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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 situations such as M&A and bankruptcy and restructuring; as well as growth in specialist areas such as litigation support. Strategic communications now accounts for $243 million of the parent company’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.
Mark McCall took charge of the strategic communications segment in September 2017, and the two years seen then have seen impressive growth (last year’s growth was preceded by a 16% jump in 2018). To keep that going, the firm has invested in talent, bringing in expertise in financial services, healthcare public affairs, technology, shareholder activism, digital communications, and research. Key additions include Colleen Hsia, formerly global head of marketing at Jane Street, as lead of the financial services practice in the Americas; Rodolfo Araujo, former a member of the special situations research team at ISS, as head of corporate governance and activism; and Sonja Nesbit, from Arena Fox, to lead public affairs in the healthcare and life sciences sector.
A longtime leader in the mergers and acquisitions space, FTI was in the top five advisors to M&A globally, according to mergermarket, handling 177 deals over the course of the year. The firm’s restructuring team also worked on more than 350 sales, debt-to-equity swaps, equity wipe-outs, and cross-border filings. Other highlights included advising on the IPO of Virgin Galactic, the world’s first space company. Cigna, meanwhile, retained FTI after announcing its $67 billion acquisition of Express Scripts to support the shareholder and regulatory approvals process and coordinate communications to key stakeholders. And FTI advised Argo Group in its defense against an aggressive approach from activist hedge fund Voce Capital.
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).—PH
Since its inception in 2010, EM has made a significant impact on the financial PR and IR landscape — in particular in Russia (its HQ is Moscow and the firm has offices in London, New York and Beijing). For its backstory, EM started as the Russian unit of M:Communications before completing a successful management buy-out in 2013. This deal, in fact, took place just months before the Russian market fell off a cliff with sanctions, tumbling oil prices and a sharp currency devaluation. But EM stuck it out and has thrived, growing by double digits every year since. In 2019, the firm’s revenue rose 30% on an organic basis to $6.7m, doubling its profit and growing headcount to 26 serving Russian clients in the international markets — for instance, advising on a significant number of Russian IPOs and ECM transactions, as well as M&As.
New clients in 2019 included Baring Vostok, M Video Eldorado, Ozon, Sibur, SEMrush, ChelPipe, Familia and Sovcombank — joining an existing roster that features International Paper, Aeroflot, Moscow Exchange, Tinkoff Bank, PhosAgro, Etalon, MD Medical Group, VTB. And the work spans more than just transactions and investor relations, including crisis comms, ESG consultancy, perception research and reputation management. Campaign highlights included the first Russian M&A purchase by a Western company, (TJX) since sanctions began in 2014; and a string of other major M&A deals including the sale of 51% of CRT to Sberbank and the sale of 25% in Etalon. In addition, EM worked with Sibur to develop its ESG messaging, around its ‘Clean Water’ campaign.
Tom Blackwell, founder and CEO of EM, has worked in Russia communications for more than 15 years. The leadership team includes also Sam Vanderlip and Tom Kiehn, Denis Denisov and Anna Glikman, while new hires included former WSJ tech reporter Olga Razumovskaya and Alexandra Astapenko. — AS
A veteran of UK corporate specialist Fishburn and Australian institutional investment journal Super Review, and of the banking sector in both the UK and Australia, Philippa Honner launched her consultancy in 1997 and has built it into Australia’s leading financial services specialists, working with companies from fintech start-ups to listed investment firms and major funds, combining deep sector expertise with strong media and stakeholder relationships. Today, Honner is a $4.5 million (AUS) firm that grew by an impressive 12% last year and was recognized as Asia Pacific Public Relations Agency of the Year at the Rainmaker MAX Awards and as the PR Institute of Australia’s Medium Agency of the Year.
Honner manages about 50 retainer and project clients including two of Australia’s “big-four” high street banks (National Australia Bank and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia), Tasmania-based MyState Bank, leading superannuation fund UniSuper, the world’s largest listed hedge fund Man Group, activist investor Elliott Management, and leading global fund managers such as Franklin Templeton, Janus Henderson and AXA Investment Managers. A major win last year was Australia’s top professional body for financial advisers, the Financial Planning Association, while additional new business came from global investment firm Russell Investments, leading Australian fund manager Perennial Investment Management, listed financial advice firm Centrepoint Alliance, commercial lending fintech Moneytech, and global asset servicing firm BNP Paribas.
The biggest challenge was advising Australia’s financial services sector through significant transformation, with a number of enquiries into conduct and practices leading to extensive regulatory change. Honner helped clients respond with both reputation management work and policy input. For Momentum Intelligence, for example, the firm released a borrower survey of 6,000 consumers, providing independent insight into consumer sentiment towards mortgage brokers and raising awareness among policymakers ahead of a Royal Commission Report, while for CreditSmart Honner worked to educate consumers about their credit health and credit report changes.
The second biggest challenge, as ever, was talent, and there too Honner is in a strong position, having been named one of the region’s five best midsize agencies to work for last year.
Lansons’ 31-year pedigree demonstrates how independence, ethics and culture can combine to keep a historic agency as relevant as the latest hot consumer shop. Founded by Tony Langham and Clare Parsons in 1989, the duo’s extraordinary energy and focus on employee wellbeing over profitability will surely help it adapt to the challenges posed by 2020, as will the fact that it entered this year in strong shape. Significantly, Lansons is 32% employee-owned, consistently wins best workplace honours, and has effectively eliminated the gender pay gap across its 90 employees in London.
2019 was something of a landmark year for Lansons thanks to the acquisition of New York financial firm Intermarket at the start of the year. Back on home turf, Lansons continued to impress, winning 66 new clients including Abbott Nutrition, Cayman Islands Government, Cityscoot, Free2, Gregory Pennington, the Independent Investigation into the Collapse of London Capital & Finance, Instanda, Legal & General, Tech Nation and WeWork — joining an existing roster that features Abbott Laboratories, Aldermore Bank, BlackRock, Givaudan, Invesco, Investec, Isle of Man Government, JP Morgan, LV=, and St James’s Place.
That all came amid a reasonably tough year for corporate communications, but Lansons’ focus on reputation management (including a new book authored by Tony Langham) and its considerable experience in financial services sets it apart from many of its peers. The leadership team also features Laura Hastings and Rebecca Mayo, along with CFO Stuart Graham and senior hires James Dowling to lead public affairs and Danny Calogero as board director. Campaign highlights include the SABRE-nominated Imagine Conference for Givaudan, along with eye-catching efforts for Post Office Money and the Isle of Man. — AS
2018’s Consultancy of the Year in Russia/CIS, One Philosophy has continued to grow both in size (it now boasts a team of more than 100 in its Kiev headquarters) and in stature — founder Natalya Popovych is a thought leader in the PR business regionally, as well as a prominent ambassador-activist for Ukraine internationally and co-founder of Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
The Be-it Agency, One Philosophy’s legacy company, severed ties with Russia’s PRP Group—Weber Shandwick’s longtime affiliate in the region—in 2014, after the start of the Ukrainian revolution, quickly establishing itself as a leader in the Ukrainian market. The company has since expanded, and now comprises five thriving brands. In addition to Be-It, which grew 18% in 2019, there is change consultancy Changers (+33%), creative shop Solutions for People, public affairs firm Republic and Be-It Health & Social Impact — which together form a network of multidisciplinary and highly entrepreneurial agencies united by the idea that fostering—and rallying stakeholders around—a shared purpose is key to driving success.
Indeed, almost 30% of the group’s 2019 business involved helping clients strengthen their leadership cultures, an offering that is only like to prove meaningful in the crucible of 2020, as is the 20% of revenue that now comes from international projects. The firm works for a host of multinational clients, including Mastercard, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Avon, UNICEF, Philips, HMD Nokia, and Sanofi, with key additions in 2019 such as Glovo, Dobrobut, Ministry of Economy of Ukraine, The World Bank, Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, Ukrainian Institute, Reckitt Benckiser and GFA Consulting.
President Natalya Popovych, a 20-year veteran of the agency business who also heads a One Philosophy outpost in Copenhagen, was joined in 2018 by CEO Yulia Gumenia, who brings 12 years of industry experience to the role. The firm also added Inga Vyshnevska as managing director of Solutions for People and has stepped up its change management focus through the expertise of Changers founding partner Oksana Semenyuk and former PBN MD Oksana Monastyrska.
In 2019, the firm showcased considerable investment in training and thought leadership, including its own annual event focused on global business insights, featuring high-profile speakers from across Ukraine’s political spectrum and one on employer leadership. The firm’s activist bent was further represented by a ‘quiet protest installation’ at its office on one of Kiev’s busiest pedestrian streets, which aimed to promote civility and respect for people. As for the firm’s work, its OneBlade campaign for Philips secured as SABRE nomination, and there were also notable efforts for the Ukranian Cultural Foundation, McDonald’s and Leaders for Health.—AS
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