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AxiCom’s shortlisting is well-deserved after a stellar year, but also poignant, after much-loved European president Henry Brake died suddenly in February. Brake joined AxiCom as an account executive in 1999, and over his 20 years with the firm had managed some of the agency’s largest and most disruptive technology clients. He was pivotal to AxiCom’s rebrand and growth as the agency celebrated its 25th anniversary, and had a lasting influence on everyone he worked with.
Brake’s long-time leadership partner in the region, UK managing director Kate Stevens, has stepped up to take his vision for the company forward. The EMEA team at WPP’s specialist technology agency now numbers more than 100 across London, Munich, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Amsterdam and Stockholm. Staff retention is high, as you might expect from an agency with such a distinct culture, and country leaders have all been with the firm for an average of nearly 16 years.
AxiCom has been around as long as Netscape and the PlayStation, but has managed to remain at the forefront of the tech and digital industry, evolving from PR specialists into a multi-skilled workforce with growing capabilities in content, video, user experience, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and wearables.
The agency works with tech industry giants including HMD (Nokia), Dell EMC and Kantar, as well as business applications and dynamic disruptors such as Kaspersky and Roku. Over the past 12 months, growth was underpinned by new briefs from major global platforms, hardware and software companies. To meet the expanding PESO needs of this client roster, in 2019, AxiCom formed a specialist digital marketing team and hired a creative content manager. The agency is also starting to go well beyond the traditional tech PR realm, with highlights in 2019 including its award-winning work for the charity Future Men, which sparked discussions on what it means to be a man, and how negative perceptions of masculinity have a detrimental impact on society. — MPS
You could say specialist technology agency CCgroup has been on something of a rollercoaster over the past few years. CEO and self-confessed telco geek Richard Fogg bought the agency in an MBO with chief client officer Paul Nolan in 2012, and together they reinvigorated the 30-year-old firm. In the first four years post-MBO, CCgroup doubled in size. But the final year of transition, 2018, was tough. Revenues shrank by 8%, profit was hit hard, over-servicing was rife, a new B2B marketing intelligence venture, Aperture, failed, and morale across the agency was low.
In 2019, however, the agency unequivocally got its mojo back: focusing on business results for clients increased satisfaction, and six-figure client wins and new services drove revenue growth of 31% to £4 million for the first time, with margins of 26%. Most importantly, for Fogg, the launch of a suite of wellbeing initiatives – including generous sabbaticals and one of the most comprehensive programmes of mental health support in the industry – resigning unprofitable clients, boosting diversity (the senior leadership team is now 55% female and the agency is ahead of the industry on BAME employees) and investing heavily in training meant that the agency dramatically increased team happiness, from a low of 3.2/5 in 2018 to 4.2/5 by the end of 2019.
The agency was only aiming to increase income by 7.5% during 2019, but its refreshed mindset meant the work came in thick and fast from every one of CCgroup’s revenue streams: the new enterprise technology division grew rapidly to break £1 million in fees; the analyst relations practice led by Duncan Chapple contributed 8%, the agency’s US office now contributes 10% of revenue, and fintech, led by Daniel Lowther, was another stand-out performer: the agency has such a good reputation in this sector, it no longer needs to pitch for fintech clients. Growth also came from mobile, media tech and new verticals like legaltech, transport tech and retail technology.
Client highlights over the year included the launch of new payments company Tribe – shortlisted for a SABRE – where the team’s creative approach led to more than 150 marketing qualified leads which immediately started converting to new business. — MPS
After five years of impressive progress, the “two Toms” at the helm of independent, proudly B2B agency Chameleon – Berry and Buttle – were conscious that they did not want to get too obsessive about the numbers, or lose direction. They set themselves the goal of achieving “good growth”: putting people, mental health and culture above outright profit. The firm has been owned by Berry and Buttle since their MBO in 2017. Last year, the team shook up the leadership structure, with CEO Berry becoming chairman of the business as he started a parallel career as a secondary school teacher. Buttle moved up from managing director to CEO, supported by a senior management team of Liz Walker, Jasmin Athwal and Theresa Meredith-Hardy, who have taken on significant responsibilities for business operations, service development and business development.
Against all of this, Chameleon still managed to grow the business by more than 12% to £2.3 million and retained 20% profitability while sharing 15% of profits, making 2019 an unprecedented year in terms of pulling off the neat trick of having a happy team, happy clients and good numbers, all at the same time.
Chameleon has become a trusted business and communications partner for an impressive client list of billion-dollar tech companies around the world – including Gartner; Workday and Hootsuite – and continues to punch well above its weight for a team of only 20. The small but mighty agency also picked up work from LinkedIn, Silicon Valley Bank; intellectual property software leader CPA Global and Temporall, an “organisational intelligence” brand from former Google leadership. Despite working for tech companies from Silicon Valley to Seattle, Chameleon doesn’t have a US office, instead building a network of like-minded, independent technology agencies across the US, EMEA and AsiaPac.
The team’s deep understanding of technology is matched by its focus on doing work that goes beyond comms and makes a measurable difference to clients’ businesses. They are also embedded in the tech industry: Berry sits on the board of ClubCISO, the association of Chief Information Security Officers, while Buttle is on the board of new organisation Data Journeys, a community of data leaders from around the world. — MPS
Hotwire was notably absent from the technology shortlist last year, after a couple of years of consolidation and integration following the firm’s acquisition of CEO Barbara Bates’ West Coast agency Eastwick in 2016. In 2019, however, the agency was back with a vengeance, with the first double-digit growth in the UK (10%) and solid growth across its European offices in Paris, Munich, Frankfurt (Germany revenue was up 9%), Milan and Madrid; total EMEA revenue for the year came in at over $21 million.
Technology remains the cornerstone of the 20-year-old business, from hardware to software, mainframe to cloud, desktop to mobile. From its B2B foundations, Hotwire now looks after clients in every consumer tech segment, including Facebook, Adobe, Twitter, Eaton, Qualcomm, Pinterest, Mcafee, LinkedIn and Zoom, on areas from media relations and corporate communications to digital marketing and brand strategy. Its biggest client from three years ago is now its seventh biggest, as the agency continues to win bigger, multi-country accounts.
In July last year, Hotwire brought former Text100 UK lead Tara O’Donnell on board as UK managing director. O’Donnell joined the six-person global leadership team, which also includes Bates, CFO Adrian Talbot and chief development officer Andy West, and says she was impressed from the start by the agency’s transparency, culture and flat structure.
Other significant hires over the year included Ute Hildebrandt as Germany MD and Chris Paxton as chief strategy officer. Paxton – who also joined the global leadership team – and his new insights team have invested in building a technology stack that combines human insight with machine learning to help clients understand audiences, brand positioning, market sector, competitive landscape, social profile and media reputation. Thought leadership centred on the Generation Alpha and High Stakes Leadership Reports, which yielded more than 500 marketing qualified leads. The agency’s people and culture team launched a global Employee Value Proposition during 2019 which resulted in a big uplift in the agency’s retention rate, to 84%, and a placing in the Sunday Times Small Business Best Places to Work ranking. — MPS
Nine years after it merged with fellow tech specialist EML, Wildfire has typically presented itself as a solid, profitable B2B tech agency. But growth had flatlined amid a declining win rate and stagnant client fees. By 2018, the firm was searching for inspiration, with MD Debby Penton keen to turn Wildfire into one of the UK’s hottest tech firms. Thankfully, fortune favours the brave — a new Think.Bold ethos was rolled out to inform the agency’s values, focused on challenging the status quo rather than settling for the tried and tested strategies that had delivered a stable base of 25 clients and 25 staffers.
It’s fair to say that Penton’s leadership has been crucial to the success of Wildfire’s repositioning, following the exit and semi-retirement of the firm’s two founders in 2017. In 12 months, Wildfire added £400k in new fees, underpinning 30% fee income grwoth to £2.5m at a profit margin of 27%. There was new business from various sectors including enterprise IT (Exasol, Rapid7), electronics/engineering (CamLine, Vicon, Xmos), martech (Contentsquare, Emarsys, Magnolia CMS) and consumer tech. They join Wildfire’s existing 25-strong client roster, which features Poly, NTT Data, Acrhonix, Samsung, Episerver, Qualtrics, Bellabeat, Blue Microphones and Cello.
The firm’s new ethos involved more than just rhetoric, naturally. There were new training programmes, a new pitching approach, and a much clearer focus on client development and satisfaction. Those were supported by expanded services across content marketing, B2B influencer, social support and analyst relations. Campaign highlights included the merger of Plantronics and Polycom, using the 1969 moon landing to celebrate the brands’ innovation. In addition, Wildfire newsjacked the end of Windows 7 for IT supplier Kollective, and helped NTT Data build brand recognition in the UK. — AS
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