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Founded in 2011 by ex-journalist Tom Manners and Nic Simmonds, Clockwork’s name might reference the Stanley Kubrick film, but this communications firm is rather more optimistic than that dystopian image might suggest. Winner of African Agency of the Year honours in 2017 and 2018, thanks to a pioneering focus on digital, Clockwork has since expanded to the UK and continues to benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset that focuses on strategy, creativity and measurement across technology, gaming, entertainment and financial services.
The bulk of Clockwork’s 100-odd staffers are based at its Johannesburg HQ, but the firm also recently added an office in London.
2020 was another strong year for Clockwork, which grew 37% to £3.7m, capping a decade in which it expanded by 26%, on average, annually. Much of the growth was powered by organic client expansion, for such clients as Microsoft, Standard Bank, Netflix, LG, Exxaro, Seacom, Hyunday, Acer, La Liga and Emirates. New wins included Netflix's creative account for South Africa, BASF, Beam Suntory, LG's PR business for South Africa and BMW.
At just 14%, staff turnover remains well below the industry average, reflecting the culture of trust and autonomy that Manner and Simmonds have instilled, along with increased investment in management and leadership training. The firm is also creating a young Black leaders forum as it attempts to transform its senior leadership structure towards something more diverse; it currently retains BEE level 2 status, which requires significant investment in a wide variety of initiatives, including ongoing staff training, learnerships, and the funding of a non-profit organization which supports the training and education of black females in marketing. Alongside these initiatives, Black shareholding in the business increased from 10% to 18% in 2020.
Clockwork’s client portfolio, including integrated creative assignments, digital mandates and editorial work, reflects the firm’s innovation beyond the market’s traditional focus on media relations. That has been bolstered by expanded crisis management capabilities, particularly for Standard Bank, while Clockwork has also invested more time in thought leadership, around such issues as Black Lives Matter and digital commerce. The latter focus is expected to expand in 2021 with the introduction of a strategic content hub led by head of strategy (South Africa) Daniela White and chief strategy officer (UK) Marcus Reynolds. The work bears out the success of these initiatives, including SABRE nominated efforts for Acer, Netflix (successfully launching ‘Blood and Water’ without a physical premiere) and Microsoft (creating the Xbox Hall of Fame).
— Arun Sudhaman
After 24 years in Asia-Pacific, Hoffman can lay claim to being more of an Asian consultancy than an American one, not least because it makes around twice as much revenue in this region as it does in the rest of the world. Much of that success can be attributed to the firm’s growth beyond its B2B technology roots to encompass consumer marketing and integrated communications, with a particularly strong bent towards startups and disruptors.
There are 130 people across operations in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan.
Hoffman’s relentless pace of growth saw less of a slowdown than most rivals in 2020, up 8% to around $14m in Asia-Pacific fee income, with a further 30% forecast in 2021. Major new clients included some of the biggest brands and issues in the region, including regional mandates for Zoom, Twitch and Twitter, along with significant expansion of assignments for Invisalign, Shopline, ASML, Tealium and Shutterstock. Accounting for $1m (or 11% of 2020 revenue), the new clients joined an existing roster that features Nutanix, Lenovo, Blackberry, Ripple, Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba, SolarWinds and Supermicro, with Hoffman’s top 10 clients generating around 37% of total revenue. And, there is no question that the firm’s single P&L gives it a competitive edge over network rivals.
Former Google veteran Caroline Hsu has helped to supercharge Hoffman’s growth since taking the Asia-Pacific reins, but she is supported by a relatively stable leadership team that includes longtime leaders Lydia Lau, who heads global operations from Hong Kong, and North Asia VP Shingo Nomura. Many of the firm’s recent leadership appointments reflect a refreshing diversity of talent, including Singapore GM Maureen Tseng, Hong Kong GM Kevin On, Korea GM Kelly Kwon, brand communications director Alessandra Tinio and digital head Nicolas Chan. Salary cuts were repaid in full by the end of the year, with Hoffman’s independence and entrepreneurial spirit helping it move quickly to mitigate the worst of the downturn. Hoffman also has a better D&I record than many network rivals: all of its leaders are Asian (50% are women) and local GMs are native to their markets. There has been decisive action, furthermore, to support female career progression — in Japan, special flexitime contracts were piloted to enable working mothers to overcome the culture of office presenteeism, an initiative that is expected to expand regionally soon. All staff benefit from an optional work from home policy and Hoffman also plays a major role supporting LGBTQ+ acceptance, particularly in Taiwan.
The firm’s local leadership brings considerable Asian technology and B2B expertise, which has been supplemented by hires that span journalism, marketing, data science, startups and technology. All of which paid off in SABRE-nominated campaigns for Invisalign, Twitter, iChef and ASML.
— Arun Sudhaman
There can’t be many PR agencies that have led global PR for a brand as it becomes a verb in real time, but 20-year-old technology specialist Hotwire’s work with Zoom as it became the default term for jumping on a video call in the year we all lived, worked and played on video calls made it one of the most noteworthy firms of the year. Hotwire has been a pure tech PR agency since its inception, covering all aspects of communications, branding and digital marketing for some of the world’s biggest and most innovative technology brands, across consumer tech, enterprise tech, industrial tech, marketing and ad tech, fintech, retail and leisure tech and software and services.
As well as its four US offices, Hotwire operates across EMEA in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Hotwire’s revenue across the UK and Continental Europe totalled just short of £21.5 million last year, against $17.7 million in the US. The UK operation managed to remain relatively flat, while Continental Europe grew by 16% – with Spain growing by 20%. The agency’s global win rate for pitches was 52%, and growth over the year was 64% organic and 36% revenue from new clients. The much-envied Zoom account started as a relatively small brief in the UK and Germany in February last year, before the pandemic hit and Zoom asked Hotwire to turn on PR overnight in 14 countries and manage 19 worldwide, working closely with The Hoffman Agency in Asia. Other new wins over the year included Klarna, Snapchat, Twitch and eBay, joining Amazon, Atlassian, Citrix, Eaton, Facebook, McAfee and Qualcomm on the global client roster.
Hotwire has turned around its culture in recent years and under CEO Barbara Bates’ very human leadership, mental health and wellbeing had become a priority even before the pandemic. This focus on its people proved to be a shining light throughout the toughest of years. In its 2020 employee survey, 93% said they were confident in support around wellbeing. In addition, the number of employees who understand the firm’s vision and strategy jumped from 73% in 2019 to 95% globally; Germany was at 56%, and rose to 95%. Its client survey also found that 90% were satisfied and 90% would recommend the agency. For its annual (virtual) bootcamp, Hotwire had speakers such as Shola Kaye, a global expert in empathy at work. Given its global footprint, the agency has brought in DE&I consultants to ensure its approach is right for each country.
As well as its Zoom activation, standout work over the year included Hotwire’s work for Klarna, which landed in Spain in the summer of 2020 and relied on Hotwire for its launch. The agency increased brand recognition among Spanish consumers and Klarna’s reputation in the retail sector as an innovative payment solution through an online roundtable attended by major fashion and trend media outlets including Vogue. In terms of thought leadership, Hotwire continued its series about what makes Generation Alpha tick with its third report, on racial and ethnic diversity. And the agency rolled out the Hotwire Way, its new vision and values pathway, supported with Sandler leadership and management training around better strategic consultancy.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Given how insular Silicon Valley can be, many firms that come from other markets fail to ever gain momentum. Yet Method continues to ascend, becoming a go-to agency for venture capital firms on the hunt for communications counsel for high-growth, high-valuation companies. Over two-thirds of its clients are billion dollar brands and Method has notable experience with corporate financial transactions, including IPOs and SPACs.
Salt Lake City (HQ), San Francisco, New York
Method was able to withstand many of the challenges that shook up the industry in 2020. As early as 2018, Method began planning for a financial slowdown and created processes to weather a storm. So, despite clients reducing budgets, Method retained significant contracts including work focused on racial and gender justice and other high-value services. The result: nearly 10% growth to $14.8m, sidestepping a downturn by mirroring the relentless adaptability of the tech industry. In the past six years, agency revenue has grown 143% and EBITDA has grown 476%. In late 2018, Chime Communications bought Method and in 2020 Method was named a top performer in the holding group. In addition to organic growth from long-standing clients, Method won a slew of new business in 2020 including BambooHR, Bloomberg, NetApp, Overstock, Quicken, and Webflow among others.
In 2020, Method also began producing a weekly newsletter on the pulse of what was happening in the industry that has become one of the agency’s most valuable products. Notable work includes helping Facebook shine a light on its various DEI initiatives, elevating SurveyMonkey in the enterprise CX space, and working on a SPAC transaction for Skillz. The agency also garnered four Innovation SABRE Award nominations, including one win, plus four SABRE Award North America nods.
— Aarti Shah
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