2021 UK PR Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke

2021 UK 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: Engine MHP & Mischief (Engine)

aoy-backstory-iconBackstory

It was the first full year of Engine’s corporate heavyweight MHP and creative consumer hotshop Mischief working together as one agency with two brands, after a period of upheaval and uncertainty across the Engine group as it restructured its operations. Despite some cynicism about whether blending two very different cultures – suits vs. sneakers – would work (and some shedding of talent in the process), Engine MHP+Mischief has become an intriguingly successful proposition with ambitions to become a top 10 UK agency. The leadership team, including CEO Alex Bigg, deputy CEO Nick Barron, head of brand and reputation Rachel Bower and Mischief MD Greg Jones, found their combined sweet spot for 2020 was a modern, creative approach to corporate communications, as businesses and brands needed to communicate with different audiences in new ways.

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Engine MHP+Mischief is based in London.

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After a few sleepless nights last March, Engine MHP+Mischief grew its top-line by 5% in 2020 to £27.7 million. In 2020 the agency won more than 50 new clients, including Coinbase, Curve, IWG, MundiPharma, Samsung, and South Western Railway, who joined Asda, AstraZeneca, Atos, Coca Cola, E.ON, FreeNow, Huawei, JD Sports, Lego, Nationwide, RSPCA and Unilever on the roster. Areas of strength included consumer comms, corporate reputation, brand strategy, crisis and issues management, capital markets, public affairs, health and financial services.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Since the two agencies – with a total of 190 employees – had only just moved into shared offices when the UK went into lockdown, 2020 required real focus on building a joint team and culture while working virtually. There were no redundancies or furloughs, promotions and pay rises were honoured, and the agency continued to hire. Initiatives to support and inspire ranged from “beat burnout days” to Thirsty Thursday Zoom drinks. The leadership team stepped up their pastoral roles to check in on their people and make them feel valued, ensuring home set-ups were as good as possible, appointing mentors and “postcode champions” so colleagues who lived near each other could go for a walk, as well as being transparent about what was happening with the business. As a result, 95% of the team said they felt positive about how they had been supported. The agency benchmarked representation of Black, Asian and ethnic minorities for the first time and found it was 11%, with a target of 20% across the business. It now uses blind CVs and balanced shortlists, and works with the Taylor Bennett Foundation. 

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

The agency’s work is underpinned by a great deal of intellectual firepower and behavioural science, with new thinking captured in IP such as the new Networked Age Guide to Communicating in a Polarised World. The team is particularly proud of its work that was directly related to the pandemic, from helping Gilead tell the story around its Remdesivir antiviral treatment and tackling the impact of the pandemic on cancer diagnosis and care, to helping businesses keep the lights on and supporting the British Business Bank with distribution of government bailouts. The capital markets team handled communications around the biggest retail story of the year, the breakup of Arcadia. Consumer work included a SABRE nominated campaign for E.ON persuading national media outlets to change their weather forecasts to include air quality data and brokering a partnership between Lego and the National Trust to encourage outdoor play.

Maja Pawinska Sims



Finalists


BCW Global (WPP)

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Having successfully integrated two legacy businesses to create a full-service offer with capabilities across digital, design, production, brand planning, crisis, public affairs, and performance marketing, as well as augmenting its healthcare, consumer and corporate centres of excellence, 2020 stood out as a year of transformation across BCW’s London business. Under the leadership of UK CEO Rebecca Grant, the agency put all its cards on creativity, introducing a new mantra that informs its three-year vision in the UK: “a creative business that solves complex problems by moving people.” The agency prioritised creative, innovative work that improves business performance and moves people to think, feel or act differently, and BCW ended the year by taking the top spot in PRovoke’s Global Creative Index for the first time.

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BCW’s London office is the largest in its Europe & Africa region, with around 180 employees.

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In London, revenues declined less than 2%, putting BCW ahead of WPP peers and most network competitors. 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. A raft of new initiatives contributed to over 28% of annual revenue in the UK, including a suite of products centred around its London-born global Victor consulting framework in the weeks after lockdown, such as the e-Writers Room. The healthcare team added a digital transformation offer for pharmas and launched consumer health offer BCW Life. The public affairs team launched Nexus to help clients to respond to grass-roots movements, and a new poly-cultural proposition helped clients consider different identities, life experiences and views on racial and societal issues. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

In an environment where the team was working apart, BCW London changed its promotion and pay-rise structure to recognise and rewarded people who were deploying their creativity to unlock new solutions for clients; 26% of the team were promoted in 2020. BCW supported its people by expanding its flexible working initiative, introducing ‘walking meetings’ to avoid Zoom fatigue, built a programme of coffee connections meetings, nominated mental health allies, piloted a growth and wellbeing app to gauge morale, and brought a growth mindset to the agency, including leadership training on resilience and a new feedback mechanism. The agency also set up groups for working parents. BCW also wrote a D&I 100 Day action and longer-term plan, with inclusivity leadership training, increase representation within its work, creating a educational resource library and establishing forums to discuss important topics.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

The London team created the emotional SABRE-nominated 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. It also created the Skin Unfiltered campaign for Dove, galvanised hundreds of women to share unfiltered images of their skin on Instagram – stretch-marks, eczema, scarring and all – advocating for Dove’s inclusive vision of real beauty while driving purchase consideration for Dove’s new body wash.

Maja Pawinska Sims

FleishmanHillard (Omnicom PR Group)

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It turned out to be the last year that the Omnicom agency was branded FleishmanHillard Fishburn in London: at the start of 2021 it was the end of one era for the 30-year-old Fishburn brand, but the start of a new one for the quietly dynamic London leadership duo of CEO Jim Donaldson and deputy CEO Ali Gee, who over the past five years have built a 300-strong business – 50% bigger than at the time of the merger – that is substantially stronger than the sum of its legacy parts, despite some scepticism at the time of the merger that it would work. Despite the rollercoaster of 2020, FleishmanHillard UK outperformed most agencies in its own network and the rest of the network world during the pandemic, through creative and strategic work for global clients (with the London team pitching alongside colleagues from around the world) and innovations including the launch of a COP26 offer.

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FleishmanHillard has one UK office in London, which operates as part of its network of six branded offices in Europe, plus seven sister operations including OPRG-branded offices.

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FleishmanHillard had top-line growth of around 4% in the UK and profit margins of more than 20% in 2020, with no major client losses: it was the sixth year in a row that the agency has had single-digit growth. Healthcare had a particularly strong year, growing 20% in London, and growth also came from a whole raft of more reputation and crisis management work, including cyber attacks. After a difficult Q2, the consumer division also recovered, and additional briefs came from areas such as internal communications, talent and transformation. The London team contributed to a total of $32 million in new win fees across EMEA in 2020, up $2m on 2019. New clients in 2020 included Krispy Kreme, Unilever, Icelandair, Pearson, JLL, who joined Bayer, Philips, Johnson & Johnson, Barclays, Prudential, Danone, AT&T, Fitbit, Bose, Novartis, Samsung, Santander and L’Oreal on the roster.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

The London leadership team put its people first and gave them support in and out of work throughout lockdown, with much more line manager interaction and online sessions that ranged from creativity training to a virtual Christmas party. 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. FH also made 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. FH London became the only marketing services agency to be accredited as meeting the UK government/E&Y National Equality Standard, which sets equality, diversity and inclusion criteria against which companies are independently assessed. Engagement scores went up across the agency, which hired 46 people in creative, crisis, healthcare, digital and sports and made no redundancies. 

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FH’s creative output went up significantly over the year in London, with campaigns including for the UAE Government Media Office on the Emirates Mars Mission and the launch of its Mars Hope Probe. Client demand for insights and intelligence went through the roof, and the London team produced a slew of webinars and other thought leadership on topics from consumption, to techlash, to the future of asset management.

Maja Pawinska Sims

H+K Strategies (WPP)

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H+K’s London office is not only one of the market’s largest, but the firm’s biggest operation too, playing an outsize role in terms of leading the firm’s creative and digital strategy and many of its global practices and sectors. There is considerable depth across consumer, energy/industrials, technology and healthcare, along with burgeoning capabilities in mobility and entertainment — underpinned by market-leading expertise in crisis, employee engagement, social impact, digital, creativity and behavioural science. Simon Whitehead is CEO after succeeding global president and Americas CEO Richard Millar in 2018. 

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H+K numbers 280 people in London. 

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A low single-digit decline in revenue represents an impressive performance amid challenging conditions. Technology and healthcare performed particularly well, offsetting tougher years for retail/leisure, hospitality and food & drink. Similarly, strong returns from the firm’s crisis, corporate and employee engagement services helped to offset a softer year for the creative studio, while H+K also benefited from social impact and diversity & inclusion counsel, and from the shift to digital working. Growth clients included Smart Energy, Ford, Arla, Takeda, Google, Spotify, Facebook and Dell, while there was new business from Qualcomm, GBT, Budweiser, Honda, Volvo, Hiscox, Equifax, Bitpanda, Ikea, and Xiaomi.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Key new hires included Nick Clark (to oversee financial and professional services), Bryn Tweedale (digital planning), Jonathan Caleb-Landy (energy and industrials), Emma Knott (healthcare) and Gabriella Davies Heard (CPG), while there were also significant promotions for Alex Silcox (to chief client officer), Ross Hopcraft (Studio MD), Chris Pratt (Better Impact MD) and Eleanor Sullivan (head of innovation). Afrer overhauling its learning and development programme in 2019, the firm invested £252k in professional development during the lockdown, while there was also a comprehensive range of programmes focusing on wellbeing, mental health, and flexible working. H+K also elevated its DEI efforts, launching numerous initiatives including a sponsorship programme, partnerships to improve recruitment, inclusion and bias training, mentoring and intern schemes — helping to close both the gender pay and diversity representation gap. 

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There were several SABRE nominated campaigns from H+K’s office, including the Call of Duty: Warzone launch for Activision, ‘Poo Power; for Arla, ‘Emoji Jacket’ for Ford, ‘Rent-a-Pred’ for Adidas, ‘Love Stories’ for Team GB, and ‘Green Aisle’ for Smart Energy. All of which reflects London’s role as H+K’s key creative hub on a global level. 

Arun Sudhaman

Ketchum (Omnicom)

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When Ketchum promoted ballsy young corporate affairs lead Jo-ann Robertson to be the CEO of its London office at the start of 2018, the agency braced itself for (positive) disruption. During her third year in charge, Robertson cemented Ketchum London’s position in the global network as what a senior colleague described as a “shining light and a cultural beacon” within the global network, bringing her personal blend of what you might call “no bull, hard graft and extreme nurturing” to her team’s mission of being the best communications agency in London. The UK represents 12-15% of Ketchum’s global business and is the global hub for a number of multi-market accounts, with particular strengths in healthcare, consumer packaged goods, and corporate reputation, B2B and technology.

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Ketchum’s UK office is in London, working with colleagues in 30 offices across Europe.

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

After growing by 7% in 2019, Ketchum London declined overall as its consumer business, travel clients and experiential work were hit hard by the pandemic. However, the team’s focus on cross-agency collaboration saw organic growth of around 70% across a group of key clients including Samsung, Mastercard, Allergan and DuPont. Growth also came from its research and analytics and design and production capabilities. The team maintained a new business conversion rate of 65%, on a part with the previous year, with a quarter of the 40 new retained and project wins – including for new clients J&J, Kia Motors, Purina and Amgen – coming from non-competitive opportunities thanks to the agency’s strong relationships with clients. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Ketchum UK committed to putting its people first every step of the way and accelerating its progress on D&I: it was the first large agency to be awarded full Blueprint accreditation and is Creative Equals highest scoring organisation ever. The agency retained more than 85% of its staff and recruited “rockstar” talent such as Indy Selvarajah as ECD from Edelman, Kat Dare as director of strategic creative (from Taylor Herring), Claire Slight from Ogilvy as director brand integration and former GSK comms lead Camilla Dormer as deputy MD of health. 

The agency energised its Inclusion Council, spearheading rapid change that included continuous reviewing and rewiring of recruitment and onboarding processes and continued partnerships with organisations such as the Taylor Bennett Foundation and Ambitious about Autism. As of February 2021, 21% of the workforce in London and 23% the UK senior leadership team are from a Black, Asian and ethnic minority background. 

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

The agency has produced swathes of creative, impactful work over the past year, with six SABRE nominations for the London office, including work for Samsung, Quorn, Daz and leading the 14-market Lifetime Carbon Neutral campaign for Velux with WWF, which led to 2.6 million video views. The agency lived its purpose of “doing work that matters” through campaigns such as building virtual galleries for Braun to help men #sayitwithashave, to getting over 2,500 women to share their personal and painful #wombstories for Libresse, to supporting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance with their programme to challenge Holocaust denial. Thought leadership included weekly Covid-19 media intelligence reports, and a Cultural Trend Report mapping the most notable changes in how people are living through the pandemic.

Maja Pawinska Sims