Pan-EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report

2018 Pan-EMEA Consultancies of the Year


Our 2018 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 were unveiled at the EMEA SABRE Awards in Amsterdam on 23 May. Analysis of all Finalists across 20 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here. 

Winner: Hill+Knowlton Strategies (WPP) 

Hill+Knowlton’s high single-digit growth in the EMEA region is strong enough on its own to qualify the firm for this list, but in context it looks even better, achieved as it was at a time when the firm’s European operations receive less help from their American parent company than most of their competitors. Throw in improving margins—tripled over the past three years—and an increasingly 21st century business mix (from high-end consulting work to strong digital and creative) and it’s clear that H+K, which won our EMEA Consultancy of the Year trophy two years ago, remains an impressive contender.

Under the leadership of Lars-Erik Grønntun, chairman and CEO for EMEA, and Richard Millar, who chairs the UK operation and also leads H+K’s global Center of Creative Strategy, H+K has managed to blend operational discipline, a more entrepreneurial attitude, and strong creative to become a well-rounded business, equally strong in corporate reputation management and brand-building work. The past 12-months have seen the addition of several new offers, including Better Impact, which helps organizations understand where they stand on each of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals; Shanghai Addition (which has worked with Chinese companies like Huawei, Honor and Envision striving the establish themselves in Europe), and Flight School+ (an expansion of the firm’s social media crisis simulation tool).

There have also been a number of professional development initiatives, including Knowledge+, a training academy balancing hard and soft skills; Orbita, an event that helps to develop integrated thinking and partnerships with other WPP sister agencies; and Represent Her, which ensures that the firm’s creative work avoids lazy gender stereotypes. There has also been an influx of talent, including new Middle East chief executive Bashar AlKadhi, who joined from Asda’a Burson-Marsteller and new German CEO Ruediger Maessen from Ketchum Pleon. 

New business, meanwhile, came from Saudi Aramco, Hydro, EY, GSK, China’s Wanda Group, Hankook, Standard Chartered, Nespresso, Colgate, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, Johnson&Johnson, Duracell and more. Numerous existing clients, including Danone, Tata, Huawei, Shell, Lenovo, Statoil, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Arla, expanded their work with the agency. And that work was impressive, garnering 14 SABRE nominations—more than any other agency. Highlights ranged from working with Shell to tell the world about a coffee-powered London bus to helping manage the largest M&A transaction in the Netherlands, from promoting cashless purchases in Russia for Visa to establishing China’s Envision as a wind power pioneer, from promoting battery recycling in UK schools for Duracell to driving the Vision 2030 agenda in Saudi Arabia. — PH


APCO (Independent)

There have been times in recent years that APCO’s search for new investment seemed to consume too much of the management team’s time and energy, with growth taking a back seat to securing long-term stability. But when APCO finally found a solution, the change in mood was almost palpable, and the return to growth almost immediate: global fee income was up 5% in 2017, and in EMEA the growth was an extremely robust 12% under the leadership of Claire Boussagol, who joined the firm in 1995 and took the helm in Europe after Brad Staples was elevated to the global CEO role at the end of 2014.

New business wins and expanded assignments came from across the region: American Express, a new global assignment; Boeing in France and Germany; Celgene in Brussels and Paris; and the Copper Alliance in the UK and the US. They also came from across a wide range of industries, from a public affairs and corporate communications assignment for Roche in the healthcare space to a Yum Brands win the consumer arena to work for Palo Alto Networks in the growing technology practice to the Republic of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, indicative of the firm’s strength in representing government clients. Other additions included Arconic, Allianz, Global Citizen, Oculus, Microsoft, and the Motion Picture Association of America.

The firm has long been built around twin pillars of strength in London and Brussels—the two most significant public affairs markets in the region—but as it has expanded both geographically and in terms of the kind of work it does in the corporate reputation and crisis and issues management spaces, its operations in Germany (offices in Berlin and Frankfurt, up 31% last year), Italy (Rome and Milan, 31% growth), and France are all making a significant contribution. The Middle East operation, meanwhile, was up by 21% last year and with 170 people is the UAE and Saudi Arabia is a major player in the region and a significant contributor to APCO’s EMEA region.

The work last year included public affairs and executive leadership communications for Facebook and support for organizational change at Tui in Germany; crisis management support for Whirlpool around plant closings and support for Apple during CEO Tim Cook’s meeting with the Pope in Italy; corporate and CEO positioning for NetJets and issues management around sexual health for Reckitt Benckiser’s Durex brand in the UK; and helping to secure EU funding for Rotary International’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Brussels. The firm also continued to expand its APCO Insight group, led by Chris Levy, across the region, adding team members in other key markets and managing research projects for Bulgaria, Metro, Roche and more. — PH

Edelman (Independent)

In isolation, Edelman’s financial performance in EMEA was disappointing last year: growth of slightly less than 1% is not what we have come to expect from the world’s largest public relations firm. But context matters, and 2017 can be seen as a year of consolidation for a firm that had been regularly outperforming its peer group for a decade or so. The firm put in place a new leadership team, with ad industry veteran Carol Potter moving to London from the Middle East to take over as CEO for the region, Ed Williams promoted from his UK role to vice-chair, and finally a restructuring that brings the Middle East and Africa (recently part of an unwieldy APACMEA construct) back into the EMEA fold.

Even with all that going on, there was plenty of good news in the region, which combined currently accounts for 20% of Edelman’s global revenues and clearly had plenty of growth potential left. Both Italy and Spain are performing well, despite difficult market conditions; there’s a new leadership team in Brussels under general manager Gurpreet Brar, who previously headed public affairs in London; a new model in Amsterdam, where Philips veteran AJ Hesselink is implementing the firm’s “communications marketing” strategy with gusto; and of course the London operation is still the UK’s market leader, with 500 people and a number of key hires in 2017 including Hugh Taggart from Bell Pottinger to run corporate affairs; Justin Wescott, who is rebuilding the tech practice; Michele O’Neil, who joined from the Australian Institute of Corporate Directors as global strategy partner; and Will Walden, managing director of public affairs, who was previously a senior advisor to Boris Johnson.

The new business picture was pretty healthy too, starting with the firm’s global assignment from Nissan, one of the year’s biggest pitches and led out of EMEA. In the UK, the firm added work from Coca-Cola, Formula 1, Kering, Lego, Shire, and Ujet; in Brussels there were new assignments from CHAFEA (the Organic Food from Europe campaign) and Lloyd’s; new German clients include

Astra, Merck, and MundiPharma; in France, Edelman Elan added L’Oreal and Danone business; in Italy, Samsung and Mattel were among the marquee additions. And there was an increase in cross-border work for clients such  GSK, Gilead, HP and Lloyd’s, while PayPal, Johnson & Johnson, Shell, Unilever, Microsoft, Asics, Pfizer, Heineken and Mars are all working with Edelman across the region.

And of course Edelman continues to be a creative powerhouse in the region. Globally, Edelman has been investing in digital and creative talent at a pace unmatched by any of its rivals—more than 600 creatives around the world, including about 200 in Europe. And the acquisition of Swedish creative shop Deportivo in the summer of 2014 has been paying dividends in Europe, where that firm now has 30-plus people in London under the leadership of Toby Gunton, a veteran of OMD and WCRS. Great creative work includes Heineken’s “Open Your World” social experiment; Knorr’s “Love at First Taste” campaign; public affairs and events work for Formula One; a global search for the perfect shower for Grohe; and a search for the “next Einstein” that brought together Unilever, IKEA and Lego to form the Real Play Coalition. — PH

FleishmanHillard (Omnicom)

One tribute to the job John Saunders did in strengthening FleishmanHillard’s EMEA operations during the first half of this decade is that since he ascended to the global CEO role at the end of 2015, the leadership team he left behind has continued to build: growth in each of the past two years, including a 10% increase in fee income in 2017—despite the disappearance of the FH brand in several markets due to an Omnicom PR Group consolidation—and double-digit growth in major markets such as the UK, Germany and Brussels, as well as in the France, Italy, the Czech Republic, South Africa and the Middle East.

The firm has a balanced portfolio in the region, with growth in the technology and healthcare sectors, the corporate and consumer practices. There was growth from some of the firm’s key clients—Crocs, Bayer (led out of the UK), Lidl (led out of Germany), Fitbit (for its entry into European markets), and Philips (served as part of Omnicom’s OneVoice)—and from new clients that ranged from global brands like Amazon (in the Czech Republic), Google (a US client expanding to EMEA), Samsung (across 17 markets)—and newer names like GoPro (European social and media relations) and Korean razor blade company Dorco. 

There has been new talent too, with three key additions to the financial services team (Claudia Bate from Bell Pottinger in the UK; Mette Grolleman in Belgium, Khaya Buthelezi in South Africa); Michael Hartt from Burson-Marsteller to strengthen the international affairs offer in the UK; Nadine Dusberger from Edelman to lead healthcare in Germany; and Tim Snowball, former head of comms for the LibDems, to lead public affairs in London. Staff development remains a priority, with internal professional development and networking initiatives and an increased diversity focus for its 500 employees in EMEA.

Highlights of the work in 2017—which garnered 10 SABRE nominations—included the UK launch of Crocs developed in collaboration with designer Christopher Kane; food and nutrition communications for the Polish Association of Juice Producers; international corporate brand-building work on the Philips Future Health Index; bold CSR work for O2 in the Czech Republic; support for the 5th Football World Cup of Children from Care Homes in Poland; and telling the story  of a Syrian migrant called Nour and her 2000 mile journey through nine countries to seek asylum in Sweden, on behalf of the EU. — PH

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic)

Colin Byrne learned his lesson from Arsene Wenger: he decided to go out while his team was still on top. In Byrne’s last year at the helm of Weber Shandwick’s EMEA operation was every bit as impressive as the previous eight: 13% growth, all organic, at a time when the Interpublic agency’s global revenues increased in the low single digits). He leaves behind a firm that has regional fee income in excess of $125 million, having grown by 72% since 2013 to establish itself as one of the strongest networks in the region.

New business performance was impressive: significant additions included Mars Petcare, supermarket chain Iceland, Philips’ TPVision, Syngenta, Bayer, Roche, Epson, luxury brand giant Richemont, Coty, Sanofi, Kellogg’s and more—as well as IPG’s global Novartis win, in which Wever Shandwick played a lead role. There was plenty of growth from existing clients too, with fee income from the firm’s top 40 regional clients up by 24%. 

The agency’s work continues to earn recognition: its “72-hour cabin” concept for Visit Sweden won an In2 SABRE Award, and it has seven SABRE nominations, for campaigns ranging from the McDonald’s “Serve Your Country” employer branding initiative in Sweden to the ManFran campaign connecting Manchester and San Francisco for Virgin Atlantic; from The Little Chicken Named Ping-Pong adult literacy campaign featuring Idris Elba on behalf of Pearson to the #toocoolforplastics commitment that positioning Iceland at the forefront of sustainable business practices.

And finally, the leadership team taking Weber Shandwick forward looks solid. Veteran Tim Sutton will chair EMEA and the Asia-Pacific; Rachel Friend leads the UK and Ireland; Jonas Palmqvist—who joined via the Prime acquisition in 2014—is now chief operating officer for EMEA: another Prime addition, Charlotte Witte, is leading client experience in the region; and there is a strategic board that includes practice leaders and regional CEOs. The firm has also introduced four “value-based communities” (insights, integrated media, content, client experience) as part of a reorganization designed to prepare it for a changing competitive landscape, and to ensure that it can continue to offer an array of multi-channel services with earned at the center. — PH