2021 DACH (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) PR Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke

2021 DACH 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: Farner (Switzerland/Independent)

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Farner, now 67 years old, has been the Swiss market leader in corporate and public affairs for as long as anyone can remember, with seven offices in Switzerland: Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen, Lausanne, Geneva, Basel and Lugano. Yet Farner is not just a domestic heavyweight, but one of the best players in EMEA, as evidenced by its selection as one of PRovoke’s EMEA Consultancies of the Decade. The firm’s revenue has tripled over the past eight years, bolstered by some smart acquisitions, and an ambitious mindset that combines brand development, change management, PR, public affairs and data/commtech across brand communication, advertising and performance marketing. Key strengths include financial, healthcare and brand communication, while more than 30% of Farner’s mandates utilize at least two practices, reflecting its integrated capabilities. 

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Farner operates six offices in Switzerland: Zürich, Bern, St. Gallen, Lausanne, Basel and Chiasso.

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Fee income was up by 25% in 2020, clocking in at €33m from 200+ executives. That was partly helped by the 2019 acquisitions of Rod and DU DA, which underpinned the launch of a branding unit to support strong performances from Farner’s public affairs, corporate comms and change/transformation divisions — illustrated by mandates from the Swiss Confederation, and Covid-19 campaigns for the Federal Office of Public Health and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. 

Key clients include Bundesamt für Gesundheit (Federal Office of Public Health); PostFinance AG; Touring Club Schweiz TCS; Coop Genossenschaft; McDonald's Schweiz; auto-schweiz; Schweizerische Bundesbahnen SBB (Swiss federal railways); Staatsekretariat für Wirtschaft SECO (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs); Pfizer AG; JagdSchweiz. There was new business, meanwhile, from UBS; Ypsomed; Hirslanden AG (Hirslanden Private Hospital Group); Peugeot; Aproz Sources Minérales SA; Schweizer Obstverband Swissfruit; Swisstransplant; RUAG International Holding AG; "Wie geht’s Dir?" (public-private campaign raising awareness on mental health issues); Innoterra; and, Andermatt Swiss Alps. 

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Roman Geiser has led Farner since 2012, while key recent hires include CFO and head of management service Karin Ryser; and public affairs head Cécile Bachmann. The firm’s culture is supported by a pay equality guarantee which is regularly monitored by a credible third party, while there are also initiatives to improve work-life models, parental leave and female representation at a leadership level. Last year, for example, Rod founder Regula Bührer joined Farner’s board of directors, while also serving on the advisory board of the EqualVoice initiative, which aims to increase visibility of women in the media. 

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Farner’s Voice First Barometer continues to study the use of voice of assistants, in conjunction with the University of Lucerne and the Link Institute. Farner is also the the exclusive Swiss provider of training for behavioral marketing that follows the ‘Coglode method’. And, in 2020, the firm’s commstech practice developed two new products — ecoo, a blockchain-based digital platform to make earmarked funds in the form of coins or points easily available for transactions through a smartphone app. And PowerCoins, a gamification approach supported by Behavioral Insights to accelerate value change among employees of an organization. 

That kind of innovation helps to explain Farner’s impressive haul of nine Finalists at the EMEA SABRE Awards, including Ikea’s paternity leave campaign, UBS’ Women’s Wealth Academy, Covid-19 work for the Federal Office of Public Health and ‘Back to Business’ for SBB Swiss Federal Railway. 


Arun Sudhaman


Finalists

Faktor 3 (Germany/Independent)

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Started by three entrepreneurs in 1995 who formed the agency to launch AOL, Faktor3 celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2020 with 240 employees, ensuring its top 10 presence in Germany for more than seven years. The firm has transformed in recent years from a media relations shop to one that employs editors, analysts, engineers, motion designers and communications consultants — underpinning its strength across technology, consumer electronics, and corporate reputation. 

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Based in Hamburg and Berlin, Faktor 3 works across Germany, Austria, Switzerland and beyond. 

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2020 saw Faktor 3 consolidate its continued presence as one of Germany’s top PR firms, benefiting from a tech-driven agility that helped it navigate the worst of the pandemic. There was new business from Sennheiser, Bosch eBike Systems, PepsiCO, Bolt, Car Software Org / Volkswagen Group, Netflix Policy / Public Affairs, ALDI North, Großssmarkt Hamburg, Obela, City of Luebeck. They join an existing client roster that features Microsoft, Adobe, Samsung Electronics, Beiersdorf, Porsche, Hyundai Europe, Netflix Corporate, Twitter, cosnova, and eBay. And Faktor 3 also found time to launch three new products: a speakers bureau, branded podcasts and hybrid event formats. 

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Faktor 3 remains led by founders Sabine Richter, Stefan Schraps and Volker Martens, supported by COO Sven Labenz and new hire Feliz Rauer, who arrived to lead sustainability, along with its CSR and diversity efforts. The latter includes a specific focus on diversity and sustainability projects, highlighted by an awareness-raising internal events and gender-sensitive language across all documents. 

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Faktor 3’s new speakers bureau was developed in conjunction with Microsoft Germany as a central resource for companies to deploy their own communication experts. The firm has also rolled out branded podcasts for such clients as Diconium, the Federal Office for Information Security, Porsche and Adobe. For Porsche, the firm developed a SABRE-nominated effort that brought the company together with hip hop luminaries from around the world, resulting in two feature-length cinema documentaries and a slew of awards. There was also eye-catching campaigns for EBay and Microsoft. 

Arun Sudhaman

FleishmanHillard (Omnicom PR Group)

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FleishmanHillard had a tough 2019 in Germany thanks to its bruising experience with former client Bayer/Monsanto over accusations that it had broken the law over stakeholder mapping. Despite FH being cleared of any wrongdoing, the German operation went into 2020 somewhat on the back foot, with serious concerns about how it would get back to growth even before the pandemic hit. However, the recovered well under the leadership of CEO Hanning Kempe, growing the top line and profits, increasing work for existing clients and revitalising its public affairs offer. 

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FleishmanHillard has four offices in Germany, in Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich and Düsseldorf.

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Revenue in Germany grew by 1% and profits were up by 5%. There were no job losses and the team grew by 10 people. There was healthy organic growth from key clients including J&J and German supermarket chain Rewe, which became the agency’s biggest brand account. Growth came from areas including healthcare, where revenue was up 22%, brand (up 12%) and corporate (also up 12%). New wins included GSK, Purina and Seagen.

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As with all FleishmanHillard’s offices in 2020, the German team put its people first and gave them support in and out of work throughout lockdown. FH amended time-off policies and daily work-hour minimums when the workplace went virtual and at-home responsibilities changed and prioritised mental wellbeing with employee assistance programme and resilience training, and implemented #LosetheWhisper discussions on tough topics. The agency also stepped up its focus on diversity and inclusion as part of a global effort to put DE&I at the centre of the agency and all its client work, including leadership programmes and unconscious bias training. The biggest hire of the year was Thies Clausen, who was poached from Edelman to become head of corporate and public affairs and has put FleishmanHillard firmly back on the public affairs map in Germany. The agency also strengthened its content offer by hiring senior ZDF broadcast editor Sabine Berger to head its video content marketing offer. 

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Stand-out work over the year included creating the 66 Day Challenge for the California Walnut Commission to encourage consumers to eat more walnuts, including social media content from influencers and snacking ideas that led to 3,000 microsite hits and a social media reach of 3.6 million. The team in Germany also supported UCB Pharma on digital transformation around its neurology treatments, including the creation of a new digital hub and content co-created with patients.


Maja Pawinska Sims

MSL Germany (Publicis)

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MSL Germany is one of the few agencies in the market that is equally strong across brand PR, corporate communications and public affairs, with a focus – in all three practices – on creative, influencer, digital and sustainability work. One of the most successful branches of the Publicis Groupe’s PR and influence network, the German offices are run by a tight-knit group of managers, led by crisis communications and public affairs specialist Wigan Salazar, who have worked together for more than a decade. 

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MSL has four offices in Germany: Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich. 

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After a moment of shock in March 2020, it quickly became clear that MSL’s steep growth trajectory in Germany (after 29% growth in 2019) remained intact, partly thanks to a strong Q1, as well as a strong client base in healthcare, pharma, technology and food, all of which required more work rather than less. The agency had an extraordinarily successful year, with fee income up by nearly 30% to more than €12.6 million and the team growing from 80 to 95. It picked up new corporate work for the likes of H&M, as well as consumer work for Puma and public affairs for DKG, the German hospital association. Its existing client roster is impressive, including P&G, Facebook, Mars and CocaCola.

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With business booming through the pandemic, MSL Germany’s biggest challenge was keeping staff happy and remote recruiting, which it tackled by considerably upping internal communications across the business. Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of the agency: it is led by the only minority CEO of a network agency in Germany, born in the Philippines, and a quarter of staff members have parents who were born outside of Germany. The management board consists of four women and four men, with LGBTQ representation. Salazar is a member of the advisory board of Beyond Gender Agenda, an initiative which aims to integrate D&I into leading listed and medium-sized companies in Germany., while MD Birgit Söllner is an active member of the Working Moms non-profit network for high-profile working mothers in Germany.

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MSL Germany introduced digital thought leadership in 2020, running MSL Insights sessions on Zoom that addressed a range of topics around communications and the pandemic. Campaign highlights included the German launch of Disney+, helping Mastercard ride the new wave of contactless payments, supporting Bosch Siemens Home appliances during the lockdown-induced home cooking boom, and introducing the the German government’s official Covid app with the Robert Koch Institut.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Weber Shandwick (IPG Dxtra)

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The world’s largest publicly-held PR agency, Weber Shandwick has been a force in Germany since its formation 20 years ago. The firm is equally well known for its work in brand-building and corporate reputation management and public affairs, has strength in both the healthcare and technology sectors, and also has established itself as a leader in digital and social media and data and analytics.

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Weber Shandwick has four offices in Germany: Berlin (primarily a public affairs business); Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich, with more than 150 people across the nation. The firm also has operations in Switzerland.

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Weber Shandwick’s German operations followed a similar trajectory to the industry as a whole last year, with fees down sharply in Q2 followed by a steady recovery in 2020’s final few months, so that there is plenty of optimism for 2021. And several of the flagship clients—such as Deutsche Telekom and Nespresso—added new projects, particularly in the digital realm. As a result, the studio business in Berlin and Cologne experienced significant growth.

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Ilan Schäfer, formerly managing director of ad agency VCCP Berlin, was named chief executive of the German operations in October of 2019, so his first full year at the helm was a uniquely challenging one, and included several moves to strengthen an already impressive senior team, most notably adding Britta Heer as evp of client experience in the Hamburg office and Kristin Karotkis as svp, public affairs, in Berlin. The Swiss operation, meanwhile, continues under the leadership of Greg Prager, who also holds a regional role, chairing the EMEA corporate practice.

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The firm’s digital work was eye-catching: switching Deutsche Telekom’s sports programming to remote production overnight, without missing an episode; creating a virtual event to launch oppo in Germany after travel restrictions were imposed; creating a podcast series for Nespresso. But there was important work in other areas, supporting Novartis in its efforts to reach underserved immigrant communities and developing substantive sustainability programs for several large clients.

Paul Holmes