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The international consulting business of FGS (it was still Finsbury Glover Hering when it won this category last year) was formed at the beginning of 2021 by the merger of Finsbury (a UK-based financial consultancy that had absorbed the US business of Robinson Lerer), Washington public affairs consultancy Glover Park, and German corporate and financial powerhouse Hering Schuppener. The merger also involved buying back much of the stake in the three companies held by WPP, which remains a majority partner. In October of 2021, the firm acquired New York-based corporate and financial communications specialist Sard Verbinnen, deepening its credentials in the M&A arena and in crisis communications.
FGS has 1,200 professionals across 27 global offices. In the EMEA region it has its largest operations in the UK and Germany (the heritage headquarters of Finsbury and Hering Schuppener respectively)—the latter home to four offices in Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich). The rest of the EMEA operation includes offices Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Burssels, Dublin, Paris, Riyadh, and Zurich. There are partner companies in other key markets.
FGS broke into the top 10 on our global ranking of public relations firms last year, with fee income of just under $400 million. After a year during which there was ever more urgent need for the kind of high-stakes C-suite counsel that FGS provides, the post-merger growth has continued. One metric of the firm’s success is its continued domination of the mergermarket ranking of M&A advisors: In a down year for mergers and acquisitions activity around the world, the newly-merged FGS Global ranked number one in terms of the volume of deals (322) and the value of deals ($657 billion) handled. It was number one in volume in Europe and the UK, and number one in value in Germany. Major clients include ABB, Bayer, Deutsche Bank, Volkswagen, Audi, KKR, 3i, Porsche, Cariad, Intel, Clariant, A22 Sports Management.
One of the things that differentiates FSG from other public relations firms of its size, and from most of its competitors in the corporate and financial ream, is an ownership structure that provides all of the firm’s employees with a path to ownership: currently more than 400 of the firm’s more than 1,200 employees around the world are owners—almost certainly the largest number of employee owners in the business. In EMEA, meanwhile, it has a formidable leadership team that includes CEO Alex Geiser, who previously led Hering Schuppener; global co-chairman Roland Rudd; Faeth Birch, CEO for the UK and international; and Brigitte von Haacke, CEO Europe. High-caliber new hires included William Klein, a former US diplomat and investment banker in Germany; Katrin Suder, a former deputy minister of defence who also worked many years at McKinsey; Eva Christiansen, a former media advisor for Chancellor Angela Merkel; Sylvain Fort, who joined the Paris office after serving on Emmanuel Macron’s first campaign team as head of comms and then at the Élysée as speechwriter; and Tim van der Zanden, who joined in Amsterdam after holding in house communications positions with AkzoNobel, Ahold, Heineken, and Philips Domestic Appliances.
There has been a greater need for C-suite public relations counsel than ever in recent years, with issues such as the pandemic (FGS worked with German vaccine developer BioNTech) to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine (the firm helped several companies decide whether, when and how to divest themselves of their Russian holdings). And the firm has been producing thought leadership on the many issues keeping CEOs awake at nights from ESG reporting to the “great resignation” to the EU’s new “green deal.” In addition to the financial transaction work that earned it the number one spot from mergermarket, specific assignments included IPOs for Porsche listing (Europe’s largest ever), and the mandate for A22 Sports Management, which is backed by the soccer clubs Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Juventus Turin.
— Paul Holmes
Launched by Valentina Drofa in 2011 as a traditional financial services consultancy, Drofa Comms has emerged in recent years as leader in crypto and fintech PR. The firm’s 70 employees craft their work for clients with the goal of helping companies grow with care and respect through well-tuned communications. Drofa has built a team with a range of expertise and backgrounds in banking, financial journalism, regulation, law, blockchain and trading. As an international firm, Drofa works at the global market with a special focus on the UK, Europe, CIS, and LATAM.
Drofa Comms has offices in London, the Cyprus city Limassol and Dubai.
PRovoke Media last year ranked Drofa Comms the fifth fastest-growing PR firm in the UK — and the 13th fastest grower in the world. Those distinctions reflected the agency’s impressive showing in 2022, when fee income rose an eye-catching 50% to £2.1 million. Headcount grew from 17 to 33. Drofa’s clients represent the full spectrum of the financial services sector (commercial & investment banks, hedge funds and asset management firms, exchanges, trading platforms, payment systems, Web3 ecosystems, blockchain companies, and crypto businesses), making for an eclectic list of clients including Mercuryo, CoinsPaid, CEX.IO, Aximetria, WeWay, UFG, Hashex and Apostro.
Having a culturally and ethnically diverse staff has long been a priority for Drofa Comms given its status as an international player — and the cultural challenges that can come with that. Drofa supports corporate equality and diversity on a larger scale and considers issues related to DEI in everything from hiring to individualizing the workplace experience. In terms of race and ethnicity, Drofa is 55% white, 35% Black and 10% Asian. The staff is 60% female and 10% LGBTQ+. About 5% of employees have disabilities.
Despite areas like fintech suffering blows, and wider economic concerns, Drofa Comms had a prolific 2022, with creative output supporting a range of clients. Key work included handling personal communications for Ukrainian impact entrepreneur and investor Vadym Synegin who, with Drofa’s help, became a contributor to top-tier publications. Other efforts include supporting WeWay, a Web3 ecosystem, by crafting the company’s story and leading the rebranding campaign of crypto bank Crypterium to Choise.com.
— Diana Marszalek
After a decade as a financial journalist and then head of communications for Confused.com and MoneySuperMarket, Sharon Flaherty set up BrandContent as a financial services focused firm that built a client base which featured such names as Aberdeen Asset Management, Admiral, FairFX, NFU Mutual and Ageas. Four years later, Flaherty was hit by a series of personal challenges. including three miscarriages and a fourth baby lost because of a rare disability. That persuaded her to rebrand her firm as Folk, focusing on making inclusion the norm, whether for financial services or other brands. The offering includes ‘The Real Folk Panel’ a collective of diverse communication consultants who are neurodiverse, disabled, of different ethnic backgrounds and ages.
Folk is based in Wales.
Folk’s revenues grew by 73% to crack the $1m barrier in 2022, reflecting the popularity of the firm’s new model. Key client additions included winning a place on the multimillion pound Welsh Government framework roster, Atradius, Digital Health Care Wales, and the Loop Energy App.
Folk’s headcount grew from seven to 13 in 2022, as Flaherty built a senior management team in line with her new vision. Financial services specialist James Cuff became creative director, while Sheri Hall is communications director. Laura Sprinks also arrived as associate director to focus on consumer clients. As you might expect from a firm that has inclusion at its hear, Folk’s employee culture policies are robust, including considerable focus on mental health and wellbeing, inclusive cultural events and the Folk Manifesto — which commits one month of time each year to mentor people from diverse background, along with retainer discounts for clients with diverse boards and a commitment to 50% of external talent proposed for campaigns from under-represented groups.
Folk’s Real Folk Panel brings together communication consultants from diverse backgrounds to support clients with insights, campaign planning, brand communications consultancy and tailored audits of existing client work to assess inclusiveness. The Welsh Government, accordingly, has approached Folk to develop a communications framework for inclusion.. Folk’s thought leadership efforts also tackle inclusion more broadly in the industry. Campaign highlights include significantly boosting downloads of the Loop energy saving app, and doubling unprompted brand awareness for Veygo.
— Arun Sudhaman
Lansons had a big gear change in 2022: after 33 years being led and majority owned by Tony Langham and Clare Parsons, the agency brought on board its first external CEO, former Blue Rubicon and Teneo chief Gordon Tempest-Hay. The move was a significant step in the founding duo’s typically thoughtful succession planning, with Langham moving from chief executive to chair and Parsons from executive chair to non-executive director, and both reducing their combined stake in the business from 68% to 24%, with the 33 other partners offered an increased holding. Lansons was arguably an ESG-focused agency before the term was coined, with a low gender pay gap, diversity commitments, 100% employee ownership and 14 years of being a carbon-neutral business. It also remains one of the industry’s leading advisers on complex reputational issues where a wide mix of capabilities and societal awareness is required. The agency has also laid the groundwork for a step change in the type of work it is doing, investing in its creative, content and production offer by adding a full-scale professional newsroom, dedicated podcast studio and new green screen facility, alongside state-of-the-art production technology.
Lansons is headquartered in London and has an office in New York.
During 2022, Lansons grew fee income by 17%, with staff numbers remaining level at just under 100 people. New clients including London Stock Exchange Group, National Lottery Promotions Unit, BBC Pensions Scheme, Moneybox, Mintus, Pricehubble, Sedgwick, SAP Fioneer, Standard Life and Sizewell C joined a roster including Cayman Finance, The Royal Mint, Phoenix, Metinvest, Atom bank, Openreach, Amigo Loans, St James's Place, Tech Nation and Legal & General.
Lansons has a culture of giving back, to its people and society. The agency works pro bono for The Diversity Project to champion diversity within the financial services sector and financially supposed diversity-focused theatre charity HighTide. It has given 1% of profits to charity since day one, is a long-time patron of the Women in Fiction Prize, and has partnerships with social mobility organisation Women of the Future and the BBC’s 50:50 equality project to monitor representation. In 2022, Lansons partnered with HR Rewired to take intentional steps in advancing racial equity in our workplace, alongside a dedicated Diversity Group; Lansons is on target for 15% of its team to be people of colour this year. The team is 64% women, with a similar split in its board and ownership. The agency voluntarily publishes its gender pay gap (4%) along with ethnicity pay gap data, 45% of associates and board directors started as account executives. As well as Tempest-Hay, senior hires included David Rowson, who joined as the agency’s first strategy director, leading its new research and strategy capability, and, at the start of this year, its first ECD, Teneo’s Liam Bell. The agency also appointed four heavyweight senior advisors, including Tony Blair’s former speechwriter, Philip Collins.
Before the Russian invasion, Lansons was advising Ukraine’s biggest private sector employer, metals and mining giant MetInvest, on its progression towards becoming a “green steel” business. Since the war broke out, the agency has helped the firm communicate its support for the Ukrainian people, its humanitarian contribution and business situation, as well as highlighting Russian theft as Metinvest’s Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol became the most talked-about industrial facility in the world. The agency helped Amigo Loans survive after it lost 98% of its value and was technically bankrupt, by managing the media, political and regulatory climate that enabled Amigo to make arrangements in court so it was solvent again; here, Lansons turned financial communications wisdom on its head, seeking a high profile at a time of weakness and majoring on honesty as the most effective way of changing attitudes. In addition, the team persuaded Atom Bank to leverage its introduction of a four-day working week as part of its positioning as a leading fintech. This attracted potential investors ahead of an IPO, increased the quality and quantity of job applications, and increased staff loyalty, commitment and retention. In terms of thought leadership, the agency part-funded the SEREDA Research Project by the University of Birmingham, investigating sexual and gender-based violence towards forced migrants. — Maja Pawinska Sims
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Founded in New York in 2015 by CEO Dan Simon and president Binna Kim, who previously led the US offices of Cognito, and with a leadership team that includes fellow Cognito alums Ishviene Arora (COO) and Ali Wells (chief creative officer), Vested got off to an explosive start—earning our New Agency of the Year honors in 2017—and has not looked back since. It is focused on financial brands, with in-house creative and content studios, and its proprietary Qwoted technology platform, which connects business and finance journalists with vetted sources. It launched its own ESG consultancy at the start of 2021. In January of 2018, the firm acquired Templars Communications, a strategic financial communications agency in London, to add a UK presence.
Vested is headquartered in New York, with offices in Toronto and London.
After a standout year in 2021 when Vested delivered 67% growth and £2.26 million in UK fee income, the firm continued its history of year-on-year growth, reporting fee income of £2.38 million (globally, the firm was up by better than 30%, with fee income of around $23.8 million. There were new partnership with big name clients such as Bloomberg, HSBC, Citi, Metfriendly and OSB Group, joining a roster that includes Canada Life, LinkedIn, MSCI, SEI, Lloyds Banking Group, CFA Institute, EdenTree, Bluestone Mortgages, Taulia, Equilend,
Recently promoted EMEA chief executive Elspeth Rothwell—the new role suggests that Vested has international ambitions in the region beyond its current UK footprint—has led the UK operation since 2018 as one half of a two-person team and has been responsible for Vested’s growth on this side of the Atlantic. Managing director Katie Spreadbury is another financial services veteran as are directors Jo Field, who joined Vested after a decade at Prudential and M&G, and Danny Calogero, whose experience includes work for Willis Towers Watson, UBS Wealth Management and BlackRock. The firm has a strong commitment to DE&I, partnering with the Taylor Bennett Foundation and others; a formidable professional development program (50 training sessions last year); and generous benefits and performance-related bonuses.
Vested has a serious commitment to positioning itself as a thought leader in the financial services space, with its Qwoted technology platform and Financial Narrative, a virtual community of marketing communications leaders, Ut added ESG capabilities last year, and launched VestEd new education-focused product for employees and clients. The firm has won financial services industry awards for its work, including support for CFA UK as it introduced its Certificate in Climate & Investing, a qualification for investment professionals designed to help integrate climate change considerations into investment decision-making. The “Landlord Leaders” campaign, meanwhile, put OSB Group at the heart of changes in the private rented sector. And for HSBC used video content and traditional earned media to connect with a highly targeted group of CEOs and CFOs.
— Paul Holmes
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