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It was a vintage year for Taylor Herring, the creative consumer agency founded by husband and wife team James Herring and Kath Taylor in 2001. Their 25-strong team, including ECD Peter Mountstevens, has redefined the modern PR agency, conceiving and delivering integrated campaigns that bust the boundaries of traditional PR.
The agency is known for high-impact launch campaigns and long-running PR programmes, and particularly for creating clever, compelling brand stories that have a tendency to flood social media and lead to sales spikes, as in the case of every one of the seven campaigns it ran for baker Gregg’s last year.
This innovative approach led to year-on-year revenue growth of 20%, to £3.6m, with 18% margins. As well as key clients EasyJet, Diageo, Samsung, Greggs, Paddy Power, Sky and Disney, Taylor Herring won some of the UK’s most hotly-contested pitches of last year, including Betfair, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Iceland, Kelloggs, Legoland, National Geographic, Penguin, Shell and Warner Bros. It was also the first PR agency to be awarded the Grand Prix at the Drum Marketing Awards.
The agency is passionate about earned media, but investing in creative craft has also been key to its success this year. At the start of 2018 it launched St Marks Studios, a production and event company to meet client demand for stylish and engaging newsfeed content at a competitive price. It produced 70 films and events last year, including a 12-market TV advertising campaign for Samsung, and turned over £1.2m.
Taylor Herring is also the owner and publisher of two influential media platforms: viral news entertainment site The Poke, which attracts 5m users a month, and PR Examples. By championing photographers, videographers, tweeters and designers, the team has also built a resource of freelance talent that feeds back into the studio. — MPS
The Academy (UK/Independent)
It was the year it all came together for The Academy, which showed double-digit fee income growth of more than 10% after Mitchell Kaye and Daniel Glover, who founded the business less than five years ago, regrouped after a sometimes-challenging integration period post its merger of Shine into the business in 2016.
The pair, as single-minded and ambitious as ever, realised that taking the 41-strong agency to the next level after hitting the potentially-tricky £4m turnover point was going to require a different approach, and restructured The Academy from the traditional pyramid structure into a number of pillars, each headed by a creative lead and a business lead to replicate the founders’ effective partnership. New hires to fulfil this offer included Ella Dorley-Brown, who joined from Unity as a business lead, plus Chris Bamford, previously Freuds’ director of creative and strategy.
As the business grows, the agency will scale up by adding more pillars, ensuring clients always have access to senior expertise, and The Academy continues to uphold its reputation for being equally strong creatively, and in terms of business impact for its clients.
It also invested in a data, insights and measurement function and its three newest offerings: experiential, design, and film production. The latter is led by BAFTA-nominated film-maker Gary Tarn and produced over 200 films for clients last year, while the experiential arm – Jubba – became the fastest-growing part of the business, with work including a charity Sleep Walk that raised over £200,000 for Shelter and Amazon’s biggest-ever activation in the UK for Black Friday.
The Academy’s enviable client list also includes Disney, Pharmacy2U, Kärcher, Morrisons, Domino’s, WWE and Zizzi, which were joined by new briefs last year from Alton Towers, Britvic, Lucozade Sport, Ubisoft, OnePlus and The Jockey Club. But the real focus for 2018 was on organic growth, meaning The Academy turned down 60% of new business briefs and, as a result, achieved its best-ever margins of 20%. — MPS
After a relatively quiet 2017, Cirkle bounced back last year and, as it celebrated its 20th birthday, firmly repositioned itself as the UK’s go-to agency for food and beverage, retail and home/lifestyle brands, picking up accounts including Birdseye, Goodfellas, Britvic, Bosch and Pets At Home, which joined Morrisons, Chivas, and various brands in the PepsiCo, Ferrero, GSK, Pernod and Premier Foods stables in its client portfolio. The wins contributed to 5% growth, and the agency is on track to hit £3.8m in fee income this year.
After hiring Ruth Kieran from Text100 as her new managing director last February, founder Caroline Kinsey stepped back into a true chair role. The agency rebranded and changed ownership into a – still rare among UK agencies – employee ownership trust structure, with every one of its 36 staff now having a stake in 60% of the company.
With its headquarters in Oxfordshire, diversity was becoming an issue in terms of recruitment. The agency is addressing this by opening a new London office and partnering with the MAAG Diversity Group as well as Career Ready which prepares multi ethnic 16-18-year-old students for the world of work: three board members mentor a student each for a year. Cirkle also stepped up its emphasis on its team’s mental and physical fitness it’s not unusual for staff to do Ironman competitions together, a number of the team are trained Wellness Warriors, and many bring their dogs to work. The business focus for this year is building out its offer from its pure consumer and B2B PR stronghold to include more digital, events, crisis and issues, experiential and corporate purpose work. — MPS
Manifest has always struck a slightly different pose amid London’s fiercely competitive consumer PR scene, thanks in large part to is refreshing willingness to write its own rules. Alex Myers founded the firm a decade ago and while it may not have grown at the same rate as some of its peers, it has always exhibited a disruptive focus on employee culture and development, helping turn the firm into a long-term partner for similarly minded companies, most notably BrewDog. Recent years, meanwhile, have seen that internal focus pay off to impressive effect, with global expansion to Stockholm and New York helping to underpin eye-catching growth of 48% to £5.5m in 2018.
While much is made of purpose-driven organisation, Manifest appears to be more values-driven than most — whether that means ensuring the leadership team is 70% female and 19% ethnic minority; introducing a ‘returnship’ initiative for those on parental or medical leave; building a partnership with BME PR Pros to improve diversity; taking equity in new ventures under its ‘Make’ banner; and building brands that change the world for the better. The last of those values is reflected by a client roster that includes BrewDog, Workfront, Homebase and PlayStation, along with new assignments from Samsung, The Collective, Dice, Accor Hotels, Lifesum, Turo, Chivas Brothers, WWF, Hövding, Chilango and Oriflame.
The firm’s work also reflects its attempts to ‘communicate with a conscience’, most notably via its ‘Stop Trafficking’ campaign for the WWF, while there was also an impressive effort for Houdini Sportswear out of Stockholm. — AS
W Communications (UK/Independent)
W will be 10 years old this year. Founder Warren Johnson’s first client in London was an electric skateboard start-up; it now has offices in Newcastle, Amsterdam and Singapore, with Kuala Lumpur set to open, and works with the likes of British Airways, Unilever, Adidas, MoneySuperMarket (its first SEO-led account), Levi’s, Spotify and Laurent Perrier.
What sets W apart is its work at the intersection of consumer, culture and corporate communications, with the aim of transforming clients’ businesses. And as well as having some of the most creative smarts in the business the leadership also takes the business of being a PR business seriously: 2018 was the agency’s best year yet, with 25% income growth and robust EBITDA of 27%.
In the past year W Enterprise, its corporate, tech and SME division, has trebled in size, working with established names such as the FT and Evening Standard through to tech start-ups Trouva and Habito. The agency also took a majority stake in travel PR specialist Lotus.
Stand-out campaigns included the pro bono Project 84 for mental health charity CALM, displaying 84 statues, each representing one of the 84 men who takes their own life each week in the UK, on top of ITV Tower. It sparked a global social media movement and 200,000 signatures demanding a Minister for Suicide Prevention. On World Mental Health Day, the government announced the appointment, and the campaign led to a haul of seven Cannes Lions.
And W hasn’t lost its sense of mischief: when Three wanted to create a World Cup moment, the team subverted commercial endorsement rules by simply adding three lion emojis beside the brand name at 54 stores nationwide. It also continued to blur disciplinary lines by making two ads for Unilever (PG Tips and Pot Noodle).
Over the past year, the agency has evolved its traditional account teams into a more agile, flexible structure and, recognising the impact of such a fast-moving business on its people, invested in staff happiness and wellbeing initiatives. It was also the first PR agency to sign up as a CALM Company. — MPS
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