Public Affairs Consultancies of the Year 2019 | Holmes Report
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2019 Public Affairs 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: Grayling (Huntsworth)

Grayling is not the only firm to have established a specialist Brexit unit, obviously, but it is one of the few that can bring together dedicated public affairs specialists from every EU country to share their perspective, and it has been able to establish itself as a thought leader through its Brexit Breakfast Club, a forum for public-private discussions of Brexit-related issues, and its Brexit Bulletin, which it has been publishing weekly since 2016. The firm has helped to make Honda into a leading voice on Brexit, addressing the risk to the company’s supply chain and providing testimony to key select committees, and also works with clients such as Bupa, Kraft-Heinz, spiritsEurope, Abbvie, Hilton, and British Sugar.

Public affairs is only one pillar of Grayling’s business (the firm also works in the consumer and corporate space), but it was the strongest performing pillar in 2018, with the UK business up by an impressive 40%--new business came from Russian investment bank VTB, Molson Coors, Network Rail and Bet Stars, among others. The Brussels operation, which was up by abut 15%, has a team of 36 consultants (from 15 nationalities) and picked up business from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Danone, the Environmental Defense Fund, Herbalife, MyTaxi, OLX Group and more. Those two offices are supported by PA experts in Grayling’s other offices—the former Mmd, which had operations in Central and Eastern Europe, was focused primarily on public affairs—bringing the European team to more than 100.

The firm’s public affairs leadership begins with chairman Richard Jukes, a veteran public affairs strategist; Russell Patten, CEO of the Brussels office and chairman of European public affairs; Victoria Breck, managing director of the Brussels office; and Alan Boyd-Hall, who leads public affairs in the UK. Additions in 2018 included Ben Gascoigne, a former adviser to Boris Johnson as both Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London, who joined Grayling UK as a director in its public affairs team, and Brexit expert Shanker Singham, director of the international trade and competition unit at the the Institute of Economic Affairs, who will serve as a special advisor to parent company Huntsworth.

In the UK, Grayling worked with Lloyd’s Banking Group to establish its leadership in diversity, digital inclusion and community investment, as well as articulating its economic importance; supported Calor to secure important changes to the proposed climate change levy; and advised newly established gas distribution network Cadent ramp up its political engagement at party conference. In Brussels. In Brussels, the digital advocacy team has been providing online public affairs support to ebay, European Soft Drinks Industry and Herbalife Nutrition and others, while the EU-Japan practice has been helping many European suppliers connect with Japanese companies and government purchasers. Multi-market assignments include work for PokerStars and OLX Group and local policy support for Amazon, HP and others. — PH

Finalists

BECG (UK/Independent)

2018 was a significant year for the Built Environment Communications Group, a specialty agency focusing on the many facets and challenges facing clients working to further “the built environment” —the manmade places and spaces such as buildings, parks and transit systems in which people live, play and work. Not only was it the agency’s first full year in existence (the brand was created in 2017 via the merger of Remarkable Group and HardHat Communications), BECG got off to a remarkably robust start, drawing clients with expertise in an array of specialties — property, energy and utilities, infrastructure, waste and recycling, environment and the the public sector among them.

Under the watch of founder and CEO Stephen Pomeroy, BECG in 2018 brought in more than £6m in fees and built a team of 63 pros. The draw: BECG knows its stuff. The firm has a firm understanding on the built environment as a whole, and important role a better built environment can play in society by creating opportunity, prosperity and well-being. As a result, BECG is well-positioned to support clients with communications strategies that resonate in that particular context. On top of that, BECG is equipped to assist clients in maximizing opportunities, managing their reputations and reducing the inherent risks of working in the space.

Hallmark campaigns of 2018 include BECG’s work for the London developer Anthology, which puts a particularly strong emphasis on building community trust. In turn, BECG has made content front and center in all Anthology’s communications, highlighting real-life stories featuring neighbors, school programs and events from the communities with Anthology projects. The result: coverage in key media, as well as a robust social media presence. BECG also is committed to making the built environment a place of inclusion and opportunity. The agency’s BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities) in Property forum promotes diversity and inclusion in BECG as well as the industries it serves. It also supports the training program Construction Youth Trust. — DM

Cicero Group (UK/Independent)

Established in 2001, Cicero made waves in 2018 when it acquired Westbourne Communications to become one of the UK’s largest independent public affairs firms. With 70 staffers generating fee income of £7.3m, the firm now boasts a broad range of public affairs expertise, marrying Cicero’s existing financial services strength with Westbourne’s depth across transport, energy, housing and technology.

Led by executive chairman Iain Anderson and chief executive Jeremy Swan, Cicero expanded its senior team notably in 2018, snapping up former Home Secretary spokesperson Joey Jones and former Downing Street legislative affairs director Nikki Da Costa. The firm also launched a Dublin office to with its London HQ and Brussels operation. 

Amid the ever present spectre of Brexit, Cicero has continued to sharpen its consultative edge, helping it land new business from the Association of Investment Companies, Be the Business, HS2 and Mitie. They join an existing client roster that also features Barclays, BlackRock, ComparetheMarket, Green BioFuels, IHG, Legal & General, LinkedIn, the Civil Nuclear Police Federation and Royal Mail.

And the firm’s work also impresses — highlights included supporting Royal Mail’s employee pension scheme amid considerable scrutiny; helping Thomson Reuters modify the Data Protection Bill; and, advising the Police Federation on its ‘Protect the Protectors’ campaign. — AS

Interel (Independent)

Following the 2017 acquisition of US advocacy firm Association Management Group, Interel is now co-headquartered in Brussels—where it had its origins  36 years ago—and Washington, DC, with additional officers in Paris, London, Berlin, Delhi, and Beijing, supplemented by alliances across 70 additional markets through the Interel Global Partnership, a worldwide network of independent public affairs agencies that it has built to deliver the “glocal” solutions that a complex regulatory and policy environment requires.

It would have been understandable if Interel had taken a pause in 2018 to absorb the US acquisition and integrate the new operations, but the firm continued its forward momentum, with fees up by roughly 10% to more than $26 million, and headcount closing in on 200 (slightly more than half of that in Europe). The firm also rebranded, with a new tagline, “Advancing Interests,” reflecting Interel’s mission of helping clients shape public policy around the world.

That means that Interel has quadrupled in size since Frederik Lofthagen took over as CEO in 2006, thanks in part to a formidable leadership team that includes Gregoire Poisson, managing partner of Interel EU, and Jason Jarrell, managing partner of the global practice. New additions in 2018 include Florence Muls, who joined as managing partner of Interel Belgium after serving as head of corporate communication for Brussels Airport Company and external communications manager for KPN Group Belgium, and William Wallace, senior director at Interel UK, a veteran of APCO and Grayling.

Key clients include Alibaba, Astellas, Coca-Cola, Danone, Ecolab, Expedia, Gilead, IEEE, Nissan, the Project Management Institute, TE Connectivity, Tesla, and TIAA-CREF, while there was new business from 3M, Aquind, the Association of Consumer Credit Information Suppliers, Celgene, the Cloud Signature Consortium, Ensa, ISACA, Turo, and Westrock. The work included supporting MSD to raise awareness about the health risks faced by excluded groups like sex workers, migrants, homeless, people who inject drugs, and the LGTBI community; helping a coalition of technology companies, IP2I, put the issue of “patent trolls” on the public policy agenda in Brussels, and working with BACTA, the trade association for the amusement and gaming machine industry in the UK, to reduce the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals from £100 to £2. — PH

SEC (Independent) 

Italian firm SEC marks its 30th anniversary this year but perhaps the more important date is 2013, when it began its international expansion in earnest. Today, SEC operates in 8 countries, having acquired a string of firms, including public affairs heavyweights Cambre in Brussels and Newington in London. Between them, that gives SEC one of Europe’s top public affairs capabilities, helping underpin overall growth of 20% to $39m, with less than 40% of that coming from SEC’s traditional corporate/financial work in Italy.

The firm’s leadership reflects its public affairs sensibilities. Cambre chairman Tom Parker is chief strategy and sales officer, and an executive director of SEC, as is Newington CEO Mark Glover. Last year, the firm also hired former European Parliament deputy chairman Mario Mauro to serve as senior consultant for European Affairs in Brussels.

And some of the firm’s key clients, from a roster that includes Abbott, Coca-Cola, Amazon, Aon, Enel, Ikea, Ferrero and Novartis, tap into this lobbying and advocacy expertise. Notable work includes helping Morocco gain approval for its EU trade agreements after they were suspended, via a multi-faceted campaign that helped to showcase the benefits of trade, particularly for the highly-politicised Western Sahara region. — AS