Digital PR Consultancies of the Year 2019 | Holmes Report

2019 Digital 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: Threepipe (UK/Independent) 

Threepipe really got into its groove in 2018. The digital agency is the result of a merger between a consumer PR agency and a performance marketing agency, before acquiring a SEO agency and then, in 2018, creative agency Earnie. It’s now an independent, owner-managed agency of 90 people comprised of PR, social, SEO, outreach, creative and analytics experts.

As a result, in the past year CEO Farhad Koodoruth and sales and marketing director Jim Hawker have transformed the agency to offer clients dedicated teams of multichannel expertise, underpinned by rigorous planning (Threepipe’s three planners now work with all teams to ensure the right channel mix is in place, rather than automatically advocating an earned approach) and fast-turnaround, high-quality creative output. In the process they have achieved 20% growth for the third consecutive year, with 20% margins.

Retailers who are investing in digital to drive growth are a key focus for the agency, which works with the likes of Jack Wills, LK Bennett, Warehouse, Liberty London, Sweaty Betty and Nike. Sport is also prominent: Threepipe became the lead agency for the England & Wales Cricket Board, continued working with the NFL, and was appointed by the ICC as its media agency for the 2019 Cricket World Cup and by British Gymnastics to lead a brand refresh.

Loveday Langton joined from Hotwire as Threepipe’s first head of people, while Alistair Gammell, founder of Earnie, became head of creative. The agency also hired four developers to build its own tech stack to improve operational efficiency. Other home-grown tech innovation included a product to improve visibility and sales for Nike on retail sites (tested in the UK and being rolled out to eight international markets) and building an Amazon e-commerce solution to help clients maximise commercial opportunities, tested with Pepsi and Panasonic.

The agency is working with Jack Wills and Panasonic to create content that ensures high visibility for voice search results across Siri and Google Home, leading to a 248% increase in sales for Jack Wills’ coats, and a 132% increase in organic impressions for Panasonic’s Lumix cameras. And its award-winning campaign to raise the profile of the England Women's cricket team, across PR, creative, social and DOOH, led to 60% brand recall and an 833% uplift in searches for women's cricket. — MPS



Brunswick (Independent)

Corporate and critical financial communications firm Brunswick might appear to be a surprising entrant to the digital shortlist this year, but the firm is building an impressive global digital practice that is worth breaking its usual discretion to shout about. The digital offer is changing perceptions of Brunswick, by widening the aperture through which clients see the firm, and it is also contributing to the bottom line: the firm operates one P&L but estimates that it that has built digital income to around 5% of global revenue in three years.

Brunswick has had a digital practice since 2015, when Edelman’s former MD for digital corporate and public affairs Mike Krempasky joined the firm. At the time, its digital expertise was scattered throughout the network, but a digital strategy group, now numbering around 30 people, was formed to sit on top of Brunswick’s core consulting offer and the firm got serious about finding digital talent who could play in the corporate space.

Former Ogilvy PR UK CEO Marshall Manson made the move to Brunswick in 2017, heading up digital in the UK and across Europe. And last year the team made another key hire in the shape of Craig Mullaney, Facebook’s head of strategic partnerships, as a partner to advise CEOs on digital strategy.

Before Brunswick, no-one had run a fully-integrated campaign, including digital and social, in support of an M&A transaction. The firm works with regulators and the advisory community to enable it to do more progressive and open communications in a tightly-controlled arena. The group isn’t setting out to pitch standalone digital RFPs: its approach complements the existing strengths of the business, expanding Brunswick’s mandates for many of its clients. Brunswick does digital where it’s hard, in complex, sensitive environments across the world where it is trusted with earnings, transitions and market information.

The digital group is growing across the EMEA region, with the UK, Germany and Italy showing strong performances, while in South Africa, the firm is building a global centre of excellence around search. And it’s developing heavyweight thought leadership, including the annual Digital Investor Survey, which tracks how digital and social media influences the behaviour and decision-making of buy-side investors and sell-side analysts around the world. — MPS

Coolr (UK/Independent)

It’s not often that a new agency goes straight into our specialist shortlists, but 18-month-old Coolr more than deserves its place here; it’s already been named as digital agency of the year by the PRCA and is nominated multiple times for this year’s SABRE awards.

Adam Clyne, previously Weber Shandwick’s EMEA head of digital and Ladbible COO, set out to create an agency that was equally comfortable in PR and creative, with a social- and mobile-first approach to every piece of client work. The idea that an agency could help brands be part of the cultural conversation through organic social content with zero paid media has gone down well: Coolr is already generating healthy revenue per head of its 13-strong team.

Coolr began life by being the first company to partnership with Facebook on its Workplace platform, helping brands disrupt their internal comms. It quickly expanded to offer social media and content, helping clients rethink how they engage with consumers, and combining big agency thinking with the agility of a social publishing business.

Last year, as well as being appointed by Playtech, the world’s largest supplier of online gaming and sports betting software, as its first social agency of record, the team started working with Burger King UK as its social media partner. Coolr broke the internet with a single tweet on Burger King’s feed, commenting on Kanye West’s endorsement of McDonald’s with “Explains a lot.” The tweet is officially the most-liked branded tweet ever, with over one million likes. Other client work included launching iconic tea brand Twinings’ first cold water product, Cold In’fuse, with a clever influencer campaign that led to retailers across the UK selling out of a completely new category.

And with Workplace, it has rolled out successful programmes for clients including property management company Savill’s (creating an app to drive its people to the platform, dramatically improving engagement and communication with contractors from cleaners to security guards who are not on work email), Fremantle (connecting 3,000 people around the world, including many freelancers, for the broadcast company), King, Regatta, Value Retail and Telefonica/O2. — MPS

Octopus Group (UK/Independent)

B2B tech specialist Octopus Group has made previous appearances on our technology agency shortlists, but this year its digital smarts are well worth highlighting. Its creative, impactful digital work included creating Tudder – Tinder for cows – to match breeding livestock for the SellMyLivestock website for 42,000 UK farmers; generating more than 300 business leads from mapping executives for satellite data firm Earth-i with an award-winning LinkedIn campaign; and creating a research report for payments company Paysafe that, backed with paid and owned social, also generated business leads from leading financial organisations.

And this digital focus is a key element of an offer that is closer to fully-integrated marketing than many of its competitors: more than half its clients use Octopus for at least four service streams, and instead of competing on pure PR briefs, the agency has bet the business on fast-growth tech clients outsourcing their entire marketing stack. The gamble is paying off: as well as revenues growing 8% to break the £5m barrier, profits have doubled and the average client project size has increased by 25%, with new clients including open source software company Red Hat, automation software specialist Marketo and Travelex.

Five years ago, Octopus completely changed its proposition, reinventing itself as the ‘Brand to Sales’ marketing agency, including huge investment in developing bespoke technology for campaign pricing, planning and evaluation which means it goes well beyond media coverage metrics and into true revenue creation. Last year the team developed the Brand to Sales Academy to put everyone in its 54-strong team through bespoke training, and it’s now also putting clients through the process, with the long-term goal of making Brand to Sales a globally-recognised standard for technology marketing.

It was the last year in the business for founder and chairman Sandy Purewal, who left to start a new venture outside the PR industry. Purewal founded Octopus in 2001 along with fellow Bite account directors Billy Hamilton-Stent (now client strategy director) and Jon Lonsdale (now CEO), joined in 2004 by Pete Hendrick, now MD. To fill the gap, the agency recently created a new board-level role, hiring B2B marketing specialist Nicola Pestell as director of marketing services. — MPS

Ready10 (UK/Independent)

Ready10 is one of the very few agencies that is a genuine expert in using public relations to drive search engine optimisation. Launched in 2016 by former Frank deputy MD David Fraser to approach PR in a new way, the agency counts Paddy Power, MoneySuperMarket, Racing Post and AXA among its clients and is set to break £1m in fee income for its 2018-2019 financial year (with a brand new US office already accounting for six figure income.)

The agency’s premise is that the very best SEO results are generated by the most genuine, shareable, creative content – which PR has been doing for years – and that this is untapped by many agencies. Fraser’s belief is that PR and SEO are “the new media power couple” and that future of PR lies in the interdependence of these two disciplines, as they can achieve much higher ROI together for clients in terms of real business benefits than earned or search alone. In the past year the agency has generated over 2,800 pieces of earned media, 70% of which are linked, with almost 90% follow links.

Ready10’s headcount has increased from nine to 18 staff, including Sophie Diner (ex-Frank) and Greg Double (formerly of Synergy) joining the senior leadership team. The agency carried out an extensive values exercise with all staff last year to set its future direction during this period of rapid growth, and shows its personality through initiatives such as offering staff 13 pay days to help with the tough post-Christmas period, creating so marketers could wind up controversial commentator Piers Morgan, and announcing its win of the Destination Star Trek account with a press release in Klingon.

Stand-out work includes helping former Arsenal footballing legend Kanu mount a charity football match for his little-known Kanu Heart Foundation. The team secured design partnerships with Tinie Tempah and Mr Eazi, brokered broadcast partnerships with London Live and Arsenal Fan TV, filled the stadium with spectators, generated hundreds of pieces of branded, linked, coverage and helped to raise more than £50,000 for life-saving operations. — MPS