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After 19 years of being one of the most admired independent boutiques on the hugely competitive UK consumer PR scene, 2020 turned out to be Taylor Herring’s last year as an independent: the agency that helped to redefine modern consumer PR was recently acquired outright by Publicis, marking a brave new era for the firm founded by husband and wife team James Herring and Cath Taylor. Taylor Herring has a reputation for “delivering fame and fortune” for clients through creative brand-building campaigns and headline-grabbing launch moments that link to commercial outcomes. In 2020, the agency also continued to push the boundaries of the traditional PR agency skillset by applying an earned first mentality to OOH executions, new product innovations and primetime TV spots.
The agency is based in London.
When Covid-19 hit UK shores, the agency’s spring and summer work schedule was obliterated, and its new business pipeline tanked. Activations around Euro 2020, The Tokyo Olympics, Wimbledon and Goodwood Festival of Speed were wiped out. In three weeks, Taylor Herring lost £300,000 in revenue. The senior team took pay cuts, and there was one redundancy. But by the end of the year, the agency had grown revenue in 2020 by 17.5% (against a target of 15%) to £4.9m. Profits were running at 15%: consistent with the previous two years, allowing the agency to honour pay rises and bonuses. During the period the agency achieved 90% client retention. It continued to work with Sky and UKTV (an 18-year relationship), Paddy Power, Disney (17 years), Samsung, Greggs, EasyJet and Beano. New client wins included Subway, Santander, McVities, Huel, Premiership Rugby and Global Radio.
As well as CEO Herring and COO Taylor, the agency is led by chief creative officer Peter Mountstevens. A quarter of the agency’s 25 permanent staff are home-grown, with a diverse mix of backgrounds. The team is further supplemented by a similar number of freelancers across a wide variety of disciplines. Having switched to flexible working in 2018, the agency was in a strong position to adapt to home working. Even so, mental health was a concern without the face-to- face collaboration and the daily interactions of agency life. Regular one-to-one check-ins were scheduled as well as Friday drinks, mindfulness sessions and meet-ups (when safe). The team WhatsApp feed was dedicated to sharing lockdown laughs, from staff gardening ventures to home baking efforts. Despite the challenges of the year, the agency continued its pro bono support for charities, working on campaigns for Crisis and the Ovarian Cancer Trust.
Mitch Kaye and Dan Glover founded The Academy seven years ago and have, relatively quietly, built it to a 50-strong consumer PR powerhouse. The agency’s name isn’t for nothing: like all the best pop duos, the entertaining cultural top notes of their big brand campaigns often disguise the intellectual rigour applied behind the scenes. The Academy’s work encompasses PR and advertising, design and identity, digital, film and live experiences. Its work is underpinned by four values: ‘intelligent thinking, applied creativity, quality production and connected to the right people’, with an overall focus on ensuring business impact for clients. The agency has now fully implemented the ‘column’ organisational structure it brought in two years ago, organising teams into different pillars of focus in a bid to scale the agency while maintaining creative standards, staying close to clients and looking after its people. In 2020, The Academy opened its third PR column for ‘corpsumer’ work.
In normal times, The Academy is based in London.
The Academy went into 2019 after a record year when it billed £4.4 million. Its target was to stay flat during 2020, but it just beat that, with revenues up almost 1% to £4.43 million. New wins in 2020 included work for Nokia, Pret a Manger and Cyberpunk 2077, one of the biggest gaming releases of the year. They joined existing clients including Alton Towers, Heathrow, Kärcher, Lucozade Sport, Pharmacy2U, Shelter, and the agency also picked up expanded briefs for Amazon, Disney and Morrisons.
On the first day of lockdown, the management team set itself the challenge of being the agency that bounces back best. This meant protecting everyone’s jobs, supporting clients as trusted partners and doing right by partners and suppliers. The Academy went well beyond that, recruiting a new MD (Chris Hides from M&C Saatchi PR), two directors and a creative director between March and the end of the year, as well we nine promotions and a record staff bonus pot. The agency quickly set everyone up for comfortable remote working, being visible and available as leaders, sending daily update emails, and end of week drinks. To increase Black and ethnic minority representation, the agency has started with the Taylor Bennett Foundation, become a patron of Creative Lives in Progress, and prioritises recruitment partners who put forward more diverse candidates.
Notable work during 2020 included a European strategy for Amazon Prime Day to give back: to customers with great deals, to small businesses through showcasing independent sellers, and local communities by donating to badly-hit local music venues. The campaign included #PrimeDayLive, a music festival featuring intimate virtual gigs by the likes of Lewis Capaldi, broadcast on Twitch and YouTube. It was the most-watched (and most-engaging) event in Amazon’s history. For Disney, the team launched the new range of Frozen clothing with a kids’ fashion show and photography captured by Mary McCartney, leading to multiple sold-out lines, and for supermarket Morrisons, it developed the Feeding the Nation programme to ensure no-one is left behind during the pandemic, with activity including a doorstep delivery service, food boxes, food bank food parcels, free school meals and NHS discounts, which have helped drive growth.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
INC (Istituto Nazionale per la Comunicazione) has maintained its independence for more than 40 years, and while it is not the largest PR firm in Italy it has been a pioneer throughout its history: it was one of the first Italian PR firms to add dedicated digital and content practices; it created a management board that includes not only former journalists but also designers, publishers and other creators; and it was an early adopter of a cross-functional communications approach. INC is particularly well regarded when it comes to the food & beverage sector, and social impact on behalf of non-profits, public and private organizations.
There are 36 people across offices in Milan and Rome, while INC is also a member of the IPRN network along with 50 partner firms in 40 countries.
A slight decline to €2.6m reflects a strong year for INC, as Covid-19 ravaged the Italian economy. The firm’s entrepreneurial mindset helps explain its growth of +25% over the past five years even as Italy’s broader PR market has remained sluggish. In particular, INC has been able to attract such clients as Amnesty International, Barilla, Heineken, Emirates, eToro, Findus, Heineken, Lega Del Filo D’Oro, the Italian Food Union and the UNHCR, while there was new business over the past year from Mulino Bianco, Birra Moretti, the Plant-Based Food Industry Association, Groupama Assurance, the New Zealand King Salmon Company, Zambon, Zuegg, Facile.it, Antognolla Resort and Freskissimo.
INC shifted to a fully remote model ahead of Italy’s lockdown, a policy that has remained in place since with no layoffs, or furlough. Indeed, headcount and profit margins improved under longtime CEO and chairman Pasquale De Palma, whose leadership team also features VP Paolo Mattei, and business unit leaders Francesca De Feo (corporate & crisis), Francesca Riccardi (social and NGOs communication), Simone Silvi (media relations), and Rosanna Teta (content creation). Emily Szereda arrived to lead digital, while Marianna Lovagnini was hired to oversee consumer and lifestyle. The firm’s leadership team is 75% female and there is no gender pay gap.
Much of the work focused on Covid-19 issues such as employee safety and community support, notably supporting Zambon’s tele-nursing platform in conjunction with the Italian Federation of Parkinson Associations. To announce a project to reforest six protected Italian woods for Grancereale, the firm created a special unboxing experience to bring the experience into journalist homes and newsrooms. And, of course, INC continued its efforts to make pasta more popular on Italian tables, this time via the #vivomediterraneo social media movement, which helped drive +28% consumption during lockdown. INC also launched a special ‘these hugs are for them’ biscuit for Mulino Bianco, helping raise €2m for a nurse solidarity fund.
— Arun Sudhaman
Manifest has always done things differently, starting with the ‘unified’ approach to PR (omnichannel and un-siloed) with which Alex Myers launched the firm in 2009. In the time since, Myers has furthered his commitment to the power of unity, embedding it in Manifest’s operations while building out “the world’s first small global agency.” With the London-based agency’s expansion into Australia last year (opening its fifth global office in Melbourne), Manifest now offers clients what global networks often can’t: around-the-clock service from team members well-versed in clients’ needs, regardless of which time zone they’re in.
Manifest is headquartered in London, and has offices in New York, Stockholm, Manchester, and Melbourne as well.
Manifest closed out 2020 as a £4.2 million, 38-person business — and with a larger geographic footprint, too, with its expansion into Australia. Profits grew 17%. Globally, the agency added 40 new clients to its roster in 2020 including Tommee Tippee, TikTok, Eva Longoria, Lysol, Peanut, Pirate Life. Key clients already on the list include Logitech, Hotels.com, Hot Octopuss, Gousto, and Chivas Brothers / Pernod Ricard. All of which occurred despite the impact of Covid, which includes clients postponing scheduled business. The success reflects Manifest’s commitment to overcoming the pandemic’s challenges with an action plan that included securing the future of employees’ jobs, ensuring the integrity of firm’s work, and maximizing the potential for post-pandemic growth.
In June, Manifest became the first agency to earn a Blueprint mark, the highest qualification awarded by The Blueprint, a UK group that promotes racial diversity in the communications industry. And that’s because Manifest was committed to D&I before organizations like The Blueprint started holding firms accountable, already having in place a multi-faceted initiative that includes fair and objective job descriptions, mentoring, mandatory D&I training and recruitment, retention, and promotion targets — as well as monthly reports to evaluate where the firm is at. In addition to Myers, Manifest has a leadership bench that extends across continents: Ali Maynard James and Helen Kenny (acting) are UK managing partners; Jess Becker oversees the US and Canada as MD; and UK partner Julian Obubo is responsible for brand strategy and leads D&I.
Manifest’s new 2020 offerings include Incite, a Manifest-created professional development platform for both agency and in-house comms teams. Incite provides access to webinars and live events as well as global industry reports, including weekly thought leadership, panel discussions and training sessions hosted by Manifest’s team. In the early days of Covid, Manifest created and launched a platform called Lend-a-hand, which linked individuals struggling in isolation with communities of people willing to help them. The year’s showcase work includes The Boob Life for Tommee Tippee, which included a film focused on moms unapologetically feeding their babies.
— Diana Marszalek
If ever there was a year to be an expert in emotional connections between brands and audiences, it was 2020: Tin Man’s enduring focus on creating “communications with heart” stood Mandy Sharp’s seven year old independent boutique in superb stead during a rocky year for consumer agencies. Tin Man devises insight-led, emotionally engaging, creative campaigns across earned, shared, owned and (increasingly) paid media, delivering measurable, perception-changing, commercially impactful and award-winning work. The agency underpins all its campaigns with its own research around people feeling first and thinking second, proving that if a brand can make them feel something, audiences are eight times more likely to trust it and seven times more likely to purchase. From its consumer heartland, Tin Man is also expanding into digital and corporate work in response to client demand, bringing on board director Sean Allen-Moy this year to head its new “corpsumer” offer.
Tin Man is headquartered in London.
After a storming 2019 when it saw growth of 63%, Tin Man had a tricky start to 2020’s lockdown, with pitches on hold and the pause of its biggest client, Hilton Hotels & Resorts EMEA, overnight. However, the agency worked hard to fill gaps in the P&L and innovated and ended up with its seventh consecutive year of double digit growth: a very respectable 13%, to fee income of £2.35 million and margins of 18%. Staff numbers remained stable at 26, and the agency picked up eight new clients, including Unilever, Smart Energy GB, The Office Group (TOG), Guide Dogs, LNER and Mike Hard Seltzer.
As Covid hit, the agency’s senior team re-launched the agency’s purpose internally, ensuring the team felt supported. The agency ramped up investment in its Hearts & Minds mental health initiative from £2,400 to £6,000 per person, including 24/7 access to trained psychotherapists and CBT specialists, a wellness allowance and a mental health sick day policy. The board is 80% female and the agency is 11% neurodiverse, 7% BAME (with a target of improving this to 20% this year) and 10% LGBTQI+. The agency has four Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Champions who have implemented a raft of commitments, from recruitment processes to client campaigns. In its most recent staff survey, 96% said they feel proud to work at Tin Man, 100% feel comfortable being their true selves at work, and 100% feel there is a culture of openness around MH and wellbeing.
Tin Man rolled out a suite of new services to support clients during 2020: it launched video content agency Oh My! – currently growing by 30% every month – to offer strategic storytelling and creative film-making; it developed the Covid-19 Heart Score Tracker, working with insights agency Delineate, to measure consumer sentiment daily so marketing decisions could be made using up-to-the-minute audience data; and invested in Tinfluence, a bespoke influencer marketing tool that helped the agency beat seven global networks agencies to win a multi-brand influencer campaign for Unilever, with a six-figure campaign agreed for 2021. Stand-out campaigns during the year included resurrecting V Festival for Virgin Media, leading to 1.35m viewers on ITV2 and a 728% increase in positive sentiment, creating a 57% uplift in positive sentiment for Plenty of Fish in 12 months and delivering a creative, content-led paid media campaign for government backed anti-piracy programme, Get It Right, which led to 47% of the target audience saying they would no longer access content from illegitimate sites.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
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