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Advertising group M&C Saatchi launched Razor as its South African PR firm in January 2020, bringing in respected industry veterans Dustin Chick and Kalay Maistry to build a new business in the midst of a recession and just as the pandemic was starting to take hold. Despite (or perhaps because of) the market conditions, Razor is the fastest growing startup in M&C Saatchi’s venerable history, with its senior-level focus and expertise in financial services, technology, public advocacy and measurement helping to underpin a very 21st century reputation management firm.
Razor is headquartered in Johannesburg and also operates in Cape Town but, like most South African firms, is capable of continental coverage.
Razor has already grown to 11 staffers and 16 clients in barely a year, billing ZAR$13.5m. But it is the pedigree of the client roster that really shines, featuring such names as Dimension Data (Middle East and Africa), Trend Micro, BDO, Virgin Active, Tiger Brands, Investec Bank, Investec Life, Discovery Networks, SA National Editors Forum, Takealot Group, Revix and Lift. All of this, of course, was done on virtual platforms, benefiting from Razor’s focus on earned media metrics, social purpose and sophisticated corporate counsel.
Chick was previously head of strategy at Ogilvy South Africa, while Maistry has held senior roles at some of South Africa’s key firms and media titles. About half of Razor’s workforce is comprised of previously disadvantaged individuals, and there is also a specific focus on women and people of colour. Razor has also created a graduate programme and is on track for Level 1 BBBE empowerment status in 2021.
There were three SABRE EMEA nominations, a highly credible haul for a new firm, including BDO’s ‘Clarity Charter’, Tiger Brands’ ‘Eat Well Live Well’ initiative and #ChangeforHer for Newzroom Afrika.
— Arun Sudhaman
Like many firms in this category, it looked like the odds were stacked against Boldspace, which Mike Robb and Nick Ford-Young launched in February 2020 — just weeks before Covid forced the first national UK shutdown. Clearly, however, there was a market for what Boldspace was offering: a new agency model that brings together advertising, marketing, and PR — and is flexible with client delivery. Built for challenger brands, Boldspace hit its one-year revenue targets within six months of opening for business, has been recognized with 11 industry awards, and planted 2,500 trees as part of its commitment to sustainability.
Boldspace has an office in London.
It didn’t take long for Boldspace to catch on. Within six months of its February debut, the agency hit its one-year revenue goals. Boldspace is up to 12 employees and growing. The agency closed out 2020 with an impressive 17 clients in the technology, healthcare, fintechs, financial services, e-commerce, and energy sectors, many of which are the challenger or purpose-driven brands Boldspace wants. Healthcare Workers’ Foundation, Ecoffee Cup, Exizent, Vestrata, West Ham United, and Green Solutions are among Boldspace’ partners.
Former MHP managing director Mike Robb and Nick Ford-Young, a former Studio Black Tomato MD at Studio, launched Boldspace with a vision of creating a new kind of agency, one that unifies advertising, marketing, and PR — the success of which speaks for itself. The co-founders are committed to building culture centered around people, purpose, and sustainability (the latter two of which is reflected in Boldspace’s client roster and being a carbon negative organization). Faced with launching an agency in a pandemic (Boldspace staffers were never physically together), leadership took steps to bring employees virtually together including intensive orientation for new hires and team meetings at the start and end of every week, as well online social events. Team members include Therese Moriarty, the agency’s head of data and insight, strategy lead Mike Nicholson, who previously led planning at MullenLowe, and creative head Adam Griffin, ex-Leo Burnett, and JWT.
Boldspace operates under its Whole World Brand View methodology, which includes considering 14 key factors (creative, content, media, engagement, conversion, loyalty, reputation, audience, market, brand, product, staff, experience, strategy) in crafting communications strategy. In September, the firm launched its own technology platform, BoldLens, to give SMEs access to the same kind of sophisticated and costly data usually only available to big brands. Boldspace also gathers data on 60 of the world’s most current topics to use in shaping clients’ strategies. One of Boldspace’s most successful campaigns last year was for the Healthcare Workers’ Foundation, which was launched to deliver wide-ranging support to NHS staff working during Covid. Donations during the campaign, which used the NHS’s 72nd birthday as a hook to drive awareness for the charity, were up by 300% from the week before. Boldspace campaigns have driven measurable donations to the HWF of more than six figures in the last year.
— Diana Marszalek
Performance-driven marketing and communications agency Hard Numbers was founded by former Hotwire director Darryl Sparey and creative director Paul Stollery in June 2020, after they spotted an opportunity to innovate by combining sales-led marketing with PR, and injecting a welcome dose of creativity into B2B comms. It has quickly become one of the most noteworthy of the many ex-Hotwire alumni: the agency’s single-minded focus on ensuring every element of communications strategy and every piece of activity leads directly to solid business outcomes for clients already sets it apart in an industry which still too often grapples with effective measurement. Hard Numbers was launched to service three core sectors: technology (martech, adtech, fintech and software as a service (SaaS)); professional services (law firms, accountants, management consultants and other consultancy businesses); and data and research (market research, data providers, media intelligence, audience insight providers).
So far, Hard Numbers has operated remotely from across the UK, with plans to take an office in London and operate as a hybrid agency.
The agency has already picked up clients from early-stage start-ups to established martech and fintech players in pitches against established global firms. Hard Numbers has worked with more than 20 clients, either on a project or retainer basis, since June and full-year revenue will hit £500,000. Its current client base is 40% fintech, 30% SaaS, 20% mobility and transportation and 10% healthtech. The agency has worked with three consultancy businesses and two data and research businesses.
Hard Numbers already has a full-time headcount of 10, plus three regular freelancers. To build a culture while distanced, the founders have put a number of measures into place, including every member of the team being mentored, with regular Zoom sessions and expensed takeaway mentoring lunches. CPD is core to the business, via the PRCA and CIPR training, as well as putting staff through Mark Ritson’s Mini-MBA. During lockdown, the agency kept spirits up with efforts from virtual cocktail classes to buying the Headspace app for everyone. Despite the founders’ efforts to build a diverse agency, the first five full-time hires were white. So they changed the recruiter roster to prioritise those who provided more diverse candidates, and 40% of subsequent hires have been from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds.
Unlike many new agencies, Hard Numbers has already invested in its own IP, producing the ‘From Coverage to Capital’ report in October 2020 into the effects of PR and media coverage on early stage businesses and their fundraising. This saw industry-wide coverage and has been a sales asset, generating over 100 leads and three opportunities to pitch. The agency has also launched a new Community as a Service proposition to set-up and run customer and prospect communities on behalf of high growth businesses. Client campaigns included an ePOS report for client Phos which drove over 100 leads; a research report for HelloDone that led to coverage, speaker invitations and 50 leads; an international campaign for BlueSnap on finance teams in medium-to-larger enterprises in the UK and US that created a significant pipeline for the business.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Look After was founded in April 2020 by two young communications professionals, Nic Young and Felix Henderson, and was originally a volunteer initiative, offering pro bono support to charities through the early stages of the pandemic. Within weeks, it had grown to 350 volunteers across PR, social media, design, influencer marketing and web development. In September, Graham Goodkind joined as non-exec chairman and Look After formally launched as an agency, working exclusively with purposeful businesses on PR and social media briefs. Look After’s strapline is “purpose led fame for ethically minded brands”: it works exclusively with brands who ‘do good’, in any sectors and across all creative and communications practice areas. Its work is split between traditional PR (press offices, crisis management, corporate profiling) and social media (content creation, community management, paid social, influencer marketing). The team has also created visual identities for brands, projects and campaigns and is soon to launch its first OOH advertising campaign.
Working remotely from across the UK, with an office in London.
Since its launch in September, the agency has generated £130,000 in revenue. The EBITDA for the same period stands at £80,000, with monthly revenues of £35,000. Annual revenue for the first year is projected to reach £250,000 with EBITDA, at current profit margins, of £162,500. As part of its fee for client Inspira Pharamceuticals, a plant-based treatment for Covid currently undergoing clinical trials, the agency has taken an equity stake.
Look After’s full-time permanent and freelance team totals eight, with an even gender split, plus its network of hundreds of freelancers. The founders plan to applying for B-Corp status as soon as they are eligible. The firm operates a profit share pool for employees and freelancers, and allocates everyone time to work on pro bono charity clients. With the founders having an average age of 25, they also champion other young people building agencies that support charities.
Creative and social media clients so far include Wejo, a tech unicorn and the global leader in connected vehicle data, and Hellenic Dynamics, a large medical cannabis business based in Greece. Public relations clients include Jack & Bry, a jackfruit plant-based meat producer supplying restaurants, and UK plant-based fast-food chain Neat Burger, backed by Lewis Hamilton.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Shook is one of the most exciting new consumer agencies to come on the scene for some time, and that’s partly down to its approach of combining behavioural science and creativity, and partly the pedigree and chemistry of its co-founders, Engine Mischief’s former head of strategy Gemma Moroney and executive creative director Damon Statt. Having worked together for 15 years (including at Frank), they jumped at the chance to start their own agency when Hope&Glory offered to back them in July 2020. Shook was set up to “help brands build behaviours, using a blend of behaviour design and creativity to make ideas with impact.” It is a consumer agency at heart, but its creative, communications and campaigning work also covers B2B and trade audiences. Work has ranged from defining the purpose of a billion-dollar technology company, to integrated communications, charity fundraising and government campaigning.
Headquartered in London, Shook works remotely with clients across seven time zones.
The agency has topped six-figure income within its first 12 months of trading and profit has averaged 20–30%. Having broken even from month five, in year two, it aims to top £600,000 fee income. Around one third of income is now retained and 57% of business has been won without a pitch or at creds stage. Clients to date include two billion-dollar US tech brands, Smart Energy GB, Onken yogurt, Cook, a major retailer, a sports governing body and several NGOs.
Moroney and Statt have just made their first senior hire – a yet-to-be-announced associate director from an agency and NGO background. There are six other members of the team, plus specialist consultants as required. Shook’s values are: open, honest, restless, generous and fun. The co-founders have taken the opportunity of building inclusivity into the heart of the agency from the start, and rather than a D&I policy, have created a pledge of what they are doing now, next and as the agency grows. This pledge, and a client charter, are shared with clients when Shook starts work, and covers everything from miscarriage and menopause leave to prompts around accessibility on meeting agendas, time off for religious holidays and commitment to advertising job roles through representative networks.
Notable work includes asking the UK Government to adopt long-overdue NHS guidelines for adults with cerebral palsy in the celebrity-led ‘Second Class Citizens’ campaign, and turning around an integrated campaign covering PR, social, influencers, website and retail in one month for Onken yoghurt. Later this year, Shook is launching a habits practice, based on research conducted with Vitreous Worldwide that has identified seven habits of highly effective brands. The practice will help brands build habits amongst colleagues and consumers. The agency also has a ‘Shookshop’ on its website, selling ideas without a home to the highest bidder.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
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