2021 Pan-EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke

2021 Pan-EMEA 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: BCW (WPP)

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Three years after its mega-merger, BCW has evolved into a formidable player in EMEA, with an agility and propensity for innovation that you might not expect from an agency of its size even outside a pandemic. While much of the world came to a standstill, BCW kept true to its ‘Moving People’ proposition across the Europe and Africa region led by Scott Wilson, and Asda’a BCW in the Middle East, taking a proactive approach to client partnerships and producing some of the most creative and impactful work in the industry. Among the new services offered was BCW Nexus, a revamping of modern-day public affairs and advocacy designed to guide clients through an era of rapid change and unprecedented complexity. The agency also built and deployed new products and IP in data and analytics, digital and social media, virtual events, as well as an updated version of its Trufluence approach to influencer marketing and its Victor operating system. 

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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% thanks to growing income from healthcare, public affairs and crisis, putting it ahead of WPP peers and its network competitors. Middle East income was down 4%. Across the region, the agency won a record number of accounts and new assignments including Henkel, Slack, Epic Games, Xiaomi, Sanofi, Alibaba Group, TikTok, Whirlpool, Nestle, Boehringer Ingelheim and Earth Speakr, 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. Thanks to the agency’s key client partner programme – an initiative piloted in EMEA and now deployed globally – relationships with clients including Nike, Lavazza, Danone, Accenture and Pfizer flourished and in many cases grew into new practices and markets in 2020. 

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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, the program challenges established and emerging BCW leaders to evolve their leadership and increase their impact.

Across the region, BCW welcomed new leaders in Brussels (Andrew Cecil), Marc Chauchat (Paris), Bjoern-Christian Hasse and Susan Hoelling (Germany) and Elena Silva who became sole market leader in Italy. Other new leadership arrivals included Greg Curchod in Switzerland as well as Bridget von Hoult and Karl Haechler taking on the leadership in South Africa, following Robyn de Villiers’ move to chair after 32 years as CEO of BCW Africa. 

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BCW – which topped our Global Creative Index for 2020 – received 20 SABRE nominations this year (more than any other agency) for its work across EMEA. Stand-out campaigns including creating the Beach Mode ‘digital lifebuoy’ for Trygg-Hansa in Sweden, an innovative app that stopped parents getting distracted on their phones while their children were in the sea, which directly led to a 31% drop in drownings. The London team also created the emotional Hunger Monster campaign with Aldi to highlight food poverty during the pandemic.

Maja Pawinska Sims

 

Finalists

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 more flexibility on profit margins and greater nimbleness, particularly in terms of new investments. It has a well-balanced portfolio that spans consumer and corporate, healthcare and tech, and has been at the forefront of the industry’s advance into digital and paid media and broader creative.

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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. The fast-growing Africa operations were recently combined with the established Middle Eastern offices to create a single unit in the developing markets.

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The numbers for calendar year 2020—revenues declined from $188 million to just under $170 million—don’t tell the whole story. For one thing, a robust recovery was well under way by the end of the year, and the firm expects to see growth for the financial year that ends in June. For another, regional CEO Ed Williams was 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.” There’s certainly more integration across the firm’s offices, and a more collaborative culture than was previously the case and new business was impressive, with Miele, National Grid, Mitsubishi Power, Janssen and Bristol-Myers Squibb joining the regional client roster in 2020.

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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. Other key additions included Julian Payne, communications secretary to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and previously head of comms for the BBC and Burberry, to lead the region’s corporate affairs practice and the addition of bench strength in digital and creative. The culture, meanwhile, appears to be benefiting from the restructuring Williams has set in motion.

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Edelman’s flagship thought leadership piece, the Trust Barometer, has grown in reach and influence over recent years—it now encompasses Africa as well as Europe and the Middle East, generating media coverage and opening boardroom doors. Meanwhile, 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.

Paul Holmes

H+K Strategies (WPP)

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Our EMEA Network of the Year in four of the past five years, it came as little surprise when Hill+Knowlton Strategies was crowned EMEA Consultancy of the Decade last year, recognising a remarkably consistent level of performance from the WPP firm across its extensive regional footprint. In an industry that often fetishises the latest shiny new thing, H+K’s commitment to a long-term strategy in EMEA stands apart, reflected again last year when the departure of regional leader Lars Erik Grønntun caused barely a ripple. Unsurprisingly, for an agency of its scale, H+K’s depth spans multiple sectors and practice areas, including consumer, corporate, B2B, technology, healthcare, energy/industrial and financial, and is bolstered by industry-leading capabilities in creativity, digital, behavioural science, purpose and change management. 

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H+K divides the business into five key national markets (the UK and Germany among them) and five ‘clusters’ (including continental Europe, the Nordics, and METIA, which spans Turkey and India as well as the Middle East). There are 1,100 people across the EMEA region, including 280 in London and 250 in the Middle East.

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Despite the economic turmoil wrought by the pandemic, and a leadership transition, H+K’s fee income in EMEA was flat in 2020. Significantly, eight markets grew, with three (including its Middle East powerhouse and Portugal) expanding at a double-digit clip. The UK saw a low single-digit decline, while Poland and Russia/CIS also submitted impressive performances. There was also double-digit YOY growth from the firm’s top 30 clients, which includes such names as Activision, Spotify, P&G, Bitpanda, Reckitt Benckiser, Adnoc, Takeda, Arla, Saudi Aramco, Nestle, Astellas, Dell, Facebook and Visa. New business win value increased 2% in 2020, thanks to a 78.5% conversion rate that netted significant assignments from Google, Sanofi, Qualcomm, Pfizer, McDonald’s, Barilla, Honda, Janssen, Embassy of India, Walgreen Boots Alliance, GBT and Hope Consortium, among others. 

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Bashar AlKadhi oversees METIA, Continental Europe and the Nordics from Dubai, with the remainder of the region led by UK CEO Simon Whitehead and Germany CEO Susanne Marell. The leadership team also includes Continental Europe SVP Melanie Faithfull Kent and significant arrivals included new CEOs in Germany and Netherlands (Jan Paul van Term), along with a slew of atypical hires from outside the conventional PR industry to boost such areas as creativity, digital, content and healthcare. There were also new CEOs in Spain and Poland as a result of internal promotions. 

H+K’s training and development system has always provided a competitive edge, although the unique challenges of 2020 required it to be reconfigured for an online environment, with the launch of a global learning management system called ’The Learning Laboratory’. Unsurprisingly, there was an elevated focus on virtual togetherness initiatives and mentorship programmes, and far greater attention is being paid to diversity and inclusion — manifesting in a range of partnerships to improve diversity in recruitment, along with an advisory council, strategy board and working group that assess and revises processes and policies, and measures progress.

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The transformation of H+K’s creative and content capabilities over the past decade, which continues with expanded studio capabilities across several EMEA markets, provides a good example of the firm’s ability to innovate, and has underpinned growth in such markets as the Middle East, UK, Iberia, Poland and Russia/CIS. That mindset extends to H+K’s strategic depth in such areas as behavioural science, purpose, data/analytics, change management, and influencer engagement. All of which paid off with 14 Finalists at this year’s EMEA SABRE Awards, including eye-catching campaigns for McDonald’s Netherlands, Gamers Without Borders, NORAD, Activision, Arla, Ford, Adidas, Huawei, Smart Energy and Takeda. 

Arun Sudhaman

Ogilvy PR (WPP)

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After a high-profile 2018 ‘refounding’ that saw Ogilvy eliminate its specialist businesses, the WPP agency shifted course again in 2020, bringing back Ogilvy PR as a distinct practice under global CEO Julianna Richter and EMEA chief Joanna Oosthuizen. The departure of group UK chief and key PR leader Michael Frohlich will leave something of a hole to fill, but Ogilvy PR feels like it has its momentum back, with public relations now viewed as a core business rather than just a ‘capability’. In EMEA, that effort is underpinned by a regional network that has performed consistently over the past decade, with specific strengths in consumer, corporate, public affairs, technology and healthcare, supported by standout expertise in digital, influencer management and employee engagement. 

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Key PR markets for Ogilvy in EMEA include its London HQ, an extensive MENA network, Brussels, France, Germany, Spain, South Africa and Ireland, but there are also a host of smaller operations across the parent group’s enormous geographic footprint. 

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Ogilvy PR bucked the difficult climate to register 3.2% revenue growth in EMEA, powered by 13.6% organic expansion and an 8% uplift in new business. The firm’s diverse practice offering beyond consumer ensured it was not too impacted by the pandemic downturn, and there were impressive new business assignments from J&J (Eastern Europe), Google (UK), HBO (Spain), GEMS Education, Diu and McLaren (MENA), and regional/global mandates from TCS, Nestle, UN Women, Lego Retail. These assignments join an existing roster that also saw considerable expansion in 2020, from such clients as Bacardi, for whom Ogilvy drove significant ecommerce growth, Boots and Google. People & Culture

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Former South Africa market head Joanna Oosthuizen now serves as EMEA PR leader, supported by a leadership team that includes UK head Matt Buchanan, MENA chief Ashraf Shakah (who replaced longtime MENA leader Saada Hammad), Sharon Murphy (Ireland), Katja Berghoff (Germany), Nurai Padros (Spain) and Pierre Hubert Meilhac (France). The firm has also expanded its D&I efforts with a slew of initiatives, including a specific apprenticeship programme called The Pipe, which aims to bring young creatives into the industry from underrepresented backgrounds. 

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The ‘rebirth’ of Ogilvy PR means there is far more attention being paid to discrete PR capabilities, including influencer management, employee engagement and public affairs. Ogilvy PR has always benefited from its impressive social/digital and creative strengths, and a revamped ‘centre of excellence’ strategy aims to consolidate its expertise across various areas into distinct market offerings. The work remains better than most, with eight EMEA SABRE Finalists, including campaigns for Guinness, Failte Ireland, Along Came A Spider, Globalworth, Inmarsat Aviation and Google. As important, there was impressive ecommerce growth for Bacardi, eye-catching sustainability work for Lego in Poland, and successful efforts to improve Boots’ trust scores to their highest levels since 2003. 

Arun Sudhaman

Weber Shandwick (IPG Dxtra)

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The world’s second largest public relations agency, Weber Shandwick has been a force in EMEA since its formation 20 years ago (and before that, since Shandwick was the UK’s largest public relations firm prior to the merger with Weber and BSMG). 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 has made substantial acquisitions in the digital space, establishing itself as a leader in that arena.

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Weber Shandwick is a top three PR agency in the UK market, its largest operation in EMEA, but is among the market leaders in the Nordics (where it continues to operate as Prime Weber Shandwick, having acquired the leading local independent seven years ago); Germany (where it recently broke into the top 10); the Middle East and Africa. Its footprint extends across the entire region, with additional offices in Brussels, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

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Weber Shandwick’s EMEA operations followed a similar trajectory to the industry as a whole last year, with fees down in the mid-single digits—a sharp decline in Q2 followed by a steady recovery in 2020’s final few months. But some of the secondary metrics were impressive—the firm’s top 10 clients grew by 30%, and it retained all but one of the top 20—and there was growth in some key sectors (healthcare) and practice areas (corporate and public affairs, sustainability) as well as in digital and content creation and employee communications and change management. There was growth from clients like abbvie, HSBC, Nespresso, GSK, Unilever, Tinder and Papa John’s and new business from UEFA, oppo, Deliveroo, Spotify, LinkedIn, Vittel and Prime Video—which has rapidly become one of the firm’s top clients in the region.

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Internally and externally, Weber Shandwick has been communicating a “we solve” positioning that was nicely in tune with what clients wanted to hear in 2020. That approach has been accompanied by cultural changes facilitating cooperation and collaboration between offices and practices and the firm’s “ecosystem,” which includes subsidiaries such as Flipside, That Lot, and United Minds—providing integrated solutions to complex challenges. The firm also redoubled its efforts on diversity and inclusion, pledging both improved hiring and a commitment to broader social change, and it responded to the long-term implications of the various lockdowns with a new, flexible approach to work-from-home.

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With 160 designers and content creators and nine studios across the region, Weber Shandwick (and its That Lot and Flipside) units offer strong creative capabilities, while the firm’s strategic problem solving delivered some spectacular campaigns. On behalf of Roche, the firm worked with breast cancer community to create a new palette with different shades of pink representing different patients; for McDonald’s, Prime WS helped navigate the political and social agenda in Sweden; for Unilever, the agency engaged employees around the issue of domestic violence. There were new products too, from Conference+, which helped healthcare clients move to virtual evemts, to a new tool designed to measure the impact of sustainability activities on reputation.

Paul Holmes