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There’s a simple formula that’s oft neglected in PR: build a strong culture, attract top-notch talent and do great work. Many of the newer agencies coming onto the market seem built around staying true to that philosophy.
Among them is Battenhall. Founder Drew Benvie — former CEO of Hotwire UK — launched Battenhall 24 months ago with the plan to “turn the PR agency model upside down.” In two years, Battenhall’s team of 23 people have built an impressive roster of clients that include: Pearson, PwC, Iceland, English Heritage, Newsweek, Salma Hayek, Hotels.com and Telefonica, all serviced from its sole office in London. Revenues jumped a dramatic 134% to £853,259 (against a £500k target) in 2014 — with revenues projected to hit £2m this year.
Battenhall has also been featured in the Financial Times for its work culture, alongside Red Bull and Google. Among its perks: 20% of work time is saved for non-billable side projects as a way to make sure the agency is staying ahead of the game — and passing that know-how onto clients. Each week, team members present what they’ve been working on. Another perk, each team member — at all levels — is allocated £1,200 to invest in a start-up.
The Battenhall team has also developed IP to modernize the business. Newsjacker is a tool that takes a curated view of a client’s daily news agenda and triggers alerts for the client and team; Influencer Log is that allows team members to log new press and social media influencers, populating Battenhall’s bespoke and own-built influencer database; and Boom Labs is an ideas engine, where staff members with ideas can share them with the team.
Notable work includes, the Social Casino Experiment to generate social awareness for the Empire Casino on Leicester Square. This included a competition for one person to win a free day of gambling at the casino with one catch: every bet had to be decided by social media. Battenhall also worked with the Financial Times to build and launch a social media site to promote the FT Weekend. The campaign, My FT Weekend, asked readers about their perfect weekend and the winner had their dream made into reality.— AaS
The Academy (UK)
The Academy founder Mitchell Kaye's PR pedigree has rarely been in question, and even when it has, the former Mischief founder is more than happy to set you straight. Kaye has credentials to back up his chutzpah, though, turning Mischief into the best PR firm in London's notoriously competitive consumer scene in just a few years, before selling the business to Engine and eventually leaving in 2013.
Not unexpectedly, Kaye began a new PR operation in 2014, and was soon reunited with his business partner and creative director Dan Glover. The duo remain one of the sharpest management outfits in the industry, and already The Academy (named for a focus on constant learning and strategic consultancy) has served notice that it is a new force to be reckoned with. In just 12 months, it has grown to 17 people, earning around £700k during its nine months of operation in 2014.
The client roster already catches the year, including such names as the Sun, the Times, American Express, Krispy Kreme, Beagle Street and QVC, but it is the Academy's reputation for creativity that is likely to prove critical in its efforts to distinguish itself from some very strong peers. Already, there has been standout work for the Fabulous Baking Boys (including a complete brand refresh); the Sun ('Hashtag Stories' and 'Get Kids Reading') and American Express ('Small Business Saturday'.)
Kaye is also keenly aware of the perils of growing an independent firm, having already done it (pretty well) once before. The Academy recently hired Nicky Law as managing director from Grayling, and has put in place an internship programme to ensure a genuinely diversified talent base. "It's fantastic being independent again" says Kaye. "You can be quick, nimble, brave." —AS
The CommsCo (UK)
Started in 2013, the CommsCo was a joint venture between founder Ilona Hitel and marketing automation consultancy CleverTouch. The founding mission was to develop compelling content and communications for businesses that need to differentiate – and generate leads – through an effective PR and content marketing strategy.
Total fee income is up to £384,982 with six people who service key clients,including Oxehealth, SysMech, Mabey Group, Greencorn, X-IO, Xceed Group, Fairsail and RM Results.
The CommsCo specialises in creating and delivering integrated PR, social media and content marketing campaigns for SMBs, predominantly in the technology space. Its clients typically have ambitious plans for growth and market share, and the ability to compete with larger competitors – but on a smaller marketing budget.
Among its work, the CommsCo successfully elevated Fairsail’s profile in the UK market by winning a cloud award; gaining significant coverage in the tier one press; driving traffic to blog content; and developing a significant piece of HR technology research, identifying ‘Invisible Employee Syndrome’, or IES, where organisations lack the visibility they need to manage the modern workforce. For another UK SMB, Centrix Software, the CommsCo secured coverage in Forbes on another issues-based topic: the daily use or misuse of IT within the organisation. This formed the pinnacle of a year-long campaign, which was featured regularly in the IT press. —AaS
Djembe Communications (Africa & Middle East)
Named after the West African drum, Djembe is one of the best of the new generation of African PR firms, combining high-level strategic consultancy with a rigourous understanding of local market conditions across the continent.
Dubai-based managing director Mitchell Prather previously led Grayling's and Golin's operations in the region and also worked as a senior manager at Mubadala Development Company, giving him plenty of experience of the region's key markets. Prather is supported by regional director Nicole Anwer, and together the duo oversee a firm that has grown to 20 people in just over two years, already reporting $4m in fee income across Dubai, Luanda, Lagos, London, Maputo, New York and Zurich.
Djembe's positioning, which focuses on reputation management and local insight, has proved popular, particularly with Angolan government vehicles that require a more sophisticated public relations approach. Key clients include the country's Sovereign Wealth Fund; its Venture Capital Fund; the country's first investment bank; the Porto de Caio port project; and the Academia de Gestão Hoteleira Angolana hospitality academy. Beyond Angola, there is business from Tomé International and Uniqua Consulting. —AS
Engage Burson-Marsteller (Kenya)
Rather than start its own business in Kenya—or acquire an existing agency—Burson-Marsteller has elected to provide a start-up loan to Engage, a firm launched by Desiree Gomes, Carole Muthaura and Liesl Williams last year (following a model that worked well with Solski BM in Poland). Gomes looks like a safe bet: she was previously executive director at Gina Din Communications, one of Africa’s leading independent firms, where she played a role in several of the firm’s international award-winning work.
Her new firm is off to a great start; it has a team of 11, including four senior consultants, and has built a client list that includes Coca-Cola East & Central Africa, MultiChoice East Africa, Nestle Equatorial Africa, Nestle Kenya, Diageo, Crown Paints, MTN Business, and Sarova Hotels.
The firm has a full-service offer including corporate and financial communications, crisis and issues management, internal communications, CSR, brand communications, event management and media training. In its first year, it has handled a community relations campaign for Nestle’s MILO brand, donating funds to support school soccer programs; helped Nestle with a CSR initiative that supports women farmers in the region; and launched Ciroc Ultra Premium Vodka in the region for Diageo.— PH
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