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The history of Ketchum and its predecessor firms in Germany is a tumultuous one. It began with the acquisition of Kohtes & Klewes, one of Germany’s largest and most respecred agencies, which became ECC Kohtes Klewes and was then merged with the international operations of Omnicom agency Broduer in 2004—a mistake that ultimately came close to destroying one of the most respected names in European PR. In 2009, Omnicom sought to remedy the situation by merging Pleon with Ketchum’s own modest, consumer-focused German business, and in 2013 Ketchum also acquired branzeichen, a respected creative boutique. It was not until five years later, however, that a turnaround began, with the appointment of K&K veteran Sabine Hückmann as CEO of the entire German operation (including conflict brand Emanate). Since then, the comeback has been impressive.
In Germany, Ketchum has 220 people across Berlin, Bonn, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart. The DACH operation also includes an impressive presence in Austria, where the firm has enjoyed far greater stability over the past decade and currently employs 35 people in its Vienna office.
Operating as a single entity, Ketchum Germany enjoyed a strong pandemic—making its years each year—and 2022 continued that trend, with fees up by close to 12% and margin improving (the firm does not feature in the Pfeffers ranking of German PR firms, but its headcount suggests it would comfortably make the top 10). Key clients include P&G, Samsung, Deutsche Bahn (German Railway), EnBW, Vaillant, BASF, Burger King, Continental, Microsoft; Metro, while new business wins in 2022 came from smart, Senec, Infineon, LBBW, and the Saxon State Ministry for Energy, Climate Protection, Environment & Agriculture. In Austria, meanwhile, revenues were up 34%, with the operation doubling in size over the past two years.
Huckermann has a 22-year history with Ketchum and its predecessor firms, while her Austrian counterpart Wallner has an even longer tenure counting ECC, Pleon and Ketchum. Rounding out the key leadership positions are newly-promoted chief people officer Tabea Fesser; chief client officer Simone Hoch; and chief marketing officer Kerstin Steglich. New hires in 2022 strengthened the firm’s offerings in ESG counseling (Jusith Pierau), research and analytics (Fleix Zeh), and leadership development (Claudia Schmidt). In terms of culture, Huckermann’s focus has been on creating a workforce that is resilient and resourceful, a nod to the firm’s tumultuous history and the turmoil of the pandemic era. There is a revitalized employee assistance program, a fully flexible approach to working, improved health benefits, and expanded professional development—along with initiatives designed to give back to society and position the firm as a diversity, equity and inclusion leader (with recognition from the Pride community in particular).
The investments of the past four years have strengthened many aspects of the operatiuon, but their impact is most visible in the quality of the firm’s creative work and the efficacy of its campaigms. A prime example is the firm’s work for automotive brand smart, which generated €135 million in pre-orders through PR alone. Or the firm’s work for LBBW, which included building an evidence-based decision-making tool to avlaluate the success of the content creation work. Or the creation of Germany’s first cold-wash launderette to position P&G and Ariel as sustainability leaders. Or the cutting-edge creative (pun intended) that helped Gillette Venus start a shame-free conversation around intimate female grooming.
— Paul Holmes
Farner, now 68 years old, has been the Swiss market leader in corporate and public affairs for as long as anyone can remember. Yet Farner is not just a domestic heavyweight, but one of the best players in EMEA, as evidenced by its selection as one of PRovoke’s EMEA Consultancies of the Decade. And the firm’s progress over the last couple of years demonstrates that it is just as focused on the future, tying up with an investment partner to help bankroll a string of acquisitions including Kirchoff Consult, Komm.passion and VIM in Germany; Kobza in Austria; and Yoveo and Blueglass (digital), Jim&Jim (content, experience) and Affective Advisory (behavioral science) in Switzerland. All of which gives Farner an offering that spans the entire value chain of communications, including strategy, reputation and issues management, crisis, digital marketing, advertising, branding/brand transformation/employer branding, change/internal communications, public affairs, corporate communications and behavioral design.
Farner’s acquisition spree means headcount has more than doubled to 500, operating from 11 offices across Switzerland, Germany, Austria, the UK and the Netherlands.
Fuelled by acquisitions, Farner’s fee income more than doubled in 2022 to €81m, making it one of the continent’s biggest PR firms. There were significant new mandates from Six, Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health, Switzerland’s Green Liberal Party (a national election campaign, no less), MSC, Novartis, Just Eat, Switzerland’s Federal Office of Defence, Ringier, PWC and ING Group. They join and existing client roster that features Uber, McDonald’s Switzerland, Touring Club Switzerland, Coop Switzerland, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Rhystadt, PostFinance, UBS and SBB.
Roman Geiser had led Farner since 2012, but became executive chairman of Farner International last year, overseeing its European expansion. That meant new co-CEOs in Pablo Koerfer and Michel Grunder, while there were several new partners from the various acquired firms. The firm’s focus on employee culture includes a 40-hour week, home office support and expanded vacation benefits, along with a new policy that allows employees to work one week from wherever they like. Diversity and inclusion commitments include regular monitoring and auditing by internal and external bodies, along with new gender inclusive language guidelines and a commitment to equal pay. The board also welcomed two new female members this year in Katia Murmann and Anja Wyden Guelpa.
Farner has invested heavily in behavioural science capabilities, including the acquisition of Affective Advisory, and has also focused its thought leadership efforts on what it calls ‘branded opinion’ — where brands and CEOs are under pressure to take a stand on social and environmental issues. The firm scored seven finalists at the 2023 EMEA SABRE Awards, including employer branding work for SBB, the UBS Kids Cup, and Ukranian refugee outreach for the Swiss Red Cross. Other campaign highlights included the SABRE-winning UBS Growth Talk branded content series for SMEs.
MSL Germany is one of the few agencies in the market that is equally strong across brand PR, corporate communications and public affairs, with a focus—in all three practices—on creative, influencer, digital and sustainability work. One of the most successful branches of the Publicis Groupe’s PR and influence network, the German offices are run by a tight-knit group of managers, led by crisis communications and public affairs specialist Wigan Salazar, who have worked together for more than a decade.
MSL Germany has offices in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg and München, with a headcount of about 120 people.
A little better than 10% growth in 2022 took MSL Germany to around €17.2 million (enough for the firm to rank among the top 10). That represents growth of about 77% over the past three years—one of the strongest performance in the German market and in the MSL family. There was new business from Coty (brand and influencer marketing), Visa (brand), Grunenthal (global lead agency for PR and social media), H&M (corporate) and E.ON’s Westenergie subsidiary. They join a client roster that includes big names such as P&G (oralcare and healthcare brands), Grohe/Lixil (lead EMEA agency for brand, corporate PR and social media), Philip Morris (corporate and government affairs), Bosch Siemens Home Appliance, Mars, Gilead Sciences, Beiersdorf/ Nivea, Diageo, AirBNB, and Coca Cola.
CEO Wigan Salazar has been leading MSL’s operations in Germany since 2010 and he has built an impressive team, although there was some restructuring in 2022: Kirsten Leinert replaced Axel Wallrabenstein as managing partner responsible for client teams, while Birgit Söllner was named managing partner, responsible for practices and became part of Publicis Groupe Germany leadership, with Sebastian Nikoloff as managing partner, operations and capacities. Wallrabenstein joined a new partner board, along with Martin Dohmen, Christoph Moosbauer, while new hires included Josef Girshovich (formerly PB3C) to lead work for the real estate industry and Daniel Holefleisch (formerly Deutsche Post, who will work on public affairs and strengthen relationswith the Green Party. Finally, Ann-Sophie Czech was named head of a new sustainabilty practice.
One of the most impressive pieces of work from MSL Germany last year came in response to the crisis in Ukraine, and particularly the need to help refugees from the war. MSL worked to launch UA Talents with the Jobs for Ukrainian Refugees campaign, winner of an Innovation SABRE Award and finalist in the EMEA competition. In other Ukraine-related news, the firm supported Autodocs as the company sought to ensure the safety of its colleagues in the war-torn nartion. Other award-nominated campaigns include the “WWF Metaverse Operation #OceanDetox” sustainability initiative for the WWF; “Re:Suede: an experiment in biodegradability” for Puma; and work helping Grohe make consumers' voices heard ahead of the COP26 climate conference.
— Paul Holmes
What started as a one-man-show founded by Christoph Schwartz in his home office in 1994 has become a regular on our agencies of the year DACH list. Schwartz’s familial culture has been the foundation of the agency since its inception and continues to be at the core even as the firm grows. After 28 years in the German market today Schwartz PR is one of the top tech-focused PR agencies in the DACH region, supporting more than 70 international clients
Schwartz does business in Austria and Switzerland in addition to its home base, Germany
Schwartz has come a long way since its launch 28 years ago, with 40 employees and €6.7 million in fees — up 31% from the previous year, making 2022 the firm’s best year ever. Schwartz’s team focuses on the large technology and digitalization market in Germany with international clients like Alibaba, ABB, Fujitsu, Ruko and Sharp. Schwartz’s prowess in serving the tech industry is well-known in the region, fueling new business from more than 20 new clients including Nemetschek, Malwarebytes, Sourcemap, ChargeOne, Infineon and Solarize. The agency also launched a new content management & marketing division in response to substantial demand for services. The new offering accounted for nearly 10% of annual revenue.
Over the last year, Schwartz’s team has grown to 40 people with its very low attrition rate a credit to the firm’s culture — and value it places on employees. Christoph Schwartz runs a shop around values like fairness, responsibility and reliability while driving excellence. The industry has taken notice. Schwartz received a 2022 SABRE Award for being the best place to work in Germany; Schwartz was the only PR agency included in The German Industry Association for Office and Work (IBA) list of best small business workplaces. In addition to Christoph Schwartz, leaders include deputy managing director Jörg Stelzer and board members Sven Kersten-Reichherzer, Alex Seiche and Julia Rauch.
Schwartz has emerged as a top player for PR in tech/digitalization in the DACH region, with focusses: IT, consumer electronics, e-commerce, telecommunications/mobile, renewable energy, e-logistics, industrial tech and med-tech. In 2022, the firm’s biggest campaigns included its multidimensional #borntotransform initiative for Fujitsu communicating complex digitalization topics while driving awareness of the company.
— Diana Holmes
Female-owned, female-led and fiercely independent since it was founded 40 years ago, WE Communications has expanded in recent years from its technology heritage to develop equal strengths in healthcare and consumer PR. Its sweet spot is now storytelling at the intersection of all three: how tech-fuelled transformation can improve the way we live and work, from telehealth to sustainability. WE’s operation in EMEA has grown fast, and in Germany the agency has matured over the past three years from underdog boutique to a key full-service networked player in the market offering digital marketing, social media services, insights and analytics to German and international clients of all sizes. Last year WE also invested in its corporate and brand purpose offer, including the acquisition of social impact and behaviour change agency Hopscotch and expansion into crisis and issues management.
WE has German offices in Frankfurt and Munich, which work alongside its other EMEA offices in London and Johannesburg, and offices across the US and Asia Pacific.
After stratospheric income growth of 75% to break the $6 million barrier in 2021, WE’s German operations settled down last year, with more modest single-digit growth and a focus on building out its broader, more integrated offer, including digital, content and events. The German team has long-term relationships with BioNTech and Abbvie – healthcare is now the biggest slice of the business – and also works with multi-market WE technology clients such as Microsoft and Intel. New business over the year came from the likes of medical devices company Med-El, Astellas, GBT, Solidigm and Scivita Medical, and the client portfolio in Germany also includes Takeda and Ionos.
From 25 employees three years ago, WE Germany has developed into a team of almost 50 – 400% bigger than five years ago – and was named by Kununu (Germany’s equivalent of Glassdoor) as a top company to work for based on employee ratings. The agency is also ranked as a leading LGBT+ employer in the Uhlala Pride Index; inclusive language training has been part of the team’s DE&I initiatives over the past year. WE’s German business turned the challenges of the pandemic into an opportunity to find a broader range of talent, from parents to people with chronic disease, giving them complete freedom to choose where they are working and when. Around half of its team now work flexibly and remotely, and the agency strives to create a working environment where everyone can do their best work and feel seen and heard; the culture in WE’s German offices is typified by being open and straight-talking in two languages. In Germany, WE is led by general manager Bianca Eichner, with support from deputy general manager and head of digital Daniel Blank. Senior German hires in 2022 included Dennis Shubovich as director of digital strategy and Jette Kilian as director of health.
For German telco brand Gigaset, WE has become its social media partner, including creative content, establishing and growing the brand’s presence and following on new channels; Gigaset’ Instagram account was recently given the German Influencer Award for community engagement, and the activity has led to the firm selling out of products featured on its social channels. Notable work over the year also included creating a purpose-driven global awareness campaign for Med-El – a pioneer in the field of cochlear implants – on hearing loss with relation to music, ‘Your Life, Your Soundtrack’. This covers PR activation, social media and content marketing and is currently being rolled out to 11 countries. And for Astellas – which has become one of its key clients in Germany over the past year, the team supports the pharma with corporate reputation and brand purpose, including producing its first podcast, LinkedIn campaigns and events. WE also picked up 12 local and global awards last year for its ongoing work in Germany with BioNTech. In terms of thought leadership, the German market was included in Brands in Motion, WE’s annual global report, which last year found consumers want greater transparency and tangible proof-points from business leaders about progress on values-led commitments.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
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