2020 Pan-EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke
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2020 Pan-EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year

The 2020 EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 200 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the UK, Europe the Middle East and Africa. Analysis of each of the finalists across 20 geographic and specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are unveiled at the 2020 EMEA SABRE Awards, which will be taking place virtually, with details forthcoming soon.

You can find the 2020 SABRE Awards EMEA finalists here.

Finalists

BCW (WPP)

Two years after the merger of Cohn & Wolfe and Burson-Marsteller to create BCW, more than 1,000 colleagues in 22 offices across 15 Europe and Africa markets have built a new PR powerhouse with a fresh, collaborative culture that has led to it becoming one of the most creative networks in the region under the considered leadership of Europe & Africa president Scott Wilson.

There was low single digit growth across Europe & Africa in 2019, driven by particularly strong performances in areas such as public affairs and healthcare, but a 29% uptick in operating profit. Many markets outperformed the region as a whole: income was up by nearly 30% in Sweden (shortlisted for best agency in the Nordics), 8.4% in London (shortlisted as best UK agency), 7% in Turkey and 6% in Brussels. The French operation (shortlisted for best agency in France) also had a fifth consecutive year of growth.

Client wins across the region included Amex and TikTok in Italy, Accor in France, Facebook across Europe, Alibaba in five markets, and Bosch and Novartis in Germany. There was also significant organic growth from clients including Huawei, Unilever, Bayer, Gilead and Nike. New offerings across Europe included sports consultancy BCW Eventus, BCW Cybertree, where data security meets issues and crisis, and BCW Nexus, a new public affairs proposition.

The agency was again one of our most-shortlisted agencies in this year’s SABRE Awards, with 14 campaign nominations in Europe and Africa. Stand-out work included the ‘50 Shades of Rugby’ campaign for the French Rugby National League and the French Rugby Federation and ‘The Sound of Drowning’ with Swedish insurance company Trygg-Hansa. — MPS

Edelman (DJE Holdings)

The appointment in September of longtime UK chief executive Ed Williams to head the EMEA region appears to have brough a fresh perspective, with greater collaboration across the firm’s European operations. That means progressing beyond the firm’s “centers of excellence” strategy—which saw many offices focused on specific areas of expertise—to greater integration, and hopefully a stronger culture. The change feels palpable already, although the numbers have only just begun to turn around: up 2.4% (after a couple of years of stagnation and decline) to around $188 million.

There have been several other key people moves, with former Dutch CEO AJ Hesselink elevated to chief operations officer for the region (responsible for driving much of the integration and standardizing best practices) and Steven Heywood taking over as general manager in Amsterdam. In addition, Gurpreet Brar was named global COO of the public affairs practice and Hugh Taggart was named global crisis chair. New additions included Christiane Schulz (who previously held a similar role with Weber Shandwick) and CEO of Edelman Germany; Bärbel Hestert-Vecoli (another Weber veteran) as head of corporate reputation in Germany; and Megan Van Someren (formerly of JWT) as global head of food and beverage and global brand chair.

After withdrawing from several markets in recent years, Edelman now has a presence in seven markets in Europe (the UK and Ireland, the Netherlands, Brussels, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy), with two additional offices in the Middle East (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) and African (Johannesburg and Nairobi), supplemented by 23 affiliates. The Benelux region was a top performer (up by about 18%), while South Africa grew by better than 20% and the UK & Ireland—which still accounts for about half of the region’s revenue—also enjoyed high single-digit growth.

Major regional new business came from Beyond Meat, DP World, Deep River Rock, FedEx, Iberostar, Mars Petcare and Pfizer, while there were a host of UK new business too, from ABB, Birra Moretti, Microsoft, Novo Nordisk, and Samsung. Great work included helping Shell to open up and answer tough questions from stakeholders; the “Stronger than Violence” anti-domestic violence campaign for the German Ministry of Family Affairs; the “Eternal Run” campaign for Asics; and “Sounds of Home” influencer marketing effort for HSBC. And of course the firm continues to produce and build on its Trust Barometer thought leadership platform, most notably with focused research on trust and the Covid-19 crisis. The firm has also been investing in AI, influencer marketing, and predictive intelligence tools.—PH

H+K Strategies (WPP) 

Our EMEA Network of the Year in three of the past four years, Hill+Knowlton Strategies is a strong contender once again after a 2019 that saw senior leadership changes at the global level prompt the return to a regional leadership role for Lars Erik Grønntun, who now leads the firm’s entire international portfolio and who presided over yet another impressive year in EMEA, where the firm’s revenues increased by 8.5%, its profit margins were stronger than ever, and its new business conversion rate was better than 75%.

One indication of the firm’s strength in the region is that it experienced growth across 16 markets (and that’s counting the booming Middle East as a single market), resulting in H+K being named a finalist for Consultancy of the Year in three markets (Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Russia/CIS). Hill+Knowlton adopted its distinctive “5+5”structure two years ago, dividing the business into five key national markets (the UK and Germany among them) and five “clusters” (including continental Europe, the Nordics, and METIA, which spans Turkey and India as well as the Middle East).

Both the UK and Germany have relatively new leadership in place, with Simon Whitehead taking over as managing director in the UK at the end of 2018 (after the departure of Richard Millar to take over the ailing US operation) and Edelman veteran Susan Marell joining early this year as chairman and CEO of Germany. Meanwhile, the continental European operation is led by co-CEOs Melanie Faithfull Kent and Ingo Heijnen. There are new CEOs in Russia (Maria Kuzkina) and France (Valeria Lecasble), while FTI veteran George Candon was named strategy director in Brussels; Jann Eicker joined from Engine Group as chief creative strategy officer in Germany; Claire Holden was promoted to chief innovation officer in London; and Noor Kheir was tapped as managing director of the blended WPP team leading the Ford business in Europe.

New business came from ADNOC, Arcelor Mittal, Cotton Council International, Mubadala, Mylan, Pfizer, Ring Central, Telefonica, Tencent, and Verisign, while existing clients such as adidas, Activision, Dell, Ford, Huawei, LG, Procter & Gamble, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Spotify and Takeda also provided growth. Great work included 11 finalists in the EMEA region SABRE competition, ranging from increasing voter turnout in the European election in Lithuania on behalf of the European Parliament Liaison Office to promoting smart energy for Smart Energy GB, from launching a unique credit card with a carbon footprint measuring tool for Doconomy to celebrating Father’s Day with Gillette.—PH


Ogilvy (WPP)

After the venerable Ogilvy brand underwent the “re-founding” in 2018 that saw the elimination of its specialist businesses, including Ogilvy Public Relations, there were concerns that PR might be reduced to a supporting role. However, in 2019 it became clear that the new PR & influence capability is now firmly at the heart of Ogilvy’s work across the region. The ‘One Ogilvy’ model also means that the PR & influence team has access to talent from across the agency, from advertising creatives to behavioural scientists.

Gauging income for PR alone when there is now one P&L across the business globally is tricky, but big accounts – including TK Maxx, HSBC, Johnson & Johnson, and Ford – led to revenue growth of nearly 8% across EMEA. In fact, PR & influence – with around 3,500 staffers across EMEA – was one of the only Ogilvy disciplines that delivered topline growth.

The multi-market Bacardi account hubbed out of London (which led to PR fees jumping by nearly 30% in 2018) continued to be one of the jewels in Ogilvy’s crown, becoming the biggest client for Ogilvy in Italy, Germany and France. The agency’s mean pitch conversion rate for around 250 pitches a year across EMEA is 65%, rising to 75% in Ireland.

In London – where Ogilvy has 140 PR & influence staffers, including bespoke teams for the likes of Boots – the agency feels particularly transformed, thanks to the arrival of Matt Buchanan from One Green Bean as UK managing director in February 2019. Buchanan has imbued the London team with energy and confidence, and brought a level of intimacy and an attractive small-agency scrappiness to what has often been viewed as something of an expensive, cumbersome machine.

Leadership in the region was also bolstered by the promotion of 15-year Ogilvy veteran Joanna Oosthuizen, COO of the South Africa operation to director of the public relations and influence capability across EMEA. Overall, Ogilvy's PR operation can confidently say it’s in the best place the network has been for around 15 years. — MPS

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic)

Another year of high single-digit growth in 2019, and Weber Shandwick continued a hot streak: 26 consecutive quarters of growth, starting at the beginning of 2015. Significantly, the firm’s top 40 clients grew by 25% in 2019 (they now account for more than 50% of revenues in the region), growth driven by the firm’s EMEA client experience programme, focused on providing support for client partners and driving integration solutions and increasd diversification. The growth last year came from Age UK, Atento, Disney, DocuSign, eBay, EuroClear, Hilton, Iberdola, L’Oreal, Mastercard, Mondelez, National Grid, Netflix, Nomad Foods, Selfridges, and TikTok.

The firm’s success in the region has been driven by a consistent strategy of expanding the definition of public relations—it moved to “value-based communities” dedicated to client experience, insights, integrated media and content in 2017—and has made a series of acquisitions to strengthen both digital capabilities (Flipside) and strategic counseling (United Minds). At the same time it has been innovating at pace, developing a suite of high-impact solutions, including a new suite of digital solutions tailored to healthcare clients and a burgeoning network of sustainability experts across the region.

The work is driven, increasingly, by a mantra of “make it real” (focusing on ideas that are relevant to the brand or company and credible with key stakeholders), “make it stick” (newsworthiness combined with cultural relevance), and “make it real” (data driven, and impact evaluated). That work garnered six SABRE nominations around the region in 2019, ranging from “Checkouts of Thanks,” a campaign for the European Container Glass Federation led out of Brussels to the “Dream Big” campaign for the Caledonian Sleeper led by the firm’s Scottish operation, to “The Edible Country” campaign for Visit Sweden created by Prime Weber Shandwick; from sustainability work for Nespresso to a campaign to end hunger for Bayer.

And while there have been changes at the top—the departure of UK chief executive Rachel Friend and the impending exit of EMEA chairman Tim Sutton—the firm continues to both develop and attract new talent. Helen Bennett was named to take over as managing director of the London office, with Heather Blundell taking the reins in Manchester and Natalie Buxton helming the Scottish operation; Ilan Schäfer, previously managing director of VCCP Berlin, was named CEO of Germany; Mónica Vicente Cristina was promoted to managing director in Brussels; and Ipi Thibedi, a veteran of Deloitte, was appointed to lead the firm’s South African operations.—PH