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As industry success stories go, few are quite as beguiling as W, which Warren Johnson founded in 2009 and has since grown to a $14m firm numbers almost 100 people across offices in London, Newcastle, Singapore and (new in 2019) Kuala Lumpur. Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit continue to guide W’s evolution, which has included diversification into B2B and tech; regional expansion to the North of England; acquisition of travel specialist Lotus in 2018 and, most recently, investment in restaurants, bars and hotels with W Hospitality.
All of which also reflects Johnson’s penchant for savvy dealmaking, but that has been accompanied in recent years by a welcome focus on social mobility and talent. In 2019, Johnson and Zoe Stafford launched the WX social enterprise to help make the industry less exclusive and more diverse by bringing in 18-21 year-olds that would typically be overlooked by PR firms. So far, five candidates have started the programme, with the second phase of recruitment now underway, using schools and college outreach to turn PR into a more aspirational career choice for young, diverse talent.
In addition to Stafford, Johnson is supported by a leadership team that includes ECD Mark Perkins, who has overseen an impressive lift in the firm’s creative standards. And while CEO Adam Mack left mid-year, that did not appear to slow W’s stride, with the firm growing by more than 50% in 2019, bolstered by new business from Royal Caribbean, Jaguar Land Rover, the Children’s Society, LW Theatres, Kapten, Saville’s Graze and LabTech. They join a client roster that already features Unilever, BA, Adidas, Spotify, Evening Standard, MoneySuperMarket, Stylist Media, IHG, Levi’s and Camden Town Brewery.
W’s diversification into corporate, hospitality and live events was extended in 2019 by the creation of W Studio, as a multi-disciplinary creative team that has developed global TVCs for Unilever and social strategy and digital apps for the likes of Levi’s and the Children’s Society. That paid off with some impressive work for Papa John’s (the first pizza with bees to help promote wildflower seeds); the Children’s Society (a walk-in store that served as a physical manifestation of the findings from the Good Childhood Report); and Jaguar Land Rover (a campaign to promote International Women in Engineering Day.) — AS
Cirkle entered 2019 with a challenge: its positioning as the UK’s go-to agency for food and beverage, meant that client conflicts were becoming commonplace. The 20-year-old agency responded by focusing on expanding its retail and lifestyle brand portfolio, and this led to one of its most successful new business years ever: Cirkle picked up new work for the likes of Caffé Nero, Pets At Home and Oak Furnitureland, as well as Gu, Bear Nibbles, Urban Fruit and other leading food and beverage brands. They joined the likes of Birds Eye, Morrisons, GSK, Britvic, PepsiCo, Premier Foods, Ferrero, Energizer, Aunt Bessie’s and the Happy Egg Co in Cirkle’s client portfolio, contributing to 6% growth to fee income of £3.7m and margins of 27%.
After hiring Ruth Kieran from Text100 as her new managing director in 2018, 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 40 staff now having a stake in 60% of the company. In 2019, the agency continued its management revamp, with Kieran promoted to CEO, and other senior staffers promoted into new managing partner roles to support her.
On a mission to add value, the agency’s ‘Incubator’ service helps feed clients’ product innovation pipelines: Morrisons sold out of its Halloween ‘Pizza Roulette’, while orders for Birds Eye’s ‘The Captains’ Calendar’ and ‘Ahoy!’ (Captain Birds Eye’s first men’s fragrance) outstripped KPIs. And its new, broader positioning was underlined with thought leadership including the ‘Convenience Today/Convenience Tomorrow’ retail summit on trends impacting the convenience store retail sector.
The agency prides itself on its wellbeing initiatives for staff: during 2019 it started running wellbeing days (including meditation with a Buddhist monk), resilience workshops and physical challenges. It also introduced more ‘Diversity of Thought’ initiatives, including getting involved with BME PR Pros’ Blueprint Advisory Board and Career Ready, getting disadvantaged teens ready for the workplace. — MPS
Andrew Bloch describes the year after his Frank co-founder Graham Goodkind stepped back into the role of chairman as “taking the car keys off dad and trying not to crash the Range Rover.” After a few flat years at the once-iconic agency, the leadership team of Bloch and Alex Grier has indeed taken Frank on another successful leg of its journey in its 20th year in business.
In 2019, fee income was on the up – by 5% to just shy of £6 million – and headcount was up by 10% to 52 as the duo reinvigorated the agency’s Talkability proposition. Frank starting winning huge pitches for enviable brands again, and was back on awards shortlists for its creative work. The 20 new clients picked up last year included Burger King (for which it worked on the Meltdown campaign to put an end to plastic toys in kids’ meals), Aldi, KLM and Weetabix. The agency also works with the likes of Diet Coke, Direct Line, Rimmel, Volvo, Deliveroo and Pernod Ricard.
By April this year, Bloch felt the agency’s trajectory was so safe in Grier’s hands, he also stepped back into a non-executive role, although he will still look after the agency’s long-standing relationship with Lord Sugar.
Stand-out work over the year included Atom Bank’s first advertising campaign, the Soldiers of Sacrifice campaign for the D-Day Story museum in Portsmouth, the London Lights campaign for Huawei and working with Lewis Pugh on his historic swim under the Antarctic ice sheet to highlight the effects of climate change. — MPS
Now nine years old, consumer brand agency Hope&Glory has 75 people in its team generating income of £8.8 million, and shows no sign of losing its creative edge (it scored five SABRE EMEA nominations this year) or slowing down on growth. And you don’t increase fee income by 25% for yet another year or achieve a 22% margin by resting on your laurels: founders Jo Carr and James Gordon-MacIntosh believe that the greatest risk to the agency as it grows is a gradual drop in standards, and in 2019 it put in place a raft of new measures to ensure the agency is well-managed, doing the best work for clients, and that its people are happy.
In 2019, Hope&Glory revamped its management team, as the structure of two managing partners was no longer sustainable. It introduced joint MDs (Seb Dilleyston and Anna Terrell, long-term members of the team), while Carr and Gordon-MacIntosh stepped into the new roles of chief client officer and chief creative officer. Its intern programme continued to be the bedrock of Hope&Glory’s development: 30% of the team started as interns, with one now the agency’s youngest associate director, seven years on. No one left for other agencies in 2019, and the agency’s culture and benefits ensured that its people are doing “the best work of their career” and that 100% would recommend it as an employer
The agency maintained long-term relationships with clients such as O2 (eight years), HTC, IKEA, Airbnb, Barclays, The Royal Mint, Sony (seven years) and adidas (five years). In terms of new business, Hope&Glory focused on brands it felt it could make a difference to and that its team would thrive working with. The team uses “fun, fame and fortune” as filters: it requires two of the three to pitch and one of those doesn’t have to be fortune. As a result, Hope&Glory turned down almost twice as many pitches as it went after. But it also hit an 80% win rate, picking up new clients including the coveted Sainsbury’s food and drink and brand accounts, brand work for Guinness, including its rugby sponsorships, video games giant Bethesda, Tourism Australia, HMV, Taco Bell, American Airlines, Paddy Power, Sky Sports, Hotels.com, Facebook Watch, Instagram, StubHub, Calm, Reebok, Trainline.com, Cineworld and British Airways.
The team created a broad range of campaigns across advertising, content, experiential, digital and influencers, including The Meat Free Butcher for Sainsbury’s, which contributed to a 10% sales uplift, IKEA’s first Christmas ad, a new community of photographers for Sony’s Alpha range of cameras and the team’s first pan-European integrated campaign for Hotels.com. – MPS
Taylor Herring (UK/Independent)
It was another vintage year for Taylor Herring, the creative consumer agency founded by husband and wife team James Herring and Cath Taylor in 2001. Their 25-strong team, including ECD Peter Mountstevens, associate director Sam Corry and new head of strategy Kat Dare, 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 campaign it ran for baker Gregg’s last year.
This innovative approach led to year-on-year growth of 13% in its PR income to just over £2 million, working with clients including BBC Worldwide, Boden, Coca Cola, Channel 4, Diageo, Disney, easyJet, Iceland Foods, Innocent, Kellogg’s, Lego, Paddy Power, Samsung, Sky and UKTV. Stand-out campaigns over the year included its ambitious integrated campaign for the launch of the Samsung S20 mobile, including a secret Lewis Capaldi gig, a big screen live feed to shopping centres across the UK, a Facebook live stream, in-store activations, cab wraps and social content for Instagram and YouTube.
The agency is passionate about earned media, but investing in creative craft has also been key to its success. 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, which is now contributing significant levels of income. 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
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