ukraine are all performing well above average.

The agency enjoyed an impressive year in terms of new business, with work from Activision, ADNOC, the Azerbaijan Tourist Board, Barilla, British Airways, Cisco, Colgate, GAC Group, IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, La Liga, Masdar, Norad, Oculus, Smart Energy, Takeda, and more. There was growth from existing clients too, with the likes of Accenture, adidas, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Duracell, Facebook, Ford, Google, HSBC, Huawei, LG, P&G, Spotify, Shell and Visa either increasing their budgets or expanding to additional markets. And the work remains strong, with highlights ranging from brand work for Campari to educational efforts on behalf of Ford to promote cyclist safety to launching Huawei’s P20 to communicating Norway’s commitment to foreign aid for Norad to raising awareness of EU investments and their impact.

But some of the most impressive work of the past year was internal, as H+K continues to invest in the kind of cultural initiatives that make it an employer of choice in the region. The firm’s professional development efforts reached close to 700 participants in 2018, and more than 8,000 hours of training. A virtual mentorship program is connecting employees from different offices across the region and around the world. And the “You Belong” diversity initiative is promoting inclusivity in all offices (with “unconscious bias” training now expanding from North America to other regions). The payoff is a 13% attrition rate—considerably below the average for large agencies in the region.—PH

 

Finalists

BCW (WPP)

The merger of Cohn & Wolfe and Burson-Marsteller to create BCW captured the attention of the entire global industry when it was announced at the end of February 2018. Since then, more than 1,000 colleagues in 22 offices across 15 Europe and Africa markets have come together to build a new business with a fresh culture.

The magnitude of the undertaking is unprecedented, and involved the commitment of colleagues across all parts of the business, under the considered leadership of Europe and Africa president Scott Wilson. He assembled in-country taskforces to manage the process, from culture to people, IT to real estate, and established a new regional leadership structure – sometimes a challenge in markets where the two legacy agency heads were equally strong.

The expanded network has, in Wilson’s words, succeeded in “flying the plane while changing engines”: despite being its merger year, 2018 was a year of continued financial growth and award- winning work for BCW across the Europe & Africa region, with teams securing new assignments with leading brands including Aston Martin, Unilever, Nike, Britvic, IWG/Regus, BMW and IKEA. Organic growth came from clients such as Maserati, Coca-Cola, Heineken, Campari, Nestle, Qualcomm, Spotify, Boehringer Ingelheim and Novo Nordisk.

The all-new regional powerhouse even managed to be our most-shortlisted agency in this year’s SABREs, with 13 campaign nominations. At the same time, BCW E&A played a critical role in the development and roll-out of Victor, the network’s new global operating system, and Trufluence, its proprietary influencer marketing methodology.

Ahead of moving to one P&L in January 2019, C&W continued to grow its revenue – recording 5% revenue growth regionally with stand-out growth in UK, Germany, Italy and Sweden. B-M delivered good growth in France, Germany, and Brussels and +30% OP growth in UK, Germany, Netherlands, Turkey and France. — MPS

MSL (Publicis Groupe)

It was a lively year for MSL, in which Publicis’ PR network brought home around €150m in revenue across the EMEA region, representing a third of the global group’s revenue.

In June 2018, MSL also acquired the 20-strong agency Domaines Publics in Paris, merging it into Publicis Consultants, the name for its French operation, followed by opening a new MSL Turkey office in July. In October, MSL Brussels office was transferred into new entity Kekst CNC, when Publicis merged its corporate and financial communications specialists Kekst and CNC to create a global consultancy with 12 offices around the world with capabilties including mergers and acquisitions advice, financial communications, change management, corporate reputation and crisis support.

There was notable growth in markets including in Germany – which picked up the global PR and influencer relations duties for Bosch’s small appliances – the Netherlands, which is recognised for its creative output and grew by 15% in 2018, and double-digit growth and high margins in Central & Eastern Europe, where MSL has a comprehensive presence in 21 markets hubbed out of Warsaw. The Africa operation, particularly in Nigeria, had a good year, while performance in the seven Middle East offices and the UK (after stellar growth of 20% in 2017) was more steady.

Key multi-market wins included an expanded brief for Nestle with the addition of Nestle Waters in France, the UK, Italy and Germany and numerous multi-country assignments for P&G, as well as P&O Ferries, Heineken and AB Inbev.

Award-winning and shortlisted work included its Behind Car Doors influencer campaign for Renault, and internal comms work for EY: employee engagement is a growing area of work for the firm.

A major development for the year ahead for the EMEA business will be bedding in and applying MSL’s new bespoke influencer tool, Fluency, to client work. The product, billed as “supercharging the power of influencers at scale,” is a personal passion project for MSL CEO Guillaume Herbette and is already in demand from major clients and prospects as it enables brands to apply rigour and process to the identification and development of influencers. – MPS

Ogilvy (WPP) 

Last year saw a momentous change for the venerable Ogilvy brand, which underwent a “re-founding” that saw the elimination of various previously specialist businesses—not least among them Ogilvy Public Relations—to be replaced by a wholehearted commitment to an integrated approach and the creation of a new operating system that puts what the agency now calls “PR and influence” at the center. That’s the claim, at least, although many of those who have witnessed many attempts at integration over the years were (not unreasonably) suspicious that PR might end up reduced to a supporting role. It’s still early days, but there are encouraging signs that Ogilvy will avoid that pitfall, particularly in EMEA, where the flagship UK operation is now led in its entirety by PR veteran Michael Frohlich.

The past 12 months have seen a redefinition of the “PR and influence” capability, which Ogilvy Group CEO John Seifert sees making an impact both short-term (driving an immediate surge in sales, for example) and long-term (platform ideas that build relationships and sustained competitive advantage). The leadership team has also defined five core service areas for PR and influence: reputation protection (issues and crisis work, primarily); C-suite and advocacy (executive positioning, stakeholder strategy, public affairs); brand influence (a series of earned-first marketing ideas); employee experience; and media influence. It’s a well thought-out approach, even if Ogilvy is clearly stronger in some areas than others right now.

Life-for-like revenue comparisons are difficult because the restructuring led to some revenues that had not been part of Ogilvy PR falling under the new “PR and influence” unit, but the net result was a 10% increase in what is characterized as PR revenue, which is pretty healthy. Notwithstanding new definitions, there was strong growth in several markets, with Africa and the Middle East setting the pace, and there was new business from Bayer, the Corteva Agriscience part of DowDuPont, Johnson & Johnson, Mattel, Playstation, and the Qatar Foundation, as well as global wins such as GAC Motors and Dubai Expo 2020. New talent, meanwhile, includes new leadership in the UK (Matt Buchanan, from One Green Bean); Germany (Katja Berghoff, an eight year veteran of the firm); and France (Pierre Hubert Meilhac, from Golin).

The firm’s 12 SABRE nominations in the region are dominated by its African network (impressive campaigns range from Ghanaians Against Child Abuse for UNICEF to sports marketing work for AB InBev’s Carling) and Memac Ogilvy in the Middle East (introducing the Sun Flame Grilled Whopper for Burger King). But other highlights include introducing the world’s first all-female Subbuteo set in the UK, commemorating the First World War with a “mud soldier” for Visit Flanders in Belgium, and spearheading the ubiquitous “Bring Football Home” campaign for British Airways during the summer’s World Cup.—PH

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic)

Weber Shandwick has been on a healthy growth trajectory in Europe over the past four years, enjoying 16 consecutive quarters of topline growth, with fee income up by 8% in 2018, even before adding in the revenue from recent acquisitions in the UK of content marketing specialist Flipside and social creative agency That Lot. The firm now has EMEA revenues of more than $125 million, with Africa performing strongly, the UK and Brussels both enjoying double-digit growth last year, the healthcare sector booming, and the firm’s various digital and content creation capabilities all turning in nice numbers.

Secondary metrics are equally impressive: revenue from top 20 clients was up by 42% last year as the firm seeks to broaden and deepen relationships with some of its largest clients. That includes work with big names such as Mastercard, Columbia sportswear, HSBC, Hilton, Public Health England, Lilly, IBM, Netflix, Novartis, Philips, Pernod Ricard, Coca-Cola, Mars Petcare, and Chinese mobile company Oppo—many of these including integrated work that includes paid, digital, social, content creation and more, beyond traditional PR.

Indeed, Weber Shandwick has been integrating and innovating at a pace that puts most of its regional peers to shame. It has expanded the Flipside business to Paris, Brussels, Cologne and Stockholm, while the United Minds consulting business, which began life in Sweden, is now part of the firm’s offer in the UK, and includes team members in Germany, Switzerland and Brussels, and has picked up a slew of new clients including GSK, Electrolux, Lloyds of London, and Rockwool. The firm has also doubled down on data and analytics, developing new tools to quantify the impact of conversation on consumption and using its proprietary Mpulse tool to analyze and understand policymaker sentiment on a variety of issues.

And of course the work continues to impress: Weber Shandwick was one of only five firms to notch up double-digit nominations in the EMEA region SABRE competition this year (building on success that included the Platinum SABRE for Best in Show last year, and several Cannes Lions). Highlights included the Wish Maps campaign to raise funds and awareness for the Make-a-Wish Foundation in the Netherlands; the attention-grabbing help-the-homeless “Out of Home” project for Clear Channel in Sweden; the Cape Town water crisis response for South African Tourism; leading the fight against cybercrime for HSBC in the UK; helping FEVE, the European Container Glass Federation, reduce plastic pollution in Brussels; and of course following up last year’s superb work for Iceland supermarket with the headline-making “Christmas advert that never was.”—PH