2020 Public Affairs Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke
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2020 Public Affairs 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 winners here.

Winner: FTI Strategic Communications (FTI Consulting) 

The strategic communications segment of FTI Consulting’s business saw very healthy 8.8% growth in 2019, fueled by a particularly strong fourth quarter; a solid core of crisis communications, public affairs, capital markets communications and special; as well as growth in specialist areas such as litigation support. Strategic communications now accounts for $243 million of the consulting firm’s advisory business, which also includes corporate finance and restructuring, economic consulting, and forensic and litigation services and which grew large enough to join the Fortune 1000 last year.

In EMEA, the Brussels public affairs team has grown from around 20 at acquisition to 90 people today, probably the largest public affairs team in the European capital, supplemented by public affairs practices in Paris, London, Berlin, and Dubai, and—new in 2019—a Madrid presence. Sector expertise spans energy, transport and the environment (Anglo-American and ExxonMobil are key clients); technology (Amazon, Netflix, and the Fair Standards Alliance); financial services (Mastercard, Vanguard); and healthcare (Biogen, BMS, Novartis). New business came from Chemours (protecting the chemical company’s licence to operate in EU); Facebook (navigating policy conversations in the tech space and broader socio-economic spectrum); Payments Europe (setting up and managing a new industry coalition); and CRISPR Therapeutics (EU PA).

Brussels office founder Julia Harrison was appointed global head of public affairs last year and will oversee an integrated offering for clients navigating political and regulatory oversight and complex business issues, working across sectors and geographies. Senior managing director Hans Hack, part of the Brussels leadership team for six years will take over the operation there. Elsewhere the leadership team remains strong with Lutz Golsch (Germany), Alex Deane (London), and Maria Cohn (Dubai) remaining in place, Carlos Ochoa relocating from Brussels to Madrid. New hires included Helen Nowicka and Martin Porter, strengthening the firm’s sustainability practice.—PH


Finalists

FleishmanHillard (Omnicom PR Group)

FleishmanHillard’s public affairs experts in EMEA saw a solid increase in work during 2019, particularly in the combined team across Brussels, Berlin and FleishmanHillard Fishburn in London.

Public affairs work in Europe was, naturally enough, dominated by Brexit in 2019. The Brussels and London teams worked together to develop a full Brexit package to advise on transition, analysis of the negotiations, and how to advocate to policy makers. They supported a number of high-profile clients, including financial services institutions (a particular strength for the Brussels team), who had concerns about adapting to a European Union that did not include the UK, and produced extensive thought leadership in this area, including more than 50 pieces of content and video explaining political priorities for different sectors.

Climate change was another big theme, including the EU Green Deal and sustainability, which resulted in plenty of work advising energy and chemical companies and financial institutions unsure about what now constitutes a green investment; the team worked with asset managers to drive the debate forward with policy makers. In terms of leadership changes, former European Commission cabinet member Mette Grolleman took on the role of general manager in Brussels in May 2019 after two years with the firm, and was joined by former European Parliament advisor Anna Davreux as SVP in the financial services practice. — MPS

Grayling (Huntsworth)

Public affairs is only one pillar of Grayling’s business in Europe (the firm also works in the consumer and corporate space), but it has been the strongest performing pillar over the past couple of years, with both the UK and Brussels business demonstrating healthy growth, much of it driven by the firm’s thought leadership on Brexit-related issues, benefiting from its ability to bring together dedicated public affairs specialists from every EU country to share their perspective. The two major offices are supported by PA experts in Grayling’s other operations—the former Mmd, which had operations in Central and Eastern Europe, was focused primarily on public affairs—bringing the European team to more than 100.

The firm’s public affairs leadership begins with chairman Richard Jukes, a veteran public affairs strategist; Russell Patten, CEO of the Brussels office and chairman of European public affairs;; and Alan Boyd-Hall, who leads public affairs in the UK, while public affairs Jonathan Curtis was named managing director of Grayling UK at the end of the year. Ben Gascoigne, former special advisor to Boris Johnson, joined from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the beginning of 2019 as director.

But the big story at Grayling in 2019 was stronger integration and collaboration, not only across geographies (Jukes and UK chief executive Sarah Scholefield were appointed chair and CEO respectively for the EMEA region and have been building on the firm’s local market strengths while driving more multi-market assignments) but also across practice areas, with public affairs and corporate affairs in particular working more closely together and the Grayling Ignite creative team working across practices to deliver big ideas and multi-channel content. Major clients like Visa, Amadeus, Kingspan, Star Group, and Associated British Foods expanded their relationships with the firm, and there was new business from Huawei, Lloyds Banking Group, Sky, Roche, KFC, British Sugar, Red Bull and Badoo, among others.—PH

Interel (Independent) 

Interel quadrupled in size during the 12-year tenure of Frederik Lofthagen, both growing its base in Brussels—where it was founded—and expanding internationally, most notably through the 2017 acquisition of US advocacy firm Association Management Group in Washington, DC, a move that led to co-headquarters in the US capital and also, it appears, a slight loss of focus. So when Lofthagen left the firm in June, the new leadership team—helmed by Gregoire Poisson, former managing director of the EU public affairs practice—was quick to put the focus back on the core business, and Poisson is clear about the firm’s mission: “We want to be the leading European public affairs consultancy,” he says.

With 110 people in Brussels, London, and Paris (and additional offices in DC, India and Hong Kong), and fee income up by about 6% last year to €13.5 million (more than €10 million of that in Europe) the firm has a solid foundation on which to achieve that mission. Senior talent includes Geoffrey Ghyoot, now promoted to COO as well as CFO; managing partner for London George McGregor; French managing partner Florence Maisel; and Julie Cooper, who managed to the healthcare practice and also runs Interel’s Global Health Network. New in 2019 was Florence Muls, who joined from Brussels Airport Company as managing director for Interel Belgium.

The firm’s sector expertise spans healthcare, food and beverage, entertainment, energy, and technology, and there were new business success spanning all of those areas in 2019, including Budweiser/AB Inbev, Johnson & Johnson, Eaton, Kindred Group, Medtronic, GW Pharma, Nestlé Purina, Netflix and Pinterest. They join an enviable roster that includes Alibaba, Coca-Cola, Danone, Ecolab, Expedia, Gilead, Intel, L’Oréal, SAP and Sony. Major assignments included work for the Nobody Left Outside initiative by MSD, seeking health solutions for marginalised and underserved groups, including LGTBI, sex workers, migrants, homeless, people who inject drugs, and prisoners, and Ecolab’s focus on sustainable water use, educating the public and political leaders with data on water use and potential energy savings.—PH

PLMR (UK/Independent) 

Founded in 2006 by former Labour Party councillor and parliamentary candidate Kevin Craig, PLMR has evolved from a one-man business to a 46-strong agency serving FTSE 100 companies and pursuing fast regional growth across the UK. As well as offices in the UK politics heartlands of Westminster and Glasgow, in 2019 Craig and his MD, Elin de Zoete, launched a full-service proposition in the Midlands and the East of England, achieving triple-digit revenue growth in those markets.

Its top five clients have all been with the agency for nearly a decade, with top-line growth in fees year on year. Overall, revenue grew nearly 8% to well over £5 million in 2019. Growth was driven by strong performance in core areas of the business including health and social care, education communications, and energy and sustainability. New clients ranged from Lidl to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to the London School of Economics, joining the likes of Reckitt Benckiser, grassroots campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, Gumtree, Centrica and the Battersea Power Station development.

To support the volume of Brexit-related work over the year, the agency hired Finn McGoldrick, a former senior official within the Labour Party. PLMR also developed a digital public consultation tool, Mapdragon, allowing clients including Westminster City Council and Spitfire Homes to more effectively engage with the public about new planning submissions, gather their feedback, and share the results with media and legislators. In 2019 PLMR launched two internal training academies and sent its entire operational board to Harvard Business School. The agency has a reputation for being a hard agency for recruiters to tempt staff away from, and has always had a philanthropic streak, donating 5% of profits to charity from day one. — MPS