2021 Corporate/Financial Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke

2021 Corporate/Financial PR Consultancies of the Year

The 2021 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 were unveiled at the 2021 EMEA SABRE Awards on 9 June.

You can find the 2021 SABRE Awards EMEA winners here. 

Winner: Hanover (Avenir Global)

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Hanover was founded 22 years ago by Charles Lewington, prime minister John Major’s former press secretary, who remains as CEO after selling the agency to Canadian group Avenir in 2019. The consultancy has grown to a heavyweight with true trusted advisor status, whose focus on providing strategic counsel to corporate clients, working with senior leaders to enhance recognition, reputation, and resilience and working with some of the world’s biggest businesses on the most complex global communications challenges came into its own during the pandemic: at one point, the agency’s teams were helping companies fight to save the livelihoods of a total of 500,000 employees.

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Hanover is headquartered in London, with offices in Brussels and Dublin, and has a Middle East operation based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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After revenue fell against budget by 30% in three months, the 171-strong agency ended the year with income up by 7.5% to £21.9 million, driven by new top-tier clients such as Uber Eats, Pizza Hut, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Disney and Pernod-Ricard which served, to some extent, as a bulwark against the challenges that Covid-19 brought. Hanover is particularly proud of the crisis PR and public affairs work it delivered to keep football, horse-racing, manufacturers, pubs and cruise ships alive during the year. The agency’s client roster also includes Facebook, Instagram, Sky, Goldman Sachs, Merck/MSD, Apple and Uber. Hanover’s corporate heartland, led by Gavin Megaw, grew by 20%, and healthcare was up 35% (90% of which was organic), working with half of the world’s leading pharma companies. Around £500,000 in healthcare income came directly from work on Covid testing, treatments and diagnostics. Hanover Middle East was up 28% to £2.6 million in revenue, Brussels grew by 56% and digital work grew 80%.

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Maintaining Hanover’s culture throughout the crisis and looking after its smart, sociable team was a priority. The agency enhanced its already comprehensive LiveSmart wellbeing programme, including support around stress, anxiety, bereavement and sleep, enabled everyone to shift working hours as needed and trained leaders to identify signs of burnout. As well as Zoom discussion groups on film and podcasts, exercise clubs, wine tasting, a virtual day at the races, awards and quizzes, Hanover created mechanisms for the team to talk about the ongoing situation with management.

The agency’s inclusion & diversity network, IN, promotes positive behaviours and practices around gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, working parents, LGBTQIA+, age, and mental health. Diversity expert Sereena Abbassi joined as a senior advisor to conduct workshops and a perception audit, and introduce working groups around recruitment, retention, progression, and representation. Currently, Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation is at 15% across the group and 12.5% in London. By the end of 2021, the agency is aiming for 20% representation across Group with a minimum of 15% in London, and a minimum 20% in London by end of 2022. Half of leadership positions are held by women. Major hires included Ceri Reed joining from BCW as managing director of Hanover’s brand communications agency The Playbook, replacing Andrew Baiden.

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When Covid-19 restrictions initially threatened the food delivery sector, Hanover worked with Pizza Hut Delivery to retain its licence to operate, implementing its first all-team-member internal communications programme, ensuring all team members recognised their responsibilities, were reassured on their own safety and understood how valued their service was in local communities. Pizza Hut’s general counsel for Europe told Hanover’s team that they “literally kept the business running in the first weeks of lockdown”. Last summer, the agency launched the Rewire initiative with the Royal Society of Arts to help clients evolve, with a focus on purpose, vision and culture; brand positioning; relationships with internal and external stakeholders; responses to political, regulatory, environmental and reputational challenges; and engagement and communications. The agency also continued to promote Hanover 360°, its EMEA offering for businesses looking to embed sustainability practices within commercial strategy, public affairs and communications.

Maja Pawinska Sims

 

Finalists

Finsbury Glover Hering (WPP)

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The international consulting business of Finsbury Glover Hering was formed at the beginning of 2021 by the merger of Finsbury (the UK-based financial consultancy that had absorbed the US business of Robinson Lerer), Washington public affairs consultancy Glover Park, and German corporate and financial specialist Hering Schuppener. In EMEA, both Finsbury and Hering Schuppener were leaders in the lucrative financial transactions arena, but both have expanded beyond that niche, with formidable corporate reputation practices (encompassing everything from crisis communications to employee enhgagement) and growing public affairs businesses.

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The merger brought together the strengths of Finsbury in London and Brussels with Hering Schuppener’s network of offices in Germany (Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich), supplemented by smaller offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Dublin, and Riyadh—and of course international operations in the US and Asia.

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EMEA accounts for around $95 million of the firm’s $220 million in global revenues, which were roughly flat in 2020 (the UK about $37 million, continental Europe $50 million, the Middle East $7.5 million) in a year when the challenge of merging three agencies was compounded by the Covid crisis. On another critical metric for the firm, it ranked third among global M&A advisors according to industry publication mergermarket. In Europe it was third in terms of volume of deals and second in terms of value; in the UK it ranked fourth in both categories; and in Germany it was number one in volume and value.

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The merger saw Finsbury founder Roland Rudd and GPG founder Carter Eskew named as co-chairs, with Alexander Geiser, managing partner at Hering Schuppener, serving as chief executive officer both globally and for the EMEA region. Faeth Birch, previously a managing partner in Finsbury’s London office, was named regional CEO for the United Kingdom, Middle East and Asia. There have also been key additions since then, including Adam Rimmer, former sustainability advisor to the London Stock Exchange Group, in London, and FleishmanHollard veteran Sophis Scott, who will lead the global technology practice.

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As befits a firm that specializes in advising CEOs on mission-critical issues, Finsbury Glover Hering generated an immense amount of thought leadership on both Covid-19 (issues ranged from the reputational risk of Covid-related litigation to employee communications challenges) and the rising Black Lives Matter movement globally and its implications for business. While the firm does not routinely talk about individual campaigns or clients, it worked with BioNTech—the German company that played a significant role in developing Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine—and supported the Virgin Media-O2 merger, the first major deal of the lockdown.

Paul Holmes

Headland Consultancy (UK/Independent)

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Initially set up in 2005 by Chris Salt and Howard Lee, both ex-Gavin Anderson, Headland Consultancy started a completely new life in 2012 when former Fishburn Hedges CEO Neil Hedges and COO Dan Mines came on board: the all-new Headland was built around the idea that financial, corporate, and public affairs clients needed a one-stop-shop that offered senior strategic and commercial counsel and creative campaign delivery, not one or the other. Nine years in, that integrated offer is well and truly chiming with the market, but there’s still a refreshing rawness and dynamism to the agency. All while maintaining a culture where everyone feels they are part of the success, rather than being subjected to it.

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Headland is based in London.

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Headland grew 20% in 2020, hitting year-end as a £16.2, 91-person business. The source of the lift: an impressive 29 new clients, including big-name brands like TikTok, KFC, S&P, and London City Airport, as well as Saga, ASOS, Co-op, Arup, Premier Foods, and Terraformation — all of which will be in the good company of existing key clients Accenture, Britvic, Danone, Just Eat, PepsiCo, TSB, Versus Arthritis, and eBay. Adding headcount in 2020 enabled Headland to reach a milestone: hiring its 100th employee. 

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One-third of senior roles at Headland are held by women, and 12% of employees are Black, Asian and minority ethnic. Headland’s plan to increase those numbers include training in unconscious bias and reshaping recruitment so BAME candidates are in first-round interviews. The firm’s pro-bono work includes working with the UN Refugee Agency, delivering strategic advice and media engagement; AMOS Bursary, which helps young men of African or Caribbean descent further their education or career; and Taylor Bennett Foundation, which encourages BAME graduates to pursue careers in communications. Headland also stepped up to take care of all its employees during Covid, waiving private healthcare fees, offering mental health support and conducting wellness sessions focused on working from home. 

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Over the last 12 months, Headland developed and rolled out new offerings addressing two topics of growing importance: infrastructure and sustainability. It didn’t take long after hiring infrastructure and transportation specialist Simon Jones in February to start winning business from Wincanton, Siemens Mobility, Hutchinson Ports and Arup Global and UKIMEA. With former Unilever sustainability lead Sue Garrard onboard, Headland secured major sustainability projects with Business for Nature, B-Lab, Atlas Energy, and Reddit backed Terraformation. Headland’s most notable 2020 work included helping nonprofit Be the Business connect with Britain’s small and medium-sized business to support them through Covid. The firm’s campaign for TikTok inspired a BBC news team to dance on camera for a TikTok challenge.

Diana Marszalek

Lansons (UK/Independent)

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One of the most respected agencies in the London corporate, reputation and financial communications landscape, Lansons is a perfect example of how independence, ethics and culture can combine to keep a 32-year-old pedigree agency as relevant as the latest hotshop. The company was founded by husband-and-wife team Tony Langham and Clare Parsons in 1989, and has prospered thanks to their leadership, extraordinary energy and focus on employee wellbeing over profitability. The agency made its first international move in 2019, acquiring US financial firm Intermarket.

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Lansons is headquartered in London, while Lansons Intermarket is in New York.

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After a storming 2019 which led to it being named as PRovoke’s corporate agency of the year last year, Lansons got off to a shaky start in 2020 even before the pandemic hit. Expecting revenue to drop by 25%, it actually ended the calendar year 9% down on revenue at £11 million, and is now back to pre-Covid levels of revenue and profitability. The agency put many staff on furlough at the start of the crisis to save jobs, but has now repaid its furlough grant, which it was not obliged to do. Over the year, there was particularly strong growth from the fintech sector, with new work such as savings app Yolt and ecommerce customer relations company Webloyalty. Other new clients included Manulife and Openreach, which joined a roster that includes Abbott Laboratories, Invesco, the Isle of Man Government, Legal & General, part-government funded body Tech Nation, Post Office, Propertymark and the Co-operative Bank.

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Lansons regularly wins best place to work awards, and last year had 82% staff satisfaction rate for organisation culture. It’s also one of the few truly employee-owned PR agencies, with 30 employees owning the whole business (65% of shareholders are women), and has a low gender pay gap of 6% across its 98 employees. As well as taking action to prevent the expansion of the remote working day and giving everyone cash to improve their home working environment, the leadership gave staff completely transparent daily briefings on what was happening in the business. There were focus groups with parents, personal and professional development training and virtual socials. The agency pledged to combat white privilege and white supremacy, formed a diversity group and Langham transferred his seat on the PRCA board to colleague Rimmi Shah to improve representation. The agency also has a pro bono partnership with the Diversity Project, which campaigns on diversity in investment management.

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Highlights of the team’s work over the year included being brought in as reputation advisors to the British Business Bank, which handled all the government’s Covid-19 business loans, as well as a new brand identity for the Cayman Islands – a public tender which Lansons won in competition with big international branding agencies. The agency also significantly shifted positive sentiment towards FTSE100 wealth management firm St James’s Place. At the start of the pandemic, Langham formed and chaired the PRCA’s Global Covid-19 Communications Taskforce, which delivered free advice sessions and webinars viewed by thousands of practitioners, as well as collating insights from 75 industry leaders from 23 countries. The team also provided daily industry sector Covid-19 updates to clients and produced a series of ‘Life through Covid-19’ research reports with Opinium.

Maja Pawinska Sims

SEC Newgate (SEC Newgate S.p.A.)

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Technically, SEC Newgate is less than two years old, dating to September 2019 when Italian public affairs firm SEC merged with holding company Porta, giving rise to the create the sprawling global communications business it is today. SEC’s talent — dispersed across the UK and continental Europe, the US, Asia, Australia, Latin America, and the Middle East — specialize in corporate and financial comms and public affairs, as well as offering consumer and creative expertise. The firm supports some of the world’s biggest brands — Disney, Coca-Cola, and Google among them — yet with classic Italian deference for putting family first. The Milan headquarters has a designated children’s area for kids whose parents drag them to the office.

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SEC Newgate is based in Milan and has 36 offices across six continents. In Italy, the firm has offices in Bari, Bolzano, Catania, Rome, Turin, Udine, and Venice in addition to Milan. Newgate’s other European offices are in London, Brussels, Madrid, Berlin, Paris, and Warsaw. Australian offices are in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. Newgate also has operations in Washington, Columbia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Abu Dhabi. 

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SEC Newgate recorded $96,351,773 in fee income and grew its workforce to 638 in 2020, its first full year in business. New business came from some of the world’s best-known brands — Google and Tesla, as well as Hovis, BNY Mellon, Sanofi, Vanguard, Credito Fondiario, Bridgestone, Fosun, Westpack and Banjigiay Group. And they’ll be in good company; Netgate’s client roster already included impressive brands such as IKEA, Walt Disney, Coca-Cola Company, Amazon, State Street, Sidney Metro, Diageo, Terna, Cefic, and Deutsche Bank.

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CEO Fiorenzo Tagliabue takes pride in putting value on employees as people with full and multi-faceted lives, creating a culture that puts a premium on the likes of parenthood and family. Over the firm’s 30-years in business, roughly 170 babies have been born to SEC employees — including new mothers who worked part-time after having their kids, but moved up to top positions, nonetheless. The company’s UK, Germany, Belgium, Poland and Bogotá operations are led by womenb. Newgate is a member of Valore D, an Italian organization that promotes gender equality.

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Newgate made its business work in 2020 by responding to the disruption caused by Covid, as well as embracing strides in technology. That included creating a platform on which clients could host virtual events. Newgate also launched True, technology that uses AI to measure and analyze organizations’ reputations. The £1.5 million system was bult with help from an advisory team with members from Luigi Bocconi University in Milan, Imperial College Business School London, and Golden for Impact (a Netherlands-based nonprofit association of researchers). The firm’s most impactful 2020 work included supporting the EU refining industry's Clean Fuels for All campaign by showcasing how the European transportation sector can become climate-neutral by 2050. SEC Newgate UK handled PR for St Paul’s Cathedral’s Remember Me initiative honoring people who died from Covid-19.

Diana Marszalek