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The big news at progressive public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker last year was the acquisition in October by Mark Penn’s investment group Stagwell Group. So far, the impact has been minimal—principals Bill Knapp, Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen remain in place and the firm continues to work on a wide range of corporate, advocacy and political campaign clients. SKDK’s digital capabilities have continued to expand (and it now has access to the resources of sister firm Code & Theory) and it has continued to strengthen its work in three key areas.
The first is in the M&A arena, where SKDK has built on its impressive work on the US Airways-American Airlines merger of a couple of years ago to become the go-to firm for M&A activity in Washington, DC, working with clients such as Anthem, GE Captial, and Pfizer (often in partnership with New York financial communications specialist Joele Frank). The second is providing support for some of the big progressive causes before the Supreme Court, typically working for broad-based coalitions on issues such as abortion, immigration reform, Obamacare and union voting rights. And the third is the opening up of Cuba, an issue in which the firm was involved from the outset (it won a SABRE for its work helping to free imprisoned government contractor Alan Gross and change US policy) and is now helping clients with market entry.
The firm also opened a west coast office last year, hiring former Obama administration official Bill Burton as managing director and working with west coast clients such as Disney and the University of California; continuing to work in the aviation sector with a coalition of US carriers and their unions concerned about the growth of Gulf airlines; and managing three Senate, 10 Congressional and a Governor’s race. — PH
Senior APCO executives often bristle when the firm is described as a public affairs player, and with some justification — the expansion of APCO’s work not just into corporate, but also consumer, healthcare and digital, has been underway for several years now. Yet, in truth, that expansion also reflects the way that public affairs itself has evolved beyond a narrow focus on lobbying to broader understanding of the intersection of policy, media and all stakeholder groups.
Accordingly, APCO’s 2015 growth was not powered by lobbying work alone, but by such assignments as an internal communications audit of the UK’s FCA (in association with Deloitte); a ‘digital density’ report for eBay; and campaigning work for Innovate UK. Alongside that was more traditional activity, for the Ukranian Minister of Finance’s successful IMF campaign; and for new clients such Lockheed Martin, Amex, Nespresso, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Crescent Enterprises, Arab Strategy Forum and Dubai Industrial City.
The firm’s 200-strong EMEA presence now features strong operations in the UK (where James Acheson-Gray has overseen a double-digit turnaround in terms of revenue, now £5.4m, and profitability), France (where the firm has doubled in size to €4m in five years), Brussels (where 38 people drove 21% revenue growth to €5.35m) and the Middle East, (which grew by an eye-catching 36% to $14m in 2015.)
As ever, the quality of APCO’s work stood out, whether modernising the legal status of animals in France; handling sensitive anti-trust work for Etihad in Europe; supporting Whirlpool’s controversial acquisition of Italy’s Indent; transforming the reputation of the fishing industry in Brussels on behalf of NGO Blue Fish; helping ABTA secure better EU regulation; developing the comms strategy for the World Government Summit; or, positioning Masdar as leading player in the renewable energy space. — AS
Since its inception 18 years ago Hanover has evolved beyond its UK roots to become one of the world’s top public affairs consultancies, winning Global Agency of the Year honours in 2015 and growing by 85% over the past three years. Under the leadership of founder Charles Lewington, the firm has consistently innovated, deepening its expertise in healthcare, financial services, energy and FMCG, and re-investing profits to create new service offerings at its London and Brussels offices. 2015 was another successful year for the firm, with growth of 23% to £9.2m, keeping the firm on track for its five-year plan to double in size by 2018. There was new business from De Beers, England Athletics, Camelot, FloodRe, Steris, Northern Health Science Alliance, MSD, Gatwick Airport, AFC and Time Warner, who join a blue-chip client roster that includes LRS, Goldman Sachs, Three, Lloyds Banking Group, Lilly, Microsoft and the NFL.
And, like many of its better rivals, Hanover’s work reflects the shifting public affairs landscape, enabling it to expand policy briefs into broader corporate mandates, for the likes of Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Cuadrilla, Tata Steel and Shire. The firm has created five new practice areas and has upped investment in training, particularly in such areas as social media, SEO and creativity. And it found time to create the new Ecosystem global independent agency network, featuring top firms from a number of countries.
Former Downing Street press secretary Lewington is supported by Andrew Harrison, director and global head of the healthcare practice; Laura Swire, director and head of Hanover’s advocacy team; and director and head of Hanover’s corporate and consumer practice, Gavin Megaw. Brussels is led by MD Christian Hierholzer. There were several senior hires in 2015, including Claire Furlong to oversee the new Hanover Sport practice, Leigh Ireland as head of brand activation, Claudia La Donna as head of digital policy, and Emma Carr as head of technology.
The firm’s expansion is not limited to typical public affairs areas alone, reflecting the fact that 30% of its London revenue now comes from its corporate communications practice. Hanover created a Newsroom to support its content creation capabilities and took a majority stake in growth-hacking consultancy Multiple. Campaign highlights included work for the first-ever European Games; global DeBeers support; and assignments for Camelot. — AS
Interel is unique among Brussels-based agencies for a couple of reasons: first, while there are many multinational firms with offices in the European capital, Interel may be the only Brussels-based firm to have built its own international presence; and second, while there are public affairs and Belgian PR specialists in the market, only Interel operates successfully in both markets. The Belgian business—led by managing partner Baudouin Velge—has been challenging in recent years—the country is home to relatively few corporate headquarters, and the local market is small and economically depressed, but Interel has 24 people focused on the local market, generating fees of around €3 million (up 17% last year) and serving clients such as Beiersdorf, ING, Bridgestone, Morgan Stanley, Air Liquide, Sanofi, Gilead, Google and AXA, with new business from Banque du Luxembourg, Total, D’Ieteren (the exclusive importer of Volkswagen in Belgium).
Underscoring its expertise in crisis, the firm issued a white paper and video on “Recalls in the Digital Age,” while the firm also continues to grow its corporate reputation and public affairs work. The EU business, meanwhile, has expanded from traditional public affairs to incorporate a more integrated approach—traditional PR, corporate storytelling, digital and social work, content creation—a decision that fueled healthy 14 percent growth in 2015, which ended with the firm reporting €13.5 million in fees. Key clients include the Project Management Institute, Astellas, ISPO (the International Society of Prosthetics & Orthotics), IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers), Expedia, Coca Cola and Beiersdorf, with new additions including Ecolab, 3M, Anbang, the European Copper Institute and General Mills. — PH
Global Strategy Group (US/Independent)
Because of the amount of political campaign work it undertakes, Global Strategy Group tends to grow in even-numbered years and retrench in the odd—a pattern it broke for the first time in 2013—and while revenues were flat in 2015, it was the firm’s best non-campaign year. GSG is now generating about $30 million a year (split evenly between research revenues and public affairs and communications) and now has about 100 people, about 75 of them in its New York headquarters.
The firm does most of its work in highly-regulated industries—energy and financial services and healthcare are all areas of strength—and is working on more and more high-profile issues. Among the corporate highlights in 2015, GSG worked with Comcast on its oft-criticized corporate reputation, controversial pharmaceutical company Valeant on its regulatory issues, Con Edison on digital and social media and energy conservation initiatives, and “gig economy” companies such as Uber and Airbnb as they begin to encounter regulatory resistance to their rapid growth.
But the firm also does some interesting work outside of the corporate realm, supporting the ACLU on issues related to the Patriot Act, regional soccer governing body CONCACAF on the fallout from corruption investigations, and the FealGood Foundation on the renewal of the 9/11 health bill. Head of research Nick Gourevitch was promoted to partner last year, and the firm added senior vice presidents Matt Canter (in DC from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) and in New York Glen Caplin (former communications director to US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand) and Dana Yeganian (from Capstrat). — PH
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