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It was a defining year for AxiCom, which – after a tough 2020 – stepped out of its 27-year-old traditional B2B technology PR comfort zone, expanding from its telecoms and enterprise technology heartland into consumer tech, digital, influencer marketing and creative services. After winning several sports tech clients, the agency launched a dedicated sports tech division, as well as a dedicated influencer marketing practice, led by a consumer team that grew 30% over the year. And to top it off, under the strong, compassionate leadership of longtime AxiCom staffer and now European president, Kate Stevens, the agency formally combined its technology know-how with creativity by recruiting its first creative director, Graeme Anthony, formerly of Frank PR. This transformed AxiCom’s creative approach and client work, and it now offers creative strategy as a new service.
As well as its US office in San Francisco, AxiCom operates in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.
AxiCom’s revenue for 2021 grew by just over 10% on 2020, on even healthier margins. For the first time, UK income was less than half of the European business, as it grew substantially across its other offices. The agency won 63 new clients across Europe, 30% of which are multi-market accounts, including milestones such as the agency’s first all-digital win, Equinix – digital services revenue grew by 27% over the year – and AxiCom’s first pure influencer marketing brief. The agency also has longstanding relationships with many clients, including HMD Global, Kantar, Lexmark, Orange and Belkin, and new clients over the year included Whirlpool, Roku, Prevayl, Avast Foundation, Oppo and Prevayl. The team grew to 112 people across Europe.
AxiCom views itself as a family, and many of its staffers have been around for well over a decade. In a recent survey of words its team associate with the firm, the top three were ‘fun’, ‘flexible’ and ‘supportive’. Stevens is supported by European MD Nick Head and UK managing director Rosie Bannister, both 2020 joiners, and in January this year, after North America president Katie Huang Shin left the firm, the agency appointed Golin’s Matt Lackie as its first global CEO. The agency has a -7% gender pay gap in Europe, since across the European team, 55% of the team and 80% of the leadership are women. During 2021, AxiCom launched its Intelligent Working 2.0 flexible working policy, scrapping core hours and reducing contracted hours to give its people complete control of their working life. It also invested in a new training programme, AxiAcademy, designed to support the team across three key areas – compliance, culture and competence – in a range of ways from training sessions to cross-office peer-to-peer coaching. DE&I initiatives include training around unconscious bias, privilege, allyship and exclusion, and overhauling recruitment language and processes. AxiCom was recently named as PRovoke Media’s Best EMEA Network To Work For for the third year running.
The range of AxiCom’s work across the year was perhaps surprising for a legacy tech agency, demonstrating how the business has evolved: from working with celebrities for the first time, to tackle trolling online, to taking over the streets of Madrid to introduce multi-mobility firm GoTo Global to a new market. SABRE-shortlisted work included a campaign for tech sportswear firm Prevayl, which gave the agency two weeks after it won the account to engage the athleisure community. The team recruited 37 Instagram fitness influencers to attend a training immersion workshop at a boutique gym to showcase Prevayl kit, and the resulting coverage beat all KPIs. In Italy, CyberArk tasked AxiCom with securing national press coverage to shine a light on identity security in a crowded cybersecurity landscape, achieved by working with a ‘good hacker’. AxiCom also launched The Ideas Bank: its home for surplus creative ideas, with a downloadable booklet available to prospects for free to provide inspiration and show what tech PR can achieve with creativity at its core.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Ballou was founded 20 years ago in Paris by Colette Ballou, with a mission to help US tech firms successfully cross the Atlantic into Europe successfully. Today there are 60 employees across three markets, supported by a network of partner agencies across the globe. Ballou prides itself on a straight-talking, results-driven approach for some of the most iconic names in tech, from RedHat to WhatsApp to Stripe to Facebook. encompassing B2B and venture capital clients. While media relations remains a central focus, the firm has expanded its social media and SEO capabilities, while also providing sales training to help clients navigate the unique challenges of the pandemic.
Ballou operates three offices: London, Paris and Berlin, adding up to 52 staffers. Approximately one-third of revenues come from the UK.
After a challenging 2020, Ballou roared back to form in 2021, with fee income up 22% to £4.6m. There was new business from GoStudent, CommerzVentures, Proton, Photobox, Heycar, Monday.com and Kahoot, joining a client roster that already featured Box, Mozilla, RedHat, ServiceNow, Udacity, WorldRemit, Vonage and Carrefour.
Ballou oversees a collaborative and supportive culture that is particularly popular with returnees, and features a leadership team that also includes COO Cedric Voigt, CEO Cordy Griffiths and Nick Taylor, Alexandre Denis and Jörn Dunker overseeing the UK, France and Germany, respectively. Indeed, Ballou’s ability to attract senior level talent from bigger firms reflects a firm that has emerged stronger from the pandemic than when it entered. There is regular salary benchmarking to ensure there is gender pay gap, and a specific commitment to advance females in senior leadership.
Ballou supported Mozilla’s call to action on political advertising transparency in the EU, amid Facebook’s attempts to stymie enquiries into the issue. The firm also commissioned research that helped workplace analytics company Locatee launch in the UK by gauging workers’ readiness to return to the office. There were also several thought leadership highlights for RedHat, along with a SABRE-nominated effort on behalf of urban sustainability VC fund 2150 to establish ‘Gigacorn’ as a new term for companies whose technology can reduce CO2 emissions by 1 gigaton per year.
— Arun Sudhaman
Having weathered the tumultuous storms of the first year of the pandemic, B2B technology specialist CCgroup – a mid-80s start-up that was reinvigorated by CEO Richard Fogg and chief client officer Paul Nolan after their MBO in 2012 – went into 2021 with a bold blueprint for continuing its winning streak of six-figure clients and move forward with long-planned strategic developments for the business. During the past year, the agency has added new cybersecurity and marketing services divisions, and in January formally launched Heist PR, its first foray into consumer technology and web3, led by former Dynamo co-founder Peter Bowles. The agency’s vision is to help tech companies influence the world for the better, and its mission is “to develop the world’s most sought-after team of brave, talented tech PR and marketing professionals”. CCgroup works across telecoms, fintech, enterprise technology and deep tech, and also has an analyst relations division.
CCgroup is headquartered in London and also has an office in the US.
After breaking the £4 million income barrier in 2019, CCgroup took a big hit in the first months of the pandemic, ending 2020 down 18%. For the calendar year 2021 it was back up to £4.3 million – double its growth target – on 21.5% margins, with 39 staff. The forecast for the end of its financial year in 2022 is 46% growth to just over £5 million and a team of 48. In 2021, the agency moved into a bigger league, winning six-figure retainers from some of the biggest tech brands in the world, including BT, global tech distributor Westcon-Comstor, mobile network EE and fintech unicorn Mollie, which joined a roster that also includes cybersecurity firm Netacea, OpenPayd, Blancco, FintechOS, ClearBank and EXFO.
At the start of 2021, CCgroup was one of the first agencies to achieve Blueprint Ally status, the demanding diversity mark. During the past year it maintained its commitment to and progress on DE&I, moving from 17% of the team being from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds at the end of 2020 to 28% at the end of 2021, ahead of its 20% target for November 2022. The team is 56% female, but the board is 71% male and is still 100% white; the agency has set diversity targets for the senior leadership team that will take it to a point where it is more representative than the PR industry and the technology sector. One of the agency’s biggest challenges in 2021 was continuing to hire responsibly. In a difficult market, it recruited 15 people in less than a year, without lowering the recruitment standards put in place as part of the Blueprint process, including diverse interview teams, objective questioning and scoring, and not working with recruiters unwilling to deliver diverse shortlists. The agency continued its focus on mental health and wellbeing, and when staff burnout became a real problem in August 2021, CCgroup closed its doors to new business for three months to protect the team and existing clients, declining more than 60 incoming leads.
CCgroup’s IP during 2021 included papers on ‘How can IoT Tech Vendors Successfully Market & Sell to Buyers’ and ‘Security Marketing Strategies: Influencing Contemporary Purchasing Behaviour’. Outstanding work for clients included surveying fintechs on their relationship with traditional banks and turning the insights into a report for clearing bank ClearBank, which led to 500+ marketing qualified leads from fintechs and two new business wins. The agency also turned a small, private networks vendor, Quortus, into a highly-desirable acquisition target. CCgroup’s work to make the company relevant again was so successful, not only was Quortus praised for technical and market leadership, it also attracted the attentions of Ericsson subsidiary Cradlepoint, which acquired Quortus at the end of 2021. And when legal tech firm Apperio asked for support after its expansion plans, founded on participation in events by in-house legal teams at private equity and venture capital companies, fell victim to Covid cancellation, CCgroup developed a series of research-driven content that led to 41 sales qualified leads and £971,000 in pipeline value: an ROI of nearly 1,500%.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Technology heavyweight Harvard, part of the Chime Group, was founded 43 years ago as a technology PR and marketing specialist working with consumer and B2B brands with a technology story to tell. It was a transformational year for the agency: as well as re-engineering the 100-strong firm for a hybrid world, the agency saw the biggest changes to its leadership structure for a decade, as Ellie Thompson, previously MD of the PR business, became Harvard’s first female CEO and Louie St Claire, who had led the firm for 10 years, became non-executive chairman. In addition, Lorna Hughes become MD of PR & AR and George Greenspan became MD of Harvard’s consumer brand Eat The Fox, joining Andrew Last, MD of Marketing Services. For the first time, the agency has three MDs, and, as the agency stepped up its focus on creativity (with a design and branding lab planned for 2022) executive creative director Marc Allenby also joined the board. The agency grew its editorial and planning & strategy teams, and launched a combined PR and account-based marketing proposition and an integrated influencer relations model.
Harvard is based in London.
Revenue increased 13% to £8.5 million – making 2021 Harvard’s 11th consecutive year of growth – with EBITDA increasing 8% to £1.68 million and margins of just over 20%. By the end of the year, the agency had made 23 new hires (and had staff retention of 90%), making it a 100-people agency for the first time. Over the past year Harvard brought in 35 new clients, with a pitch win rate of 71%. They included Hubspot, Samsung, Monday.com, Anaplan, Net a Porter and Disney+, who joined existing clients SAP Concur, Tata Communications, Dropbox, Workplace from Meta, Fujitsu, Mimecast, Oppo and Sky. Its client NPS for 2021 was 8.8/10.
Inclusivity is at the heart of Harvard’s culture: the agency achieved Blueprint Ally status in February and continued its DE&I journey and commitments throughout 2021, increasing Black, Asian and ethnic minority representation from 12% to 25% after revamping its recruitment processes. In its latest quarterly people survey, Harvard’s employee NPS was 8.3/10, with 93% of the team saying the agency has a positive culture regarding DE&I, 94% saying good progress is being made on DE&I, and 83% saying they are comfortable being their true selves at work. The agency established its new flexible hybrid model, asking people to be in the office 40% of the time. It also evolved its learning and development and social programmes to ensure everyone has the same opportunity to thrive, and expanded its generous parental policies and mental health team. Harvard’s senior leadership team is 57% female.
Harvard’s annual thought leadership report again looked at key trends impacting the tech sector, with the aim of supporting comms and marketing teams to plan strategically. Stand-out work over the year included global brand trust research for Mimecast, exploring the impact of cyberthreats on brand trust among 9,000 consumers in 10 countries; an integrated campaign for Fujitsu that challenged the firm’s traditional focus on products and has since been rolled out by the management team globally; immersive events for mobile phone brand Oppo; and an integrated campaign for Kalibrate that accelerated electric vehicle fuelling provision by retailers.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Milk & Honey is headquartered in London, and also has operations in New York (opened in 2021) and Sydney, with Munich operations opening in spring 2022.
Milk & Honey’s revenue grew by 67% in 2021 to £2.2 million, and the team – or ‘Hive’ – is now close to 50-strong. New clients included Epson, mobile network challenger brand Giffgaff, ESG reporting software company EMEX, online creative learning platform Domestika, and pro bono client Techfugees, which helps refugees upskill. They joined existing clients including global dating app Inner Circle, EMEA fintech advisory firm Royal Park Partners, digital content studio TheSoul Publishing, sustainable chocolate brand Luker and price comparison site PriceSpy. Significant people moves in 2021 included Ottilie Ratcliffe joining from The Romans as the firm’s first global creative director, and Francesca O’Connor, who joined in 2019, was promoted to global head of brand. In May 2021, the agency expanded to New York, with a team led by former Ketchum partner Paul Cohen, and in August the firm became employee-owned, with 55% of shares transferred into an Employee Ownership Trust.
Milk & Honey walks the talk where its ‘people, purpose, planet’ proposition is concerned: the agency is carbon- and plastic-neutral, has planted more than 7,000 trees, works pro bono for a number of charities and has pledged to initiatives including the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Good Business Charter and Terra Carta. Named two years in a row as PRovoke’s Best UK Agency To Work For, Milk & Honey continued its focus on mental health and wellbeing through 2021, improving its employee assistance programme and healthcare access, as well as increasing the number of trained mental health first aiders. Post-pandemic, Leighton has also reinstated the annual whole-company offsites in Marrakech. The agency’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is two-pronged, focusing on the business – including training, lived-experience workshops, recruitment processes and targets of at least 25% diverse candidates for every role, and the wider PR industry, with the aim of encouraging 250 individuals from diverse backgrounds into PR by 2025 via school, university and community outreach. Milk & Honey has a negative gender pay gap and a 100% female board, with a 27% non-white team.
As COP26 approached, global technology client Epson wanted to showcase its extensive, but little known, sustainability initiatives and cut through the noise as the world turned its attention to climate issues. Milk & Honey researched and launched the first Epson Climate Barometer, a global survey to gauge public awareness of climate change, influence business decisions, and inform policy makers, leading to attention around the world. Other outstanding work over the year included helping the Make-A-Wish foundation, which grants wishes to children living with critical illness, make up for a catastrophic drop in funding during the pandemic, with a multi-layered creative campaign that resulted in donations of £250,000.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
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