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

2019 UK 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: FleishmanHillard Fishburn (Omnicom Group) 

Sometimes you get a successful partnership that owes as much to alchemy as strategy. Three years after their merger, it’s clear that FHF’s perhaps-unlikely London leadership of CEO Jim Donaldson and deputy CEO Ali Gee have created something rather special within the FH network, building a new era for the business that’s substantially stronger and more dynamic than the sum of its legacy parts.

The pair – Donaldson joined FleishmanHillard from Weber Shandwick in 2015, while Gee had stepped into the top role at Fishburn Hedges just before the deal – have achieved as smooth and successful a union as it’s probably possible to have. And they are doing better than most networked offices: we calculate that growth at the agency, which now has around 300 people in its Bankside offices, was a robust 7% in 2018, with margins of around 20%.

The existing client portfolio – including Fitbit, Bayer, J&J, Philips, Danone, Western Union, Novartis, Barclays and Samsung (including a world first for its new Note9: bringing to life a fashion line, fashion show and fashion partnership solely using the handset) – was joined by new accounts from FedEx, Facebook, Diageo and Dupont.

FHF delivered outstanding work, including creating a suite of video content to help the Royal Academy of Engineering close a critical skills gap, leading to 59% of the young people who have saw the campaign saying they had taken action as a result. It also produced a consumer campaign around heart health for Bayer, featuring a VR gaming experience, a cinema-released documentary, a TED talk and a media partnership with Hearst.

The past year has seen a focus on talent, as FHF overhauled its employee proposition (including training and benefits), resulting in vastly reduced churn. In addition, the London operation has embraced FleishmanHillard’s personalised Strengthscope career development programme.

Senior hires included Liz Willder from Lansons and Team Spirit to head the financial services offer. And, as well as Gee, female leadership shines through: the corporate practice is now the firm’s biggest, under MD Stephanie Bailey, while Lauren Winter grew the consumer practice by 78% in 2018. Her team added new briefs from Diageo, Crocs (smashing sales targets by putting Crocs on the catwalk with Christopher Kane at London Fashion Week, wildly exceeding sales targets), Build-A-Bear and am-already-expanded brief for Go Pro (product launches, press room, community management and creative content generation).

The cyber security and crisis practice and the international affairs team have both doubled revenue over the past year. The agency also introduced a Talent & Transformation employee engagement offer, a B2B lead generation service, macro analytics, VR/AR capability, and digital public affairs.

Innovation and original thought leadership included research on authentic brands and AI, a Gen Z trends magazine, and tools for luxury and purposeful brands, influencer engagement and corporate messaging. London also houses FH’s centre of excellence for analytics and research, True Global Intelligence, and is one of the leading offices in the network’s Omniwomen group to empower female leadership and its OpenPride LGBTQ+ group. It also partners with Rare recruitment to increase BAME employees. – MPS

 

Finalists

BCW (WPP)

When Cohn & Wolfe won our UK Agency of the Year award last year, it was already three months into its merger with Burson-Marsteller, and the combined BCW’s place on this year’s shortlist was by no means a foregone conclusion. But under the careful, considered leadership of Europe and Africa president Scott Wilson and UK CEO Rebecca Grant and the taskforce they assembled to manage the process – from culture to people, IT to real estate – the London merger has turned out to be something of a triumph.

A year later, BCW has, in Wilson’s words, clearly succeeded in “flying the plane while changing engines”: the new UK powerhouse has not lost one client due to the merger, including long-established relationships with the likes of Scottish Widows and Unilever, and has picked up plenty of new accounts along the way via a more-than-healthy pipeline, including Aperol, for which it created the Big Spritz Social brand experience.

The team’s attitude of hunkering down and seeing the merger as an opportunity to bring complementary skills together, rather than just being a huge challenge, paid off in terms of the bottom line: C&W maintained double digit growth for the seventh year through the merger, and the underperforming B-M increased profitability by 50% in 2018 (BCW switched to one P&L this January). Of BCW’s top 20 clients, 20 are integrated across the business, and there has been stellar performance from divisions including healthcare, consumer, PA and new offers: investment in brand experience and change management, for instance, led to 300% growth for both practices.

The leadership team has also doubled-down on talent and people: while there was inevitably some fall-out from the merger, new senior hires came on board (including Pete Sigrist from Tes as MD of technology and innovation and Anna Dé as head of healthcare policy communications) and the agency ran its first wellness week for all staff. – MPS

Brands2Life (Independent)

As Brands2Life heads into its 20th year with a refreshed brand, the former technology specialist has evolved into not only a truly integrated offer, but one of the defining agencies of the modern UK public relations industry.

Founders Giles Fraser and Sarah Scales take the business of PR seriously, and their intelligent and conscientious approach to achieving business results for clients – and their ability to hold board-level commercial discussions as well as developing creative comms briefs – led to another year of solid growth. The firm’s 2018 fee income of more than $19m was up a further 7% on its record-breaking 18% hike in 2017, including nearly $3.7m in new business and its two-year-old San Francisco office doubling in size.

The firm now offers consumer, corporate, finance, crisis and B2B communications, as well as public affairs and digital and social. It has also branched out into above-the-line marketing and advertising, and has invested in its filmmaking team, which has made something like 100 films over the past year, from documentaries to shorts. It has also diversified into sectors including health and wellbeing, including healthtech – one of the strongest growth areas for the agency, trebling in size over the year.

Brands2Life’s technology roots are also proving invaluable in looking after digital-first disrupters and established companies in the fintech, energytech, and legaltech sectors. New clients for 2018 included DNA service 23and me, LinkedIn, Puma and Tetrapak, joining a roster than also features, Zoopla, Virgin Media, Bayer and Sanofi.

The agency puts a lot of effort into developing and nurturing its 140 staff, including a plethora of work-life balance, mental health and community initiatives. It has above-average BAME representation of 12.5% and a 0% gender pay gap. The firm also benefits from its own global network of independent agencies, which has yielded pan-EMEA or global hub work for brands including Nikon and Groupon. — MPS

Edelman (DJE Holdings)

After years of consistently outperforming its global agency peers, Edelman’s global revenues declined slightly in 2018, and its EMEA operations were down too, due to the closure of its Swedish operations and some post-merger issues in Germany. But in the UK, where Edelman is the clear market leader—more than 500 people and revenues in excess of £63 million—there was respectable growth (7.5% for the financial year, 4% for the calendar year) as some of the investments the firm has made over the past five years, particularly in its best-of-breed digital and creative capabilities, continued to bear fruit.

Several of Edelman’s largest regional clients are led out of London, including HP and Shell, and there were a number of big wins in 2018, with new assignments from Weight Watchers, HSBC, Sky, Infosys, Automation Anywhere, and Standard Life Aberdeen. The firm continues to create a plethora of outstanding content for client Asics, most recently working on the “Blackout Track,” billed as “the first running track to train your mind”; and earned SABRE nominations for its “Omen by HP Challenge” for the tech giant’s line of gaming computers; promoting toilet access for Domestos via the “Use Our Loos” campaign; Shell’s “Engineering Real Life Heroes,” featuring female engineers from the Shell Eco-marathon; and promoting responsible drinking for Heineken.

The firm has also strengthened its leadership team in its European flagship office, with Mattias Ronge, CEO of Edelman Deportivo, relocating to the UK ahead of the Swedish operation’s closure to serve as chief creative officer; Hugh Taggart joined from Bell Pottinger at the end of 2017 as general manager, corporate affairs, combining the corporate communications and public affairs operations into a more integrated offer; and Andrew Wilson, previously a director at Corporate Citizenship, joined as executive director, purpose.

Edelman has also been strengthening its capabilities in a number of key areas, including employee engagement—which it sees as a major opportunity within the corporate affairs practice—and research: the Edelman Intelligence unit is now home to a team of close to 40 in the UK. And of course the digital and creative capabilities are among the best in the industry as Thomas Crampton joins as global chair of the agency’s digital practice—based in London—after spearheading Ogilvy’s social media practice from Asia.—PH

Ketchum (Omnicom Group)

Ketchum appointed Jo-Ann Robertson as the new chief executive of its London office in November of 2017, but it wasn’t until January 1 last year that she took the reins. So 2018 was her first year in charge, and it was clear from the outset that she saw herself as an agent of change and—where necessary—of disruption.

One result is a renewed emphasis on culture. Robertson has asked the agency’s employees to make three commitments to each other (“be a force for good,” “be a driver of growth,” “bring an entrepreneurial spirit”) and she has also articulated a clear mission: “be the best communications agency in London doing work that matters”—with a heavy emphasis on the last four words. She has made a particular commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workplace, participating in the Creative & Media Equality Standard certification process, for example, and has also introduced a number of health and well-being initiatives.

Talent is another priority. A new executive committee was formed in January, consisting of Deirdre Murphy, chief operating officer; Gavin Cooper, financial director; Kirsty Sachrajda, head of HR for Europe; Susan Smith, managing director of the consumer brand practice; Neil McLelland, managing director of medical communications unit Inspired Science; and newcomer Jamie Robertson, who joined as managing director of the corporate and public affairs practice after working with FTI Consulting and The Communication Group. Other new talent includes Con Franklin, another FTI veteran, as managing director of healthcare; Chris Martin as director of public affairs from Hume Brophy; and Fran Cavanagh. head of research and analytics, from iProspect.

Many of these moves are laying the groundwork for future growth, but there is already a sense that momentum is building. UK fees were up by about 7% last year—with 240 people, the firm is now back in the top 15—and there was new business from Novo Nordisk, OrangeTheory fitness, Sixpad training gear, Tena, TransUnion and Velux. The work is good too, from targeting Gen X and Millennials for the launch of Samsung’s S9 to working with comedian Katherine Ryan to make the case for pods in a lighthearted way for P&G’s fabric care division to helping Booking.com attract more female employees through the Technology Playmaker Awards.—PH