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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.
The firm’s London office employs 36 people, up from 26 in 2019.
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.
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.
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
E-J Granleese launched History Will Be Kind (HWBK) in 2014 with the lofty aim of “creating moments in history for clients” by managing reputations, raising profiles, launching products, and most interestingly, starting movements. Covid, though, forced HWBK to change its focus, prompting leadership to instead commit to maintaining the team, focus on mental well-being and resilience, and lean into challenges with transparency and bravery. Leaders simultaneously took steps to shift business to operate during the pandemic, which included improving efficiency while keeping a laser focus on clients and quality. The efforts worked. HWBK logged 12 key wins across travel, entertainment, FMCG, logistics and technology over the last 12 months, and 97% client retention year-over-year.
History Will Be Kind is in Sydney.
History Will Be Kind closed 2020 as a 16-person operation with nearly AUD$2 million in revenue, despite losing 28% of fee income during the first month of the Covid pandemic. That speaks to HWBK’s rapidly deployed moves to sustain the business during Covid, which included efficiency improvements, a complete evaluation of how the firm does business, and putting laser focus on clients, quality delivery and an empowered team. HWBK’s 12 new clients include Airliquide, Celebrity Cruises, Chromebook, Ferrero, SBS on Demand, Mentemia, YouTube and Drive Yello, which join a roster already populated by the likes of Etihad, Google, and Horticulture Innovation Australia. HWBK retained 97% of its clients and 88% of staff. June 2021 revenue set to be 120% increase on the same period last year.
HWBK considers supporting its team through Covid one of 2020’s biggest accomplishments. After starting the year with the goal of being Bigger, Bolder and Better, the firm in March changed its goal to be Bolder and Better Together. Leadership committed to maintaining the team, focusing on mental well-being and resilience and being transparent. HWBK also doubled down on its people-first approach, supporting the team to upskill and embrace change, while navigating major personal and professional changes. The firm’s commitment to diversity is cultivated with strong female leadership (founder, business director, client partner, ADs), a pay parity commitment and 10 nationalities across the group, all mentoring juniors to drive career success.
In 2020, HWBK shifted the industry debate from maternity leave to return to work and accommodated its team’s major life decisions, from side hustles and study to relocation, providing remote work arrangements while they established themselves. The firm built out its policies allowing employees to work from anywhere and choose their own hours. HWBK also started providing access to mental health services and supported emerging talent with coaching. The agency also launched new products to help the team through the pandemic. They include Covid Conversations covering hot topic sweeps and impact analysis; a new podcast series ReGr()up diving into key challenges facing the industry; Virtual Masterclasses to maintain engagement with media/influencers; and Rally, Respond, Recover, a workshop series to drive innovation/movement, at a time of uncertainty.
During 2020, HWBK ensured innovation and product development were core to its operations, leading to the creation of new offerings including Sounding Board, a network designed to align independent agency leaders to share strategies and build trusted support; and an owned and licensed product diversification strategy, Collective Ventures, shifting into owned-product development and business incubation in response to the pandemic environment. HWBK’s top work of 2020 includes its ongoing work repositioning Australia-Google/YouTube as a locally focused company helping the community; educating consumers and generating local demand for sustainable seafood for the Marine Stewardship Council; and supporting the International Convention Centre Sydney through the Covid recovery.
— Diana Marszalek
Hunter was founded in 1989 with a specialization in food and beverage PR and has expanded organically into adjacent categories in the years since to become one of the country's biggest pure play consumer firms. In addition to F&B, Hunter's expertise includes health and beauty, home and lifestyle, travel and hospitality and retail.
New York (HQ)
Remarkably, Hunter defied pandemic challenges to grow fee income by 30% in 2020 to almost $32m, with headcount rising to 161 from 119 in 2019. That was down to expanded business across all major practice areas, including F&B (King's Hawaiian, Chicken of the Sea); home and lifestyle (Benjamin Moore, Burpee, Le Creuset), and health and beauty (Tytocare, Abbott Diagnostics). Hunter's existing client roster continues to feature Tabasco Pepper Sauce, the firm's first client from 1989, along with longstanding relationships with 3M (29 years), Church & Dwight (20 years), Johnson & Johnson (16 years), Diageo (14 years), Smithfield Foods (10 years), Pompeian (9 years), and Amazon (3 years), the last of which involved considerable service expansion to include devices, grocery, and corporate social media strategy and content.
Grace Leong, the firm's first employee 32 years ago, is CEO today, and runs the home and lifestyle business as well as a substantial portion of the food and beverage practice. Jon Lyon, with Hunter since 1994, leads the agency’s more culinary-focused food and beverage brands. Donetta Allen, who joined Hunter in 2000, founded the agency’s social, digital and influencer media practice in 2010. Gigi Garcîa Russo has been with the firm for 19 years and in addition to serving as the agency’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, oversees its extensive Amazon business as well as other fashion and lifestyle business. Erin Hanson returned to the firm in 2012 to lead its health and beauty practice.
Hunter added more than 40 staff to its roster in the past 12 months, including strategists and specialists in various practice areas to support both new business and organic growth. The firm traces its efforts to address the lack of diversity in the PR industry back to Barbara Hunter herself, who equalized pay between men and women as her very first move as chairwoman of D-A-Y in 1959. In 2020, Hunter addressed the need for more education, more advocacy, and more action – both internally and externally, creating an Anti-Racism Action Group which included three subcommittees focused on direct actions, advocacy and education. The firm has also implemented new mandatory unconscious bias and micro-aggression training for all staff and has doubled down on efforts to increase staff diversity. As a result, the proportion of non-white employees has grown by 5% since 2018 to 23%, almost double the industry average.
Hunter's proprietary purpose methodology has helped clients successfully navigate through plant closings, employee issues, supply chain challenges, food recalls, tariff threats, diversity and inclusion and the movement to address systemic racism, among others. The firm also added the SUZY platform to its suite of insights tools in late 2019, which was leveraged extensively throughout the pandemic for both client and agency-wide insights. For example, when Americans found themselves relying on their kitchens more than ever before, Hunter used SUZY to quantify how Covid-19 was impacting Americans’ food preferences and behaviors, resulting in the popular Hunter Food Study Special Report: America Gets Cooking.
Campaigns included three SABRE-nominated efforts: 'Scotch Painter's Tape Paints It Forward' which transformed rundown Brooklyn basketball courts for 3M, #ForTheGrams, Amazon Devices' effort to help families maintain holiday traditions while social distancing, and Scotch-Brite's 'Brand Holiday Gift Guide'. There were also notable initiatives for Johnnie Walker Black Label's Jane Walker women's equality programme, and helping Tequila Don Julio celebrate the bartenders and restaurant workers as the “hearts and souls” of Cinco de Mayo.
— Arun Sudhaman
Befitting a market leader, PR One has broad capabilities that span consumer and corporate, financial and public affairs, digital and creative; sector expertise in financial services, healthcare and tech; and supplemental services that are far from ubiquitous in South Korea, including a focus on employee communications and culture change. Responding to changing client demands, the firm’s digital and social media capabilities are formidable, including content creation designed to reach consumers in immediate and interactive ways, and a dedicated influencer marketing capability.
From its headquarters in Seoul, PR One focuses primarily on the Korean marketplace. The firm has a longstanding partnership with Japanese agency PRAP and is a member of the Worldcom network of independent PR firms.
Korea handled the first nine months of the Covid crisis considerably better than many other markets, but even so the 28% growth PR One recorded during 2020 was extremely impressive, taking the firm up 10 places to number 88 on our list of the world’s largest PR agencies—and into the top 10 Asia-based agencies. Major clients include Samsung Electronics, LEGO Korea, Lotte Nestle Korea, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, Nikon Imaging Korea, Hawaiian Airlines, Oakley, AXA General Insurance, LG Household & Health Care, and the French Tourism Development Agency. New business last year came from CJ Cheil Jedang, Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Paradise Hotel Group, BMW Handok, Kwangdong Pharmaceutical, Amway, Cargill Korea and more.
PR One is justly proud of the talent it has amassed, recruiting leading specialists in key disciplines supporting president and CEO Jaehyung Cho such as digital PR director Howon Son; Seoyun Jang, a specialist in brand marketing PR; Taeyoung Kim, who focuses on PR for startups and business enterprises; and Jihun Park, deputy chief specializing in communication research. A new addition last year was public affairs specialist Kwangwoo Jun.
Highlights last year included a digital campaign for KB Card, one of the largest credit card companies in Korea, producing a wide range of content that won the top prize in the image PR category from the 2020 Korea PR Awards. The firm handled rebranding work for Epson Korea; social media channel strategy for BMW Handok; and managed the “Great Driver” campaign for the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association aiming to improve understanding of government’s automotive policies.
— Paul Holmes
After 19 years of being one of the most admired independent boutiques on the hugely competitive UK consumer PR scene, 2020 turned out to be Taylor Herring’s last year as an independent: the agency that helped to redefine modern consumer PR was recently acquired outright by Publicis, marking a brave new era for the firm founded by husband and wife team James Herring and Cath Taylor. Taylor Herring has a reputation for “delivering fame and fortune” for clients through creative brand-building campaigns and headline-grabbing launch moments that link to commercial outcomes. In 2020, the agency also continued to push the boundaries of the traditional PR agency skillset by applying an earned first mentality to OOH executions, new product innovations and primetime TV spots.
The agency is based in London.
When Covid-19 hit UK shores, the agency’s spring and summer work schedule was obliterated, and its new business pipeline tanked. Activations around Euro 2020, The Tokyo Olympics, Wimbledon and Goodwood Festival of Speed were wiped out. In three weeks, Taylor Herring lost £300,000 in revenue. The senior team took pay cuts, and there was one redundancy. But by the end of the year, the agency had grown revenue in 2020 by 17.5% (against a target of 15%) to £4.9m. Profits were running at 15%: consistent with the previous two years, allowing the agency to honour pay rises and bonuses. During the period the agency achieved 90% client retention. It continued to work with Sky and UKTV (an 18-year relationship), Paddy Power, Disney (17 years), Samsung, Greggs, EasyJet and Beano. New client wins included Subway, Santander, McVities, Huel, Premiership Rugby and Global Radio.
As well as CEO Herring and COO Taylor, the agency is led by chief creative officer Peter Mountstevens. A quarter of the agency’s 25 permanent staff are home-grown, with a diverse mix of backgrounds. The team is further supplemented by a similar number of freelancers across a wide variety of disciplines. Having switched to flexible working in 2018, the agency was in a strong position to adapt to home working. Even so, mental health was a concern without the face-to- face collaboration and the daily interactions of agency life. Regular one-to-one check-ins were scheduled as well as Friday drinks, mindfulness sessions and meet-ups (when safe). The team WhatsApp feed was dedicated to sharing lockdown laughs, from staff gardening ventures to home baking efforts. Despite the challenges of the year, the agency continued its pro bono support for charities, working on campaigns for Crisis and the Ovarian Cancer Trust.
Taylor Herring’s campaigns for Greggs has helped affirm the high-street food-on-the-go chain as one of Britain’s most-loved brands. In February, it launched the Greggs Concierge Card, with Stormzy the first to join the scheme: unpaid, but a fan of a sausage, bean and cheese melt and the vegan sausage roll, be boasted about his new card to his five million fans on Twitter and Instagram. The agency also brokered a partnership between Greggs and JustEat to enable sausage roll delivery via rollerskates; Greggs orders on JustEat increased by 43%. The agency also helped Samsung leverage its sponsorship of the first virtual Notting Hill Carnival, and kept EasyJet front of mind by launching an “inflight” drinks trolley service at home, in partnership with Deliveroo and with proceeds donated to Age UK.
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