2021 Creative Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke

2021 Creative 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: The Romans (UK/Independent)

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Launched in 2015 with minority investment from celebrated UK ad agency Mother, The Romans immediately caught the attention of London’s fiercely competitive consumer market by boldly professing its embarrassment with the existing quality of PR creativity. Co-founders Joe Mackay-Sinclair and Misha Dhanak brought considerable pedigree from their previous agency postings and, while Dhanak departed in 2019, The Romans continues to back up its fighting words with some real creative victories, helping its goal of shifting PR from poor relations towards a more central brand building function.  

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The firm’s London office employs 36 people, up from 26 in 2019. 

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Remarkably, challenging consumer conditions did not stop The Romans from growing 8% in 2020, suggesting that exceptional creative work should perhaps be trusted to drive business growth during difficult economic times. The firm forecasts a further 7% growth in 2021, helping underpin 33% headcount expansion, and ensuring its goal of being a £5m firm by 2022 remains firmly on track. A strong new business haul helped power the growth, including all of Pernod Ricard’s whisky brands, Badoo, Ben & Jerry’s Europe, Bulk Powders, Deezer, Ecover, Go Compare, Gumtree, Heist, Nestle Cereals, OVO Energy, Santander, Sports Direct, Valspar Paints, Vistaprint and WWE — all of which joined an existing client roster that features Twitter, Ben & Jerry’s, Ella’s Kitchen and Diageo. 

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Mackay-Sinclair continues to focus on putting people ahead of profits, ensuring there were no redundancies or furloughs in 2020, and a willingness to run at a loss during April and May. Long before the pandemic, three of The Romans team had been trained as mental health first aids, a mindset that helped the firm’s approach to mental wellbeing, which is supported by care packages, Zoom bans and turning their in-house chef towards making meals for local homeless shelters in East London. The Romans’ commitment to anti-racism has always stood out, including training, recruitment and supply chain targets, and numerous mentoring programmes. 

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The Romans’ talent plays an outsize industry role, winning the Young Lions, featuring on numerous lists and rankings, and leading key initiatives and organizations. Unsurprisingly, the firm’s creative culture results in a similarly outsize awards’ performance, including no fewer than six SABRE nominations, most notably for the ‘CALM Comedy Club’ for Twitter, Thanks for Wanking for Badoo, ‘The Munchy Trunks’ for Ella’s Kitchen, and ‘Think Before You Thank’ for OVO Energy.

Arun Sudhaman



Finalists

BCW (WPP)

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It was a bold move for an agency of BCW’s size to invest so heavily in creativity in the year of Covid, including Germany CEO Wolfgang Lünenbürger-Reidenbach being elevated into a brand new role as head of creativity for Europe & Africa. The focus on “moving ideas” – building big idea-driven programmes that go beyond the ordinary – paid off, with BCW taking the number one spot in PRovoke’s Global Creative Index for the first time, and chalking up 20 EMEA SABRE nominations – more than any other agency. Its London-born creative process, the Writers Room, has now been fully adopted by BCW globally and the agency now sees its flourishing creativity and focus on innovation as key success factors in the growth in many markets in 2020 and 2021.

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BCW has around 1,000 staff in 22 offices across 12 European markets, as well as eight countries in the Middle East and an African network spanning 54 countries, 36 of which are BCW branded, making it one of the largest agencies in the region.

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Within EMEA, BCW’s businesses in Brussels and Turkey grew year on year, while in London – its largest market – revenues declined less than 2%, putting it ahead of WPP peers and its network competitors. Middle East income was down 4%. Across the region, the agency won new assignments from Henkel, Slack, Epic Games, Xiaomi, Sanofi, Alibaba Group, TikTok, Whirlpool, Nestle and Boehringer Ingelheim, and repitched, retained and grew Samsung in France and won the account in Italy. In a competitive period for new business, BCW won 60% of pitches and organically grew its creative work with clients including Nike, Lavazza, Danone, Accenture and Pfizer.

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During the year, BCW launched its first global D&I initiative, Destination Inclusion, a 21-day topic- driven global framework to encourage an inclusive, open, collaborative culture. In EMEA, it held weekly discussions on topics such as Power & Privilege, Allyship and Subtle Acts of Inclusion. These webinars were backed up by micro-actions and on-demand learning; 90% of participants would recommend the program, whilst 85% reported a shift in opinions or viewpoints. Chief culture officer Kristen Lisanti also launched BCW’s Leading Above the Line program. Based on cutting-edge research and grounded in daily mindfulness practice, Leading Above the Line challenges established and emerging BCW leaders to evolve their leadership and increase their impact.

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Stand-out campaigns including creating the Beach Mode ‘digital lifebuoy’ for Trygg-Hansa in Sweden. The insurance company has worked with water safety for 65 years and has lifebuoys all over Swedish beaches. BCW created an innovative app that stopped parents getting distracted on their phones while their children were in the sea, which garnered millions of engagements and directly led to a 31% drop in child drownings.  The London team created the emotional Hunger Monster campaign with Aldi to highlight that one in five children in the UK live in food poverty. The poignant animated poem film, narrated by footballer and poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford MBE, brought a young child’s relationship with ‘hunger’ to life. It had a reach of 1.5 billion and led to consumer donations that enabled Aldi to donate over one million meals to kids in poverty in the first month.

Other outstanding work included an EarthSpeakr campaign in partnership with artist Olafur Eliasson and sister creative agency AKQA, where the team build a piece of art for the German EU presidency that was executed across 27 markets with more than 500 pieces of coverage and thousands of children taking part. The Italian team created out a campaign for the prosecco region that was so successful with influencers that the client tasked BCW with developing its entire advertising campaign across Europe; and the Paris ‘Studio B’ team created a campaign for St Martin combining earned, paid and creative assets around holidaying safely in lockdown.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Edelman (DJE Holdings)

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Edelman has been the world’s largest independent public relations agency since the wave of acquisitions that swept the industry in the 80s and 90s and saw its rivals fall into the hands of the giant ad agency holding groups. It has turned its independence into a source of competitive advantage, family ownership allowing it to make aggressive investments in creative capabilities that take it beyond traditional PR into a leadership position in digital and social, and an increasingly impressive paid media capability.

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Edelman is the largest full-service agency in the UK, which continues to account for about half of its total EMEA revenues, and has substantial offices in France (following its 2014 acquisition of Elan), Germany, Italy, Spain, Brussels and the Netherlands.

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Regional CEO Ed Williams has been able to push ahead with the transformation he initiated upon ascending to that role in September of 2019: that means greater collaboration between offices, an approach he describes as more “Avengers Assemble” and less “Jason Bourne.” One implication is that Edelman’s creative studios—which include a host of designers, writers, and digital talent—are now capable of serving all offices in the region.

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It was a year of transition in the UK, with Hugh Taggart and Ruth Warder named co-CEOs to replace Williams after his promotion; in France, where Anne-Cécile Thomann and Emlyn Korengold joined as co-CEOs from TBWA; and in Brussels, with Stefan Borst joining from global reputation and business intelligence firm Avisa Partners. Meanwhile, Mattias Ronge and Stefan Ronge continue to serve as co-chief creative officers for the EMEA region, working alongside newly-promoted global head of behavioural science & psychometrics Anjuli Bedi, whose work now informs much of the firm’s best creative.

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The firm’s creative work continues to shine, with 19 finalists in the EMEA SABRE competition this year, second only to BCW. Highlights included the “What’s Your Number?” government campaign from Germany, highlighting violence against women; Danone’s celebration of 100 years, led from France; IKEA’s “Buy Back Friday” initiative in the UK and Ireland; and the Starbucks “#whatsyourname” campaign supporting transgendered youth. In terms of thought leadership, one of the firm’s big investments in 2020 was a new approach to data and analytics, which (perhaps counterintuitively) emphasizes empathy and uses to data to increase trust.

Paul Holmes

Hope&Glory (UK/Independent)

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As it celebrates a decade in business, Hope&Glory shows no sign of losing its creative edge – it has a whopping 11 SABRE nominations this year – and founders Jo Carr (chief client officer) and James Gordon-MacIntosh (chief creative officer) are not resting on their laurels where their reputation for outstanding brand campaigns is concerned, either. The agency continues to defy convention and prove its possible to run a large pure-play brand agency without having to diversify into less creative arenas or let the quality of the work slip; that you can balance stand-out ideas with client relationships that stand the test of time; and that you can be a top consumer agency and still be a great place to work.

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Hope&Glory is based in London.

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The agency’s growth slowed for the first time in its history last year, shrinking by 2% to fee income of just over £8 million thanks to a dramatic drop in Q2, but has grown every quarter since and is already a bigger agency than it was before lockdown. The agency maintained long-term relationships with clients such as O2 (nine years), IKEA (eight years), Barclays (eight years) Airbnb (eight years) American Express (seven years) and Sony (seven years), as well as Uber, Sainsbury’s, Argos, and Adidas. It also picked up new work for Instagram, Hyundai, Costa, Tourism Australia, Sky and Guinness.

While H&G is known as a London consumer giant, it has become lead creative agency across Europe for Sony and Pokemon and is now Facebook’s lead strategy and creative agency, developing creative campaigns across Europe, Africa and Asia. It has also recently won a pan-European planning and creative remit from Samsung Digital Appliances. Hope&Glory invested in two new agencies last year, enabling former staffers Ellen Durrant and Corinna Field to set up Red Lion, as well as backing Shook, the agency set up by Mischief’s former strategy and creative leads Gemma Moroney and Damon Statt (shortlisted for new agency of the year).

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Despite the challenges of the year, Hope&Glory didn’t make any cuts to its 80-strong workforce, honoured bonuses and job offers – including taking back one member of the team whose offer from another agency was rescinded –  gave interns permanent contracts, and made 20 promotions with pay rises. Senior additions included former W CEO Adam Mack coming on board as a consultant strategy director. The 55% female board checked in regularly with the team, introduced mental and physical wellbeing initiatives, private medical support for all and trained 17 mental health first-aiders. It kept culture thriving with a range of social activities from zoom life-drawing classes, to pizza making, to a Friday virtual pub quiz.

Named as one of the first agencies to achieve full Blueprint D&I status, Hope&Glory signed up to 23 commitments, covering recruitment, culture, company, nurturing talent and data measures, including unconscious bias training. It works with the Taylor Bennett Foundation and the Creative Mentor Network, and launched a speaker programme ‘Beyond Your Bubble’, with topics including diversity, social mobility, disability and gender bias. The agency has zero gender or ethnicity pay gap.

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SABRE-nominated work over the year included campaigns for IKEA, Sainsbury’s, Amex, Sony, Sky Arts, Calm, Hotels.com, Facebook and O2. The IKEA [email protected] campaign kept the brand front-of-mind and relevant while its stores were closed, by releasing the recipe for its famous meatballs with step-by-step instructions in IKEA’s iconic style, the story went global and was the most-engaged ever post on IKEA’s UK social channels.

Maja Pawinska Sims

W Communications (UK/Independent)

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There are few PR agencies – and few industry leaders – as entrepreneurial in spirit as W Communications and its charismatic founder Warren Johnson, who started the firm in 2009 and has grown it to a 100-strong creative powerhouse with global reach. Playing at the intersection of consumers, culture and commerce, W’s work spans big brand campaigns, corporate and crisis communications, and work with influencers. Over the past 12 months, W has embarked on joint ventures across multiple disciplines, from earned advertising with Brothers and Sisters, to experiential with XYZ, to insights into diverse audiences with Word on the Curb. The agency also supported the hospitality sector through lockdown and recovery with its Counter Service restaurant incubator.

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As well as its London HQ, W has UK offices in Newcastle and Edinburgh (where it bought local drinks PR specialist Steely Fox in November 2020), and a Dutch base in Amsterdam. Outside EMEA, it has a presence in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and – new this year – New York.

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Fee income was up 11% to £11.3 million. The agency won more than 50 pitches worldwide, with new business coming from Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, Brompton Bikes, Tigi, Grenfell Athletic FC and Lloyd-Webber Theatres. They joined a client roster that features Unilever, Adidas, Spotify, Levi’s, Camden Town Brewery, The Allbright, Papa John’s, Laurent Perrier, Innocent Drinks and Major League Baseball. In its first year, the W Studio – a multi-disciplinary team of creatives, art directors and strategists –created award-winning global TVCs for Unilever, social strategy and content for Levi’s in EMEA, interactive Instagram product drops for Adidas and experiential events for The Children’s Society.

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In a surprise (and savvy) move, Johnson hired former Weber Shandwick London boss and PRCA chair  Rachel Friend as his chief executive in June last year, making the board 60% female. Senior departures included creative director Mark Perkins, who returned to Cow, and MD Richard Tompkins, who set up his own agency. W doubled down on its commitment to diversity, expanding its social enterprise WX, which seeks out young talent from diverse and low-income backgrounds. W also backed black-owned youth insight group Word on the Curb to develop WordX, a diversity research programme across race, age, gender and sexual orientation that is informing PR strategy for the likes of Unilever. When nothing was certain, the agency provided clarity and security for the team, empowering HR to do anything it needed, without constraint, to improve employee wellbeing. It instituted a ‘no pay-cuts’ policy and pumped cash into training. 

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W is nominated for five SABRE awards this year. Stand-out work included inventing the sell-out ‘makeaway’ meal kit for artisan pizza chain Pizza Pilgrims when it had to close its £20 million restaurant business in lockdown, which was so successful it now has a purpose-built unit to cope with demand. The agency also created ‘world’s first social distancing deodorant’ in a collab between cultural icons Marmite and Lynx Africa, and the moving ‘Fabric of the Community’ campaign to launch Grenfell Athletic FC’s shirt with Nike.

Maja Pawinska Sims