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Edelman has been the world’s largest independent public relations agency since the wave of acquisitions that swept the industry in the 80s and 90s and saw its rivals fall into the hands of the giant ad agency holding groups. It has turned its independence into a source of competitive advantage, family ownership allowing more flexibility on profit margins and greater nimbleness, particularly in terms of new investments. It has a well-balanced portfolio that spans consumer and corporate, healthcare and tech, and has been at the forefront of the industry’s advance into digital and paid media and broader creative.
Edelman is the largest full-service agency in the UK, which continues to account for about half of its total EMEA revenues, and has substantial offices in France (following its 2014 acquisition of Elan), Germany, Italy, Spain, Brussels and the Netherlands. The fast-growing Africa operations were recently combined with the established Middle Eastern offices to create a single unit in the developing markets.
After a difficult 2020—a double-digit decline amid the pandemic—Edelman was back to its usual high levels of growth last year, outperforming its peer group with fee income surging from just under $170 million to almost $210 million (a 23% increase)—the payoff from a new organizational design that emphasizes integration and a more interconnected approach to offices in the region. There was particularly strong growth in healthcare (up 42% and now the largest sector at Edelman, with $40m in EMEA revenue) and the UK (up 22%). And 60% of revenue in EMEA now comes from clients served either globally or regionally. New business in health came from expanded assignments from longterm clients like AstraZeneca, GSK and Janssen. In the tech space, meanwhile, the firm picked up assignments from Lilium, BCG, Meta, BT, TikTok, Tinder, and Ubisoft and in digital there was new business from Allianz, DP World, Novartis and more.
With stability at the top in the three years since Ed Williams took over as regional chief executive, with AJ Hesselink in a newly-empowered COO role, Edelman has been focused on strengthening its bench. New talent included Felicitas Olschewski, most recently global director of digital strategy and innovation at Adidas, as head of digital, EMEA, along with a host of other hires designed to cement the firm’s digital first positioning; Stefan Borst, from economic intelligence, global advocacy, and cybersecurity firm Avisa Partners, as chief executive in Brussels. At the same time, Edelman has been emphasizing its culture—with a renewed focus on DE&I, a country-by-country approach that includes benchmarking, training and partnerships—and more than 1200 employees across the region attending the firm’s Future Festival last year.
Edelman’s Trust Barometer research is without question the PR industry’s most valuable piece of thought leadership, especially in recent years as trust in institutions has declined sharply and the firm has produced a variety of smaller studies—a particularly notable effort focused on the pandemic and how trust can determine health outcomes. As for the client work, Edelman produces consistently high quality of creative thinking and execution, like the artwork for Halo Infinite, which helped Microsoft go from inauspicious early reviews for the game to an exhibit of artwork at the Saatchi Gallery; the “bodyright” campaign for the UN, highlighting the fact that companies have more right over the use of their copyrights than people do over their own body image; the “Body Love” initiative for Dove, which brought attention to online body shaming by showing how differently people responded in real life; or the Real Voices of Pride for FELGTB in Spain.
— Paul Holmes
Four years after its mega-merger, BCW has evolved into a formidable player in EMEA, with an agility and propensity for innovation that you might not expect from an agency of its size. Its ‘integrated earned plus’ proposition took much of its work past PR into digital, film, creative, research and influencer marketing using its Trufluence model. BCW moved up a gear in 2021, with impressive performance across the Europe and Africa region led by Scott Wilson. This was underpinned by a commitment to talent and culture and fuelled by a focus on finding new ways to service clients, with the digital innovation group and the data and analytics teams delivering a number of proprietary client offers, including the Know Your Opportunity tool, which identifies communication opportunities in highly volatile, uncertain and complex environments. BCW kept true to its ‘Moving People’ mantra across the region, including through its new Motion methodology – created in EMEA and rolled out globally – that allows integrated teams to build and deliver work for clients that achieves real value and business impact.
BCW Europe & Africa has around 1,000 staff in 22 offices across 12 European markets, as well as an African network spanning 54 countries, 36 of which are BCW branded, making it one of the largest agencies in the region. The network also operates Asda’a BCW in the Middle East.
As a whole, BCW Europe & Africa delivered double digit revenue growth, record profitability and recorded a 75% new business conversion win rate, including a number of the biggest new business assignments awarded globally last year. While BCW’s business grew across the network, there were stand-out performances of low-to-mid double-digit growth in the UK – its largest market – Germany, Sweden and Brussels, as well as notable growth in Italy and Turkey. Operating profits were up substantially on 2019 and 2020. The agency won a record number of accounts, with a 75% pitch win ratio. New assignments included AstraZeneca, Royal Caribbean and Lenovo. Organic growth was fuelled by the likes of TikTok, Cartoon Network, Jaguar Land Rover, Samsung and Mondelez. Thanks to the agency’s key client partner programme – an initiative piloted in EMEA and now deployed globally – long-term relationships with clients including Nike, Lavazza, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer and Accenture flourished in 2021.
BCW’s focus on talent and culture delivered a year of stability in 2021, ensuring it remained resilient in the face of the ‘great resignation’. The agency leaned into its employee value proposition – designed to cultivate a growth mindset – and launched the second instalment of Destination Inclusion, a global, 21-day topic-driven framework to encourage an inclusive, open, collaborative culture. The theme for 2021 was “Breaking Bias”, with weekly discussions on igniting bias awareness, supporting our clients and workplace/systemic bias; it was the most successful employee activation in BCW's history. The IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability) approach continued to track progress on DE&I, while 120 colleagues took part in the Leading Above the Line program, which is based on cutting-edge research and grounded in daily mindfulness practice, challenging established and emerging BCW leaders to evolve their leadership and increase their impact.
BCW received 12 SABRE nominations this year for its work across Europe and Africa (with further wins for colleagues in the Middle East bringing the total to 18, more than any other network in the region). Stand-out work included helping new client AstraZeneca counter drama, disinformation and unprecedented scrutiny around its vaccine by the media and public. Led from London, BCW activated a global team of communications experts in 10 days and launched a multi-stakeholder, multi-channel PR and stakeholder engagement programme to set the record straight and to build trust in the vaccine and AZ brand. The campaign resulted in a significant reduction in negative social volume and improvement in positive brand sentiment. In Sweden, the team activated its ground-breaking creative ‘Marked For Life’ campaign for Trygg-Hansa, which saw temporary tattoos with pictorial instructions for doing CPR on children handed out at beaches and swimming pools, directly leading to lower rates of drowning. In term of IP, BCW released its International Workplace study in partnership with Meta, exploring changing attitudes and expectations of employees and what that means for business leaders, and the BCW Brussels team used data to produce the Influence Index, a ranking of MEPs’ political and social influence.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Our EMEA Network of the Year in four of the past six years, Hill+Knowlton Strategies has produced a remarkably consistent level of performance in the region over the past decade, despite the fact that its pipeline from North America remains significantly weaker than most of its peers. Unsurprisingly, for an agency of its scale, H+K’s depth spans multiple sectors and practice areas, including consumer, corporate, B2B, technology, healthcare, energy/industrial and financial, and is bolstered by industry-leading capabilities in digital, behavioral science, purpose and change management.
With more than 20 offices across the EMEA region (even after the divestitureearly this year of its Russian operations), Hill+Knowlton has one of the largest footprints of any of the large multinationals, with particular strength in key markets such as the UK, Brussels, Germany, and the Middle East—as well as France, Spain, Italy, Poland and Finland.
Significantly more than 50% of Hill+Knowlton’s global revenue derives from the EMEA region—the highest proportion among its global peers—and that remains the case after 11.4% growth in 2021 (after what was essentially a flat 2020). Impressively, 18 of the firm’s EMEA markets experienced growth in 2021, with half of its markets up by double-digits (including powerhouse operations like the UK (21% growth) and the Middle East (17%). In terms of sector expertise, there was particularly strong growth in energy, healthcare and the media and entertainment space, while digital and data and analytics capabilities continue to grow. New business came from Dubai Holding, Adobe, Amazon, H&M, Qualcomm, Rio Tinto and more, while there was healthy growth from existing clients such as HSBC, Pfizer, Tencent, Sanofi, Honda, IKEA, Volvo and Takeda.
One significant impact of the pandemic has been that firms like Hill+Knowlton have become more borderless, with virtual connectivity facilitating cross-market teams. As the firm has welcomed employees back to the office, it has maintained a flexible approach, while enhancing learning and development and other people-focused efforts such as Thrive (an umbrella program focused on well-being and mental health) and DE&I initiatives including partnerships with schools and non-profits. The firm has also expanded its senior counseling ranks, particularly in the corporate advisory business, which added three managing directors: Lisa Kilmartin from freuds; Danielle Leach, formerly of Google and Ericsson; and James Drewer from Sir Lynton Crosby’s C|T Group. Sophie Taylor-Roberts, formerly of Good Relations and The Red Consultancy, joined as MD of health and wellness in London, and Guillaume Klossa was named SVP of European affairs in Brussels, after serving as special adviser of the Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of the Digital Single Market.
Among highlights of the firm’s work were several corporate and issues management assignments, like drawing attention to the black market in hydrofluorocarbons for the European chemical industry’s trade association Cefic, or helping family-owned Italian retailer Conad restructure its communications and revitalize its reputation, or helping B Corp Chiesi introduce “sustainable pharma” during the latest climate talks, or managing stakeholder communications for Shell during the relocation of its headquarters from the Netherlands to London. But H+K was also able to showcase its more creative side, introducing a new fragrance (Mach-Eau) for Ford, creating an online gaming community to help Soap & Glory connect with its younger audience, and helping adidas teach young female athletes to “Stay in Play” during menstruation.
— Paul Holmes
FleishmanHillard has always been perhaps Omnicom’s most modest agency brand, partly due to so much of its work being confidential, high-level corporate, crisis and reputation management, and has long held trusted partner status for clients across EMEA. In 2021, however, the agency evolved in every way from culture to client work, exuding a new agility, energy, excitement and confidence that resulted in its most successful year ever in the region and set it up for a new phase in its 76-year history. There was significant growth across every part of the business, which operates across consumer, corporate, healthcare, technology and public affairs, served by social, digital and studio teams.
FleishmanHillard has nine branded offices in Europe, including in London, its largest operation in the region, plus seven OPRG-branded offices.
FleishmanHillard’s income across EMEA, where it has more than 500 employees, exploded in 2021. After years of low-single digit growth in the region, it grew by close to 20% overall, driven by areas including healthcare (up by 35%), reputation and crisis management, and business intelligence via its True Global Intelligence model. There was strong growth in the UK, Germany, Brussels, Spain and Italy, and the agency netted €40 million in new business wins over 105 new clients, with a pitch close rate for new and organic business of 74%. New clients in 2020 included Bayer, Novartis, 3M, Dr Oetker and Cisco, who joined Unilever, Philips, Johnson & Johnson, Barclays, Prudential, Danone, AT&T, Fitbit, Bose, Novartis, Samsung and the UAE Government’s Mars mission on the roster. FH also saw strong organic growth across the region, with income from its top 10 clients growing by 24%. Of the agency’s top 20 clients in EMEA, almost all are now multi-market briefs.
FleishmanHillard’s stated aim is to be ‘the most inclusive agency in the world’ and in EMEA it has a whole raft of diversity initiatives and partnerships, with each office across the region tailoring activity to local needs and priorities, from social mobility to mental health and ethnic diversity. Wellbeing is supported by initiatives such as lunch and learn sessions, an employee assistance programme, and mental health kits for managers so they can spot when something is amiss. Career mobility and exposing its people to the broader global network is an important part of FH’s offer, encompassing global and EMEA training programmes, extra support for ‘future stars’, and the opportunity for employees to visit other offices under the EMEA Connect programme, as well as the NYLON exchange between the New York and London operations. The agency’s global True Mosaic DE&I offer is led from EMEA, and UK co-CEO Jim Donaldson leads a global employee experience think tank which generates many of the agency’s cultural and diversity initiatives.
FleishmanHillard was shortlisted for three EMEA SABRE awards, including the #WeThe15 campaign for the International Paralympic Committee, in partnership with other Omnicom agencies, which set out to be sport’s biggest ever human rights movement to end discrimination against people with disabilities. The launch of the 10-year campaign saw a coalition of 20 organisations unite behind the cause to put people with disabilities at the heart of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) agenda, including UN Human Rights, UNESCO and the International Disability Alliance.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
The world’s second largest public relations agency, Weber Shandwick has been a force in EMEA since its formation 20 years ago (and before that, since Shandwick was the UK’s largest public relations firm prior to the merger with Weber and BSMG). The firm is equally well known for its work in brand-building and corporate reputation management and public affairs, has strength in both the healthcare and technology sectors, and has made substantial acquisitions in the digital space, establishing itself as a leader in that arena.
Weber Shandwick is a top three PR agency in the UK market, its largest operation in EMEA, and is also among the market leaders in the Nordics (where it continues to operate as Prime Weber Shandwick, having acquired the leading local independent eight years ago); Germany (where it recently broke into the top 10); the Middle East and Africa. Its footprint extends across the entire region, with additional offices in Brussels, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
In a year of leadership transition, Weber Shandwick’s EMEA operations nevertheless delivered mid-single digit growth, with strong secondary performance metrics: the firm’s top 40 clients grew by double-digits and it retained 95% of its top 50 clients. Much of the growth was organic, from existing clients such as Sanofi, Novartis, IKEA, Nespresso, Amazon, Unilever, AB InBev and Mattel. But there were several new business highlights too: Samsung, EY, Pinterest, the World Health Organization, and Uber Eats. It’s also worth noting that the “ecosystem” of acquired digital capabilities (That Lot, Flipside) has also continued to perform at high levels.
The arrival in March of former Ogilvy UK chief exec Michael Frohlich, who now heads the EMEA region for Weber Shandwick marked something for a reset for the agency, after years of leadership selections from within. Frohlich and his leadership team have been taking a look at the firm’s culture (“Let’s Be More Together,” is the new mantra and values (curiosity, inclusion, courage and impact). There’s an increased emphasis on DE&I, with new regional leadership, while Weber Shandwick’s global “Juice” approach to flexible working has been helpful during the return to the office of the past few months. Other significant people moves have included the promotion of Charlotte Witte to the newly-created role of chief client and growth officer; the addition of Jane Douglas as executive vice president of marketing and communications; and the appointment of Helen Bennettas UK chief executive.
As always, Weber Shandwick’s creative work was outstanding, from the development of a new game “Dictator of Sweden” to educate on the choices that lead to democracy or authoritarianism for the group Civil Rights Defenders to helping Spotify open up a dialogue with Gen Z on social media; from helping Chinese furniture company Ryobi draw attention to “furniture poverty” in the UK to supporting Unilever’s “Unmute” campaign to end the silence around domestic violence. The firm was also involved in other serious issues, from helping the Red Cross deliver vaccines to Uganda to helping Sanofi Genzyme draw attention to type 2 inflammation with a campaign focused on social isolation. The firm has also been developing distinctive products around data and analytics, geopolitical risk assessment, and influencer marketing risk, with an increasingly comprehensive tech stack. The firm’s United Minds management consulting operation adds another dimension to its thought leadership.
— Paul Holmes
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