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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, in 2019 Johnson was supported by a leadership team including ECD Mark Perkins, who oversaw an impressive lift in the firm’s creative standards before returning to Cow in late 2020. And while previous CEO Adam Mack left mid-2019 – new CEO Rachel Friend joined from Weber Shandwick in June 2020 – that did not appear to slow W’s stride, with the firm growing by more than 50% in 2019. This was 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
Interpublic agency DeVries Global launched its Asia-Pacific operations in 2012, carving out P&G business from sister firm Weber Shandwick to help fuel its initial expansion in China and Singapore. Now under the leadership of Darren Burns, who took over from Andres Vejarano, the firm has transformed its offering to notable effect in recent years — diversifying its client base to move into such areas to automotive, travel, retail, technology and healthcare. Those efforts have been bolstered by the establishment of a social commerce and marketing innovation hub at its Shanghai office, alongside a creative studio in Singapore, which together underpin an offering that focuses on ‘cultural communications.’
DeVries remains well placed for this shift, thanks to its midsize footprint and focus on consumer marketing. The firm numbers 100 people in Asia-Pacific, with revenues up 11% in 2019 to to more than $13m, accounting for a third of its global revenue. There are 70 staffers in China (+10% in 2019), along with 15 in Taiwan (+8%) and 20 in Singapore (+14%).
While DeVries’ US operation has suffered from the loss of P&G, the FMCG giant remains a key client in Asia, but there was also an impressive new business haul in 2019 — including Lamborghini, ABInBev, Roche, IHG, Tiger, Coca-Cola, Pokemon and Midea — joining a roster that features New Balance, Audi, Remy Cointreau, J&J, Hasbro and Zippo. Much of DeVries growth reflects its investment in data, search and social commerce experts under China lead Lydia Shen in Shanghai, along with creative, content and cultural insights talent under Southeast Asia lead Rafidah Rashid in Singapore, where the firm also launched a consumer incubator targeting Gen Z. In Taiwan, meanwhile, Vivian Liu oversees an offering with that focuses on social, digital and KOL management.
And DeVries’ transformation is also borne out by the firm’s campaign work, which builds on its efforts to inculcate a more experimental mindset among its consultants. Notable efforts included successful initiatives for SK-II, Boxing Cat Beer, Olay and Acuvue. — AS
Didier Lagae founded Marco (formerly Marco de Comunicación), our reigning Iberian Consultancy of the Year, in 2002, after a career that included senior roles at progressive icons Body Shop and Levi Strauss and global agencies Edelman and Weber Shandwick, and it is fair to say that his ambition was apparent from the new firm’s early days, when it was a scrappy newcomer disrupting Spain’s established market leaders. That spirit of disruption has not dissipated, and MdC has continued to grow faster than the market, adding both capabilities (it is a leader in sustainability communications and one of the most digitally and socially savvy firms in the region) and geographic reach (it opened offices in Mexico City, Bogota and Lima in recent years)—with the promise of more aggressive moves in the year ahead.
Fee income was up by about 10% last year, and Marco ended 2018 with fees of close to €10 million and 120 people across two continents. Having picked up several multi-year EU assignments from DG Comm (the Communication Directorate of the EU, a €95 million framework contract over the next five years for a consortium led by Marco), EUIPO (the European Intellectual Property Rights Office), EEA (The European Environmental Agency), and DG Connect in 2018, the firm added assignments from the European Investment Bank, the Union for the Mediterranean, Dupont, Hocelot, Panattoni, SAGE, Realme, Stockholm International Water Institute and Kraft Heinz in 2019.
The firm earned three SABRE nominations this year, for work on behalf of TaxDown, Subway, and B the travel brand, while other highlights included a campaign to position the World Water Council as the leading global voice on water security and resources; the #ActivateYourWellbeing campaign, developed for furnishings retail chain Conforama, using a multi-channel strategy to link Conforama with themes of exercise and mindfulness; and an integrated effort for the European Union Intellectual Property Office, working with influencers across the continent to underscore the value of intellectual property.—PH
Diana Littman’s first full year at the helm of MSL’s US operations—she took the helm in October of 2018—was primarily one of transition, although one could sense the momentum building by the end of the year, with an energetic new leadership team in place. Early in 2019, Littman brought in Alina Diaz as chief strategy officer from Cassandra and Marc Levy as executive creative director from Ketchum, and has since promoted Nicole Scull to lead the firm’s Procter & Gamble business and hired Kelly Jankowski (formerly of Edelman and DuPont) to lead the corporate reputation practice and early this year Stephanie O’Donnell (formerly BCW and Edelman) as managing director for the healthcare operation.
Those latter two appointments will be critical going forward, as the firm seeks to develop its full-service credentials, but it is the consumer practice (which still accounts for more than 50% of US revenues) that has been driving growth and innovation over the past 12 months. In her new role, Scull is responsible for a portfolio of P&G brands that spans seven market segments and brands like Always, Bounty, Pampers, Mr Clean, Vicks and Oral-B. But P&G accounts for less than half the firm’s consumer work and Diaz, who is also serving as interim consumer lead (following the departure of Rema Vasan), oversees the rest: equally big brand names such as Smucker’s, Campbell’s, Abbott, Sandals, Home Depot, and Cadillac.
The consumer practice saw healthy 10% growth in 2019, with new business coming from Cadillac and Wing Stop and Dixie among others. The firm helped White Claw establish the hard seltzer category and become the number one drink of summer; helped to reignite home luxury brand Brizo, driving a 23% sales increase; and worked with Tampax to confront stigma and misinformation, educating 9 million women worldwide. It helped Jif settle the argument about how to pronounce gif, worked with Marshall’s on the launch of the retailer’s online store, and helped make the 2021 Escalade the star of Oscars’ week. And perhaps most notably, it produced an online film featuring John Legend on #stinkybootyduty for Pampers.
All of that was achieved on the back of a focus on three centers of excellence: strategy, creative (not just a department, but baked into the DNA of the agency), and digital innovation, the latter including a significant investment in data and analytics that has seen MSL co-developing new tools with data industry leaders. The firm also doubled down on its leadership in influencer marketing with Fluency, an end-to-end solution that identifies key influencers, activates campaigns, measures and optimizes, and then amplifies using paid media and sales conversion tools.—PH
Gutsy independent agency Mutant is led by former journalist and entrepreneur Joseph Barratt, who counts a successful Singaporean craft brewery as a not-insubstantial side-hustle from running one of the best of the new generation of Southeast Asian PR firms. His team now totals 30 people across two offices in Singapore and Malaysia, and last year they surpassed expectations with 30% revenue growth in 2019 to just over $3 million. Profits were also up last year to nearly 23% from just under 11% in 2018.
Mutant picked up a host of new clients across PR, content, digital marketing and social briefs in 2019, including Disney, M1, WeWork, Aviva and Vivo, and grew the scope of its work with retainer clients, adding in expanded markets for Facebook and LinkedIn. In the first full operational year of its Malaysian office, Mutant grew revenue and the team, winning key clients including MYNIC, JobStreet Malaysia, Sutera Sanctuary, Ryde and Beam. Kimberly-Clark, which the agency already worked with in Singapore, also selected Mutant in Malaysia for a government relations campaign.
The agency’s content marketing team has grown to become the fastest-growing component of the business, focusing on producing and creating lead-generating content to build brands’ reputations, thought leadership and drive business growth. The team has branched out into new offerings, including digital marketing, branding, media training, crisis communications and employer branding.
Campaign highlights included reviving the Great Singapore Sale 2019 to recapture shoppers’ hearts by integrating local art, fashion, entertainment and technology, giving the tired annual event a huge boost in media coverage and favorability; successfully launching minimum-entry wealth management platform Syfe; and securing 100% occupancy for co-living operator Hmlet’s new Cantonment facility.
While 2020 has been a shock for everyone, Mutant has been largely protected by its focus on technology and corporate briefs, with less exposure to consumer brands and events. And, since 2019 was focused on building profitability and cash reserves planned for further regional offices, these additional savings have helped, despite the stall in expansion plans. Management innovation to get the agency through the pandemic as a team and save jobs, with full financial transparency, included the introduction of an Employee Equity Scheme that saw 25%-35% of salaries put towards owning a stake in the agency. The agency has also introduced a mentorship programme for its future leaders. — MPS
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