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The international consulting business of Finsbury Glover Hering was formed at the beginning of 2021 by the merger of Finsbury (a UK-based financial consultancy that had absorbed the US business of Robinson Lerer), Washington public affairs consultancy Glover Park, and German corporate and financial specialist Hering Schuppener. The merger also involved buying back much of the stake in the three companies held by WPP, which remains a partner.
The merger brought together the strengths of Finsbury in London and Brussels with Hering Schuppener’s network of offices in Germany (Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich), supplemented by smaller offices in the Middle East. The newly-merged firm has powerhouse offices in both New York and Washington, DC, with a west coast presence in Los Angeles, and offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo, most of them relatively small but all staffed with seasoned professionals with significant experience in their respective markets.
EMEA accounts for around $95 million of the firm’s $220 million in global revenues, which were roughly flat in 2020 (the UK about $37 million, continental Europe $50 million, the Middle East $7.5 million) in a year when the challenge of merging three agencies was compounded by the Covid crisis. On another critical metric for the firm, it ranked third among global M&A advisors according to industry publication mergermarket. In Europe it was third in terms of volume of deals and second in terms of value; in the UK it ranked fourth in both categories; and in Germany it was number one in volume and value. In Asia it ranked seventh in terms of the volume of deals it worked (eighth in terms of the value of those deals), while in Japan, which is ranked separately, it was fourth in volume and fifth in value.
The merger saw Finsbury founder Roland Rudd and GPG founder Carter Eskew named as co-chairs, with Alexander Geiser, managing partner at Hering Schuppener, serving as chief executive officer both globally and for the EMEA region. Faeth Birch, previously a managing partner in Finsbury’s London office, was named regional CEO for the United Kingdom, Middle East and Asia. Mike Feldman, who was one of the original partners at Glover Park and served eight years in the Clinton-Gore White House, and Winnie Lerner—a former managing partner at Finsbury in New York—were named as co-CEOs for North America, although there is plenty of senior consulting depth in both New York and DC. Ben Richardson has led Asia since 2016, where there have been several senior additions. Finsbury launched a formal mentoring program and also stepped up its mental health and social support in response to the challenges of Covid-19.
As befits a firm that specializes in advising CEOs on mission-critical issues, Finsbury Glover Hering generated an immense amount of thought leadership on both Covid-19 (issues ranged from the reputational risk of Covid-related litigation to employee communications challenges) and the rising Black Lives Matter movement globally and its implications for business. While the firm does not routinely talk about individual campaigns or clients, it worked with BioNTech—the German company that played a significant role in developing Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine—and supported the Virgin Media-O2 merger, the first major deal of the lockdown.
— Paul Holmes
Icon was founded in Melbourne in 2002 by innovative husband and wife team Joanne Painter and Christopher Dodds. Their vision was to combine the disciplines of PR, digital marketing and advertising into an integrated model of creatively-led communications, led by a belief system they call “the pursuit of possibility”. Three years ago the business pivoted from consumer, to government and corporate PR. The team expanded to Canberra, invested in digital and data capabilities, and set up a dedicated behaviour change and media unit. The firm has developed specialisations in digital transformation, public health, business technology and counter-terrorism, and has built a client portfolio spanning 20+ government departments and many major brands. As well as national awareness campaigns, Icon is particularly recognised for its multi-channel behaviour change campaigns.
Icon has offices in three Australian cities: Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.
The firm’s strategic shift has paid off, helping to drive 21% revenue growth in 2020 to AUD $8.8 million (US$6.5 million) and 46% profit growth as the pandemic increased demand for strategic and creative communication programs. The firm added more data, video, strategic planning and content capabilities last year, and set up dedicated teams to manage a mega-contract for the Department of Home Affairs’ Countering Violent Extremism Program. It also launched a crisis business, Icon Reputation, led by former newspaper editor (and now the agency’s director of reputation) Mark Forbes. New clients this year included several more government departments, Schneider Electric, ADP, Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation and the University of Melbourne, who joined a roster including Mondelez, asset consultancy Jana, chemical company Evonik, and software firm Airwallex.
Icon grew to 61 staff in 2020. Its strategy for surviving the pandemic included supporting clients and staff through the transition to working from home, hiring the agency’s first head of HR, plus events, counselling and other initiatives to promote wellbeing. Icon has a positive discrimination policy to attract and retain women in male-dominated disciplines like web development and creative, as well as people of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Asian descent. In 2020 Icon doubled the size of its Chinese-speaking team and made 30% of hires from international, culturally and/or linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Painter and Dodds are supported by a leadership team including creative directors Ed Bechervaise and Rod Clausen, and head of PR Matt Thomas. In 2020, Icon set up a sales marketing department led by digital marketer Rob Cleeve, who leads a team focused on client retention, outbound sales and sales conversion.
Standout work included a national stillbirth awareness and prevention campaign, and the ‘You haven’t been drinking alone’ campaign for the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation, an integrated national awareness campaign focused on alcohol harm reduction during the pandemic, which exceeded all targets five times over. The Icon team also developed the ‘Truly Incredible Care’ public awareness and recruitment campaign for Carers Victoria, to raise awareness of the incredible work unpaid carers do, leading to millions of impressions and more than 1,400 new members.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Spanish public relations agency Llorente & Cuenca had already established itself as one of the leading corporate and financial consultancies in Europe, and the global leader in Spanish-language markets, before it received private equity funding in 2015 and changed its name to LLYC in 2019. But recent years have seen accelerated growth, much it through acquisition, as the firm established itself among the top 50 in the world, expanding beyond its corporate and financial roots to offer public affairs, consumer marketing, and a wide array of digital and social capabilities.
While much of the focus in recent years has been on LLYC’s work in Latin America, in 2020 the firm derived $23.5 million of its $48 million in global revenue from its European operations, which include offices in Madrid and Barcelona in its native Spain, as well as a robust presence in Lisbon. It has global reach (including the UK and Germany) through its affiliate partnership with Finsbury Glover Hering.
While the Covid pandemic hit LLYC’s Latin American operations, EMEA revenue was actually up, from $22.5 million to $23.5 million. That growth was a vindication of LLYC’s diversification strategy: about a third came from the traditional corporate and financial business; another third from a public affairs unit that was established in Spain 10 years ago and has been growing steadily; and about a third from the digital and social firms that LLYC has acquired and integrated in recent years. There was new business from Euronext, Seat, Capital Energy, Az Capital, Leroy Merlin, Prosegur Compañía de Seguridad, CaixaBank and more, while the firm continued to work with big brands Novartis, Coca Cola, Bayer, Ikea Ibérica, Repsol, Endesa, NH Hotel Group, and McDonald's.
José Antonio Llorente, founding partner and chairman, continues at the helm and led the team of partners—European managing directors Luisa Garcia and Arturo Pinedo, chief strategy and innovation officer Adolfo Corujo and senior director of engagement David González Natal—who in April of this year bought back the 30% stake they had sold to private equity firm MBO & Co in 2015. New additions in 2020 included some big names, such as former Spanish minister Jordi Sevilla, who rejoins as economic context director; Francisco Sánchez Riva, an M&A expert; and Alejandro Domínguez, senior director of digital.
LLYC tooks its creative work to a whole new level in 2020, receiving a record six SABRE nominations. A standout was the firm’s work for financial institution BBK Foundation, which sought to tackle the problem of isolation and loneliness among the elderly with a campaign called “The last older person to die in loneliness,” for which LLYC installed a hyper-realistic sculpture in Bilbao and then produced a highly emotive video that touched the heart of a nation. Other work included the “Ciao 2020” initiative for IKEA, the first Instagram live showcook for Pescanova, and internal and external engagement during the Covid campaign for EY.
— Paul Holmes
Prosek Partners was founded in 1991 with the vision that the financial services sector would one day “wake up and smell the marketing.” Prosek helped make this vision a reality, fuelling strong business across the firm's US network. Prosek also delivers integrated marketing solutions through its Propel Marketing Practice, which has served as a growth engine through the pandemic.
New York (HQ), along with offices in Boston, Los Angeles and Fairfield, Connecticut.
Prosek Partners registered $62 million in fee income in 2020, a roughly 7% lift from the $58.2 million the firm earned the year before. At the end of the year, Prosek’s staff team was 225-people strong, up from 195 the year before. Prosek currently advises clients with more than $26 trillion in client assets across the US, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, providing an array of offerings including brand strategy, digital, creative services, content marketing and web development capabilities in addition to its more traditional earned media capabilities. New business over the last 12 months came from Aegon, Amundi Pioneer, Aquiline, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Kairos Ventures, ICE/NYSE, and Rockefeller Capital. Key clients include Bloomberg, Citi, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Edward Jones, Prudential, Bridgewater, Franklin Templeton Investments, Silicon Valley Bank and Carlyle Group.
Culturally, Prosek Partners identifies as an Army of Entrepreneurs. The firm’s transparent, flat and entrepreneurial environment gives employees varying challenges and responsibilities at every level of their career — something so ingrained in the company culture that founder and CEO, Jennifer Prosek, captured it in a book, “The Army of Entrepreneurs.” In addition to Jennifer Prosek, partners David Wells, Andy Merrill, Caroline Gibson, and Karen Niovitch Davis are responsible for the firm’s direction and operations. To strengthen Prosek’s marketing offering and manage the growing demand for these capabilities, the firm made two strategic hires last year: Anne Swan was appointed chief creative officer; Joe Scannell was appointed head of digital communications.
Prosek has long been committed to furthering D&I. 26% of the firm’s fulltime employees are diverse, as are 18% of staff at senior VP level and above. In the past year, however, the firm ramped up its efforts surrounding DE&I, which included rolling out a Culture, Diversity, and Belonging Council comprised of employees. The committee’s focuses include community (give back and local initiatives), culture (internal efforts, bringing in diverse external speakers, recruiting and retaining diverse talent), and commercial (how can we as PR practitioners and communicators impact this space). In a year of social unrest, Prosek launched a series of deeper discussions on the topic, called candid conversations, which allowed people to speak openly about these topics. The firm also created a mentorship program for diverse employees.
Prosek's Propel offering includes brand strategy, digital, creative services, content marketing and web development capabilities that build brand capital for clients. With more than 20 new client wins, the Propel Marketing Practice grew 43% year-over-year and 145% since its inception in 2018. The team also expanded with three new product offerings: turnkey rapidly produced, practical video reels; Brand Boost, a time-tested branding and marketing service for portfolio companies, small and/or early-stage companies to further increase performance and maximize clients’ ROI; and lastly, microsites, custom branded online experiences to showcase in-depth information about a particular service, product, or event.
Prosek’s notable 2020 work included averting a boycott of the Grammy Awards by artists and advertisers, by vigorously defending the Recording Academy, which was engaged in a public battle with a CEO suspended for creating a toxic workplace. The campaign succeeded, with the Grammy Awards airing without disruption.
— Diana Marszalek
Former Weber Shandwick EVP Emma Smith launched her own firm (The Consultancy) in 2003, before selling the business to become part of the UK’s MHP Communications in 2013. After smartly concluding that the firm had better prospects as an independent outfit, Smith led an MBO of the business in 2019, creating Sandpiper Communications as a 100% employee owned operation. That move helped unlock considerable growth at a consultancy that focuses squarely on the wealth (asset management, insurance, wealth management, ESG), health (healthcare, healthtech, pharma, wellness) and tech (fintech, enterprise tech, cybersecurity) sectors.
There are now more than 40 employees with around 13 based at the firm’s Hong Kong HQ and a further 30 in its fast-growing Singapore operation. Sydney is a recent addition and Sandpiper also has a small presence in Shanghai.
Sandpiper’s performance since the MBO are as good a reminder as any of the merits of independence. The firm grew revenue by 47% in 2020 to US$3.7m, with its newer healthcare and technology capabilities to the fore. The firm’s key clients reflect its financial and professional services depth (account for almost two-thirds of fee income), including such names as Cigna, Eastspring Investments, Workday, St James’s Place and Refinitiv, along with new business from Munich Re, Peak Re, Affindi/Trustana, Sun Life, Keyestone Properties, Family Office Association of HK and Great Eastern. In terms of healthcare, there were new assignments for BMS Group and Cardinal Health, joining existing clients Zuellig Pharm and Astra Zeneca, while major tech clients include Cisco and Western Digital. Notably, Sandpiper is forecasting $5m in fee income by the end of 2021 which would reflect a further 36% expansion on 2020 — an impressive showing during a period when many firms have struggled.
Smith is very much a hands-on CEO, but the firm owes much of its recent success to an expanded leadership team, which also features chief operating officer Kelly Johnston, Singapore GM Sarada Chellam and Hong Kong GM Natalie Siu. Other key hires include CFO Phil Channon and ex-Huawei UK comms head Ed Brewster. The MBO has not only meant increased ownership and partnership opportunities for Sandpiper staff, but has also ensured increased investment in processes and systems, as the firm builds the infrastructure required of a regional agency network. Recent rapid growth has meant an elevated focus on culture, including training and social events, reflected in Sandpiper’s creditable Best Agencies to Work For showing and strong D&I metrics.
Sandpiper’s focus on ESG has helped to drive revenue, and includes the launch of two dedicated reports, along with a video series. That reflects the increasing attention the firm is paying to thought leadership and product development, which also features a Consumer Expectations Index and Covid-19 Gen-Z survey to coincide with World Mental Health Day. Campaign highlights include the highly-awarded ‘Beast the Asthma Blues’ effort for AstraZeneca, along with Cigna’s Covid-19 response initiative.
— Arun Sudhaman
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