2020 UK PR Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke Media

2020 UK 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: Ketchum (Omnicom PR Group) 

When Ketchum promoted ballsy young corporate affairs lead Jo-ann Robertson to be the CEO of its London office at the start of 2018, the agency braced itself for (positive) disruption. During her second year in charge – including a period of maternity leave – Robertson has turned Ketchum London into what one of her senior colleagues describes as a “shining light and a cultural beacon” within the global network, bringing her personal blend of what you might call “no bull, hard graft and extreme nurturing” to her mission of being the best communications agency in London, doing work that matters.

With 210 people bringing in fees of around £30 million – with growth again at around 7% in 2019 and healthy margins – the UK represents 12-15% of Ketchum’s global business and is a global hub for a number of multi-market accounts. The agency has produced swathes of creative, impactful work over the past year for clients, with particular strengths in healthcare (including vaccine work for Sanofi and oncology work with Novartis), public affairs (including Whirlpool and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) and consumer brands. For the launch of Colgate’s new premium toothpaste, for example, the team partnered with designer Richard Quinn on the #PoutFree campaign for London Fashion Week, with models smiling rather than pouting on the catwalk. And for the launch of the Galaxy Z flip-phone for its biggest client, Samsung, it forged another fashion partnership with accessories designer Ashley Williams and influencer Pixie Geldof.

As well as intensive training and coaching to turn her cohort into true all-round consultants who “write the brief rather than take the brief”, Robertson looks after her teams, introducing a suite of new wellbeing and mental health programmes, flexible working and family- and women-friendly policies, including a menopause policy and Robertson leading by example and “leaving loudly” when she needs to collect her children from nursery. She is also committed to building a diverse and inclusive workplace, working with various partners such as Creative Equals, BME PR Pros and Future Frontiers on initiatives that bring young people from different backgrounds into the industry, including one of the few schemes to successfully integrate those with autism into the agency world, Ambitious About Autism.

Talent is another priority, with Robertson frequently taking the approach of discovering exceptional people and finding a place for them, rather than just filling vacancies. She created the role of consumer brand MD for former W Communications director Sophie Raine, for instance, to “inject some more swagger” into the London operation. Other significant new roles included MD of client experience for James Coyle, who came agency-side from Ketchum client Samsung Electronics, and an all-female strategy and creative team of Jo Tatchell and Helen Chapman from Edelman, and Kristy Holland from fellow Omnicom agency OMD. Former Ogilvy, B-M and Racepoint director Victoria Winstanley also joined as a director. – MPS



BCW’s London outpost is arguably one of the most successful stories to come out of the merger of Cohn & Wolfe and Burson-Marsteller two years ago. Globally, a huge effort has gone into creating an entirely new culture for the agency, which has blended the heritage, innovation, swagger and smarts of the legacy businesses to become an agency that, in London, feels and acts like the biggest start-up in the UK.

The agency – the second largest office in the BCW group – saw 41.6% revenue growth across its top 20 UK clients and 10% overall in its first full year as a new company, with profits up by 55%. The breadth of stand-out, award-winning work over the year ranged from an animal and human health campaign for long-term client Boehringer Ingelheim that won at Cannes, to creating stunning films with the producer of Blue Planet 2 to promote Sri Lanka as a destination.

The global BCW Moving People proposition, based on research around the “growth mindset”, is expressed through a number of proprietary tools that ensure the agency is providing the best possible service to clients and robust support for its teams. These include the Victor operating system used for client work; the Line tool used internally as a reminder to work consciously, curiously and collaboratively; influencer engagement tool Trufluence; the Hub team of creative, strategic, design, production and paid experts; and Move, which covers culture, wellbeing and training.

The London team was a key architect in all these innovations, which have been scaled across the global business. Initiatives in London that support the new BCW philosophy include the Culture Club, which helps individuals and teams make connections within the agency that not only have a positive impact on wellbeing and inclusivity, but enable cross-selling. The Writer’s Room also allows employees from any area of the business to contribute to developing big creative ideas for clients.

Growth was driven by areas included healthcare, where MD Catherine Keddie’s practice works on everything from corporate, issues and public affairs to brand storytelling through long-form documentaries. The agency’s experience in navigating digital and social in the highly-regulated pharma industry led to it working with the ABPI to shape industry guidance on code-compliant paid and earned digital creative work. The agency’s issues and public affairs team also contributed to the rise in revenue, with senior hires including Steve Hawkes, the former deputy political editor of the Sun newspaper, who came on board as head of strategic media. — MPS


Brands2Life celebrates its 20th birthday with 20 years of uninterrupted growth, and still fiercely independent. The agency founded by Giles Fraser and Sarah Scales now has 150 employees in London, San Francisco and New York, and an enviable client roster, ranging from digital leaders Groupon, Moonpig, Match and LinkedIn, to industry disruptors: Adyen, Heartflow, Ripple and Transfergo, to B2B and consumer tech players Autodesk, Cognizant, Nikon, Qlik and VMware, to corporates with purpose, such as Barclays, Vodafone, RB and Tetrapak.

With new planning, creative and marketing experts joining the agency’s PR, social and content teams, Brands2Life’s earned, paid, shared and owned campaigns in 2019 delivered more than over £3.2m in organic and new revenue, wins, leading to overall income up 10% to $21.1 million. The San Francisco team turned over $1.7m and now has 15 clients.

The firm has its roots in technology, and has developed expertise in AI, fintech, healthtech, cleantech and security, but it now also works across the business services, energy, financial services, health and wellbeing and retail and leisure sectors. The five-strong health and wellbeing team, launched in 2018, hit revenues of more than £1 million, with a client list that include 23andMe, Bayer, BBI, Heartflow, Hologic and Olympus Medical.

Ambitious, multi-channel integrated work included developing a EMEA and US social strategy, content and execution programme for LinkedIn Sales Solutions; the global Data Literacy Project for Qlik; a public affairs/PR campaign to support Tetrapak’s drive to reduce child obesity and waste; brand creative, online and social paid, corporate PR and influencer relations for Cognizant; Hologic’s multi-country brand strategy and comms programme; media, social and influencer relations across EMEA for Nikon; and media and influencer relations, brand film, paid and organic social for VMware.

The firm continues to innovate: its global network now includes independent agencies in 17 countries and new products in 2019 included influencer analysis tool Punch, corporate comms change methodology Stepchange, and a purpose proposition. The agency puts a lot of effort into developing and nurturing its people, including a plethora of work-life balance, mental health and community initiatives, and in 2019 introduced Life Loans to help its team members through big life moments. — MPS

FleishmanHillard Fishburn (Omnicom PR Group) 

Sometimes you get a successful partnership that owes as much to alchemy as strategy. Four years after their merger, it’s clear that FHF’s London leadership of CEO Jim Donaldson and deputy CEO Ali Gee have created something rather special within the FH network, building a new era for the business that’s substantially stronger and more dynamic than the sum of its legacy parts. The 300-strong UK & Ireland team in London and Bristol is now around a third bigger than it was at the time of the merger, with 20% margins and growth of close to double figures in 2019.

Much client work in London is focused on corporate and crisis, healthcare and technology, as well as public sector, manufacturing and financial services. Healthcare was a particularly strong area of growth, as were brand marketing (with a number of clients run out of London) and public affairs, which grew by 20% with plenty of Brexit-related work alongside FH’s Brussels office. The new Methods+Mastery team of social, creative and data experts led by Brandy Fleming, also had a good year. Key hires during 2019 included Red Consultancy chief digital officer Matt Park joining as head of social and innovation and Liz Willder, a former director of Teamspirit, as head of financial services.

Talent remains a major focus for FHF, with the network determined to make FH the most inclusive agency in the world. The agency introduced a “shadow board” in London to get feedback from its youngest employees, as well as a raft of apprenticeship programmes including creative apprentices, a mentoring programme, and resilience training. It also introduced a proprietary tool, Strengthscope, to help peolpe identify their strengths, increase their performance and progress their careers.

Thought leadership originating in London and now rolled out globally includes the annual Authenticity Gap study, which explores the role consumers believe businesses should play in addressing societal and political challenges. The report has driven 140+ new business opportunities globally. FHF houses FH’s centre of excellence for analytics and research, True Global Intelligence, and rolled out research covering areas from technology to Gen Z. London is also one of the leading offices in the network’s OpenPride LGBTQ+ group and its Omniwomen group to empower female leadership. — MPS

Grayling (Huntsworth) 

The news that Grayling picked up the multi-market Huawei consumer account felt like a watershed moment for Huntsworth’s full-service public relations shop, testament to the work chief executive Sarah Scholefield and chairman Richard Jukes had done over the past couple of years turning a once-troubled operation around (Scholefield and Jukes were rewarded this year with elevation to equivalent roles leading the entire European network). It kicked off a year during which top-tier clients—Amadeus, Associated British Foods, Kingspan, Stars Group and Visa—grew significantly, while additional new business came from Lloyds Banking Group, dating site Badoo, Red Bull, easyJet Holidays, IGT and Wish joining a roster that includes Fujitsu, Hilton, BT, British Sugar, United Health Group, Calor and more.

Overall, the UK business grew by 20% in 2019, ending the year with a team of about 150 working on more than £10 million of business, spread across a unique regional network that includes offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester, Southampton, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as the London headquarters. Jonathan Curtis took the helm as managing director for the UK and Ireland, leading a team that includes head of corporate Tom Nutt, head of consumer Estelle Boon, and head of public affairs Alan Boyd-Hall. Those three lead the three core practices, but Grayling’s UK operation also features two specialist groups: media and politics unit Metis and creative studio Ignite.

For Visa, the firm worked on “#WhereYouShopMatters,” calling on Britain's shopkeepers to create copycat versions of Visa’s Christmas advert in celebration of the unsung heroes of the Great British High Street. For the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, the firm coordinated global communications for World Malaria Day and provided tools for members of the partnership to get involved at a local and global level. And for Huawei, Grayling launched the first flagship phone since the US restricted the company’s access to Google and Android, maintaning positive coverage amid a challenging political context.—PH