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Slovakian consultancy Seesame marked its 25th anniversary last year by revisiting and refreshing a service offering that has defined its emergence as one of the finest PR firms in the region. Now a full service PR and digital agency with strengths across public affairs, employer branding, lifestyle and ESG, Seesame has strengthened its research/data and social impact capabilities, while also deepening its expertise in digital experience. All of that helped Seesame weather the pandemic better than most, particularly in terms of social change work across Covid-19, disinformation and the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis.
There are 43 employees in Slovakia.
Fee income rose 25% in 2021 to €4.3m, as Seesame defied a sluggish economic environment by leveraging its cross-functional skills across such areas as social impact, public affairs, digital and employer branding. There was new business from Coca-Cola, Janssen, Takenaka, SPP, WWF, CloudTalk, the UN International Organisation for Migration and Wolt, joining a client roster that already featured Henkel, Janssen, Ikea, Samsung, Shell, ESET, Heineken, the Association of Innovative Pharmaceutical Companies, Envi-pak and Tesco Stores. 8% of the firm’s fee income now comes from research projects, while the firm’s focus on the public sector has also proved beneficial in recent years.
Under founder Michaela Benedigova, Seesame has developed an open and supportive culture that features full financial transparency, rewards for collaboration and mental health support. A new visual identity was rolled out, alongside a strengthened corporate citizenship profile that featured a specific focus on key social challenges. There is leadership training, employee satisfaction tracking and a heavy focus on internal communication — along with a commitment to hire staff from Ukraine and support LGBTWI+ initiatives.
In recent years, Seesame’s work has helped it land 18 SABRE Awards, including four Global SABREs, and that reputation for quality remained in strong shape during the past 12 months. Seesame scored five finalists at the 2022 EMEA SABRE Awards, including #BrowseResponsibly for O2 Slovakia and Covid vaccine work for SPP, along with the firm’s own motivational employee app.
— Arun Sudhaman
Golin Romania was the global network’s first office in Central & Eastern Europe. The 16-year-old firm started out as a B2C specialist and has evolved into a full-service agency with seven units servicing retail & FMCG, automotive, fintech, media, capital markets, industries, and healthcare – it was one of the first in the market to launch a dedicate healthcare communications offer, which now works with leading global pharma companies. All the units plug in to its creative, experiential, digital and social media teams, and each unit has specialists in consultancy and risk reputation, storytelling and media relations, and measurement and analytics. The agency also has a dedicated data and analytics team, and has established an employer brand panel to advise clients on workforce challenges.
Golin Romania is based in Bucharest.
In 2021, Golin Romania grew by 11% to fee income of €1.8 million, with a client retention rate of over 80% and a pitch win rate of more than 70%. New clients included Romania’s largest wines and spirits producer Alexandrion Group, Edenred Romania, GoodYear, HTEC Group and Premium Auto (Jaguar and Land Rover). The agency’s client portfolio also includes Accenture, AkzoNobel, Biofarm, Black Sea Oil & Gas (BSOG), Danone, Dr. Oetker, Electrolux, Electronic Arts, HMD Global, Lego, Lidl. Mastercard and PepsiCo. The team grew by 9% to 45 people, who include French, Spanish, Italian and German speakers as well as Romanian native and English proficient speakers.
In March 2021, Golin Romania became a female-led powerhouse, with Roxana Diba, who had been with the agency since 2010, named as the agency’s new managing director and Cristina Butunoi becoming deputy MD, working to founding president and CEO Veronica Savanciuc. Following a period of everyone working from home, in May 2021, Golin Romania introduced the firm’s global Work From Anywhere hybrid and flexible working model: everyone is in the office two days per week, and work from home or any other location for the remaining three days. In a first for the Romanian market, it also launched the Light Friday Forever program, a commitment to shorter working hours on Fridays, and created a package to cover home office, commuting and office lunch costs. The agency also has something of a reputation for throwing the best parties in the industry. In 2021, the agency hired its first chief inclusion officer and set up its Office of Business Relevance, Inclusion and Equity (OBRIE), including global DE&I training for everyone on the team.
In 2021, Golin Romania launched the 10th edition of its Digital Recap IP on digital and social media trends and predictions, and together with client Mastercard, launched Digitize Your Business, a guide and training video to help entrepreneurs and SME owners grow their business via communications. Outstanding work over the year included a SABRE-shortlisted campaign for Habitat for Humanity, an experiential campaign drawing the public’s attention to the horrific living conditions for many people in Romania, a campaign for hotel and restaurant association Hora and Mastercard to support the reopening of the hospitality industry in Romania following the pandemic, as well as confronting misconceptions about KFC in Romania and innovative player ratings videos to mark the local FIFA 22 game launch for Electronic Arts.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
MSL’s Warsaw office is the largest of the Publicis firm’s extensive network in Central and Eastern Europe, with offices in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. The largest operation is in Warsaw, where MSL is the clear number one in the region’s largest PR market, with a team under the leadership of regional CEO Sebastian Stępak.
MSL Poland is located in Warsaw.
The Warsaw office has emerged as the leader in public affairs, health and tech among MSL’s network of CEE offices, which take a regional approach to handling client work. MSL grew by 27% to €8.3 million in 2021, with 141 people handling work for clients such as Netflix, Procter & Gamble, Diageo, Emirates, Sanofi, Samsung, Mars and Stada. The year also saw the rollout of a new tool developed by Publicis data scientists and Starcom that upgraded competencies, enabling junior staff to deliver higher level service without senior support. The group is currently developing a tool that proves the direct impact of PR and its effect on sales — the biggest investment MSL CEE has ever made.
MSL retained nearly 100% of its staff last year, bolstering the agency’s strength, speed and consistency in delivering for clients. MSL Poland joined Publicis during Pride Month in promoting diversity, equality, and respect. The local Égalité group, which focuses on diversity, organized meetings on communicating without unintentional bias, supporting colleagues who belong to minorities, and addressing the situation and rights of LGBTQ+ people in Poland. As an extension of the latter topic, there was held an opportunity to consult with lawyers specializing in the field.
In 2021, MSL Warsaw was awarded two prizes at Golden Clips Competition, the Polish Association of Public Relations Company’s largest event. The firm’s healthcare team was recognized for its media relations in support of GSK’s “Let’s Help Children Breathe Better” campaign. The corporate team was recognized in the beauty and health category for its Clean Earth and Student’s Eco-Habits campaign for P&G.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Ukrainian market leader One Philosophy’s severed ties with Russia’s PRP Group—Weber Shandwick’s longtime affiliate in the region—in 2014, quickly establishing itself in the forefront of strategic communications in its domestic market. The company has since expanded, and now comprises five thriving brands. In addition to lead PR operation The Be-It Agency, there is change consultancy Changers, creative shop Solutions for People, public affairs firm Republic and Be-It Health & Social Impact — which together form a network of multidisciplinary and highly entrepreneurial agencies united by the idea that fostering—and rallying stakeholders around—a shared purpose is key to driving success.
One Philosophy is headquartered in Ukraine and focuses primarily on that one market, although its senior people have experience working throughout the former Soviet markets.
After a single-digit decline in fee income during 2020, One Philosophy saw business rebound in 2021, with the firm’s expertise in strategic consulting across corporate leadership, employee engagement and corporate culture were in high demand. Clients included some of the biggest names in global business, including Avon, Coca-Cola, Danone, Hasbro, ING Bank, Kyiv School of Economics, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Mondelez, MSD, P&G, Philips, Sanofi, the George Soros Foundation, Shell, Sony, UNICEF and USAID.
Maintaining a cohesive, collaborative corporate culture during a pandemic was challenge enough for most PR agency principals. For One Philosophy founder and president Nataliya Popovych had to gather her 70 employees together this year to discuss the agency’s plans for war, seeking to balance business continuity with employee safety. “During our leadership calls we had to review things like the contents of the escape backpacks and emergency kits, as well as decide on the budgets allocated to making sure that now our office always has them on hand,” she explained. Other issues have paled into insignificant but Popovych and her strong, stable management team—CEO Yulia Gumeniak, Be-It managing director Kristina Nikolayeva, Solutions for People MD Inga Vishnevska, and One Health leader Nataliya Olbert-Sinko—have worked hard to hold things together.
Remarkably, One Philosophy and its various operating agencies, racked up five EMEA SABRE nominations for their work over the past 12 months, with highlights including the purpose-driven #AvonAgainstStereotypes; a public education campaign around seat-belt use for the National Police of Ukraine and the EU Advisory Mission to Ukraine; marketing support for Philips and its One Blade shaver; and a corporate reputation building effort that saw McDonald’s hailed as the most environmentally responsible company in Ukraine after reducing waste by 60%. But One Philosophy’s most important work of the year was undoubtedly “Building #TheResilient Ukraine,” an agency-led effort to strengthen confidence in Ukrainian institutions and build a more resilient society.
— Paul Holmes
PRovoke Media’s 2020 Central & Eastern European Consultancy of the Year, United Partners started out in 1997 as a pioneer of PR in the Bulgarian market and remains one of the most innovative firms in the region. Marking its 25th anniversary this year, United Partners’ remains focused on being the ‘Tesla of the communications industry,’ focusing in particular on cultural strategy for brands across consumer, technology, healthcare, public sector and defence/security.
United Partners is based in Sofia, Bulgaria, but works across the wider region through its network of partner agencies.
Fee income jumped by a remarkable 150% in 2021 to €3.2m from 25 staffers, led by winning Diageo’s brands across 30+ countries, with FMCG in general more than doubling in terms of revenue. There was also significant organic growth from anchor client P&G and new business from Tavek Gold, Kyndril, Kare, Velux, Carlsberg, Synevo, Magna Pharm, HeleCloud and Clean Air Fund. The firm’s existing client roster also features Nespresso, Saab, VMware, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger, Paysafe, Calvin Klein and WWF.
UP has made a major priority of building the kind of corporate culture that attracts and retains top-tier talent. A psychologist was appointed to help employees, helping deliver consistently high net promoter scores from UP’s employees. UP also continues to invest in growing its partner agency network, and has stepped up training for students and staff alike. Not a single person quit the firm in 2021, testimony to the culture that CEO/founder Maria Gergova-Bengtsson has instilled at UO, supported by head of finance/strategy Victor Savkin, agency strategist George Ivanov, and head of operations/culture Victoria Solakova. Two new senior partners also arrived to oversee consumer (Jana Wilhelmus) and technology (Svetlana Stavreva). UP also continues its probono work to educate companies on diversity and inclusion.
UP’s work retains the innovative flair that its Tesla positioning demands. That was supported by metaverse partnerships, an agency podcast, celebrity ambassadorships, a white paper on how the pandemic is impacting business, and status as a HubSpot marketing partner. There was also an Eastern European culture trends report, along with a continued focus on using technology to improve client and staff deliverables. All of which added up to SABRE-nominated ‘The Walkers’ campaign for Diageo, along with a major project to boost measurement of influencer marketing and eye-catching campaigns for Fjällräven and Paysafe.
— Arun Sudhaman
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