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It was a landmark year of accelerated international growth for European public affairs heavyweight Rud Pedersen. The firm was founded in Sweden in 2002 by Morten Rud Pedersen and established market leadership positions in the four main Nordic markets before setting its sights on a broader continental footprint in 2018, starting a programme of expansion through setting up owned offices and majority stakes in local public affairs firms. In 2022, the firm expanded further, with five new operations in the UK, France, Poland, Latvia and Bulgaria. Rud Pedersen’s stated aim is to be the biggest public affairs firm in Europe, with ambition to cover every capital in Europe; Italy and Spain are its next targets. The firm has also expanded into strategic communications beyond public affairs, including political risk assessment, event planning, and crisis and issues management.
Rud Pedersen has 14 offices across Europe, in Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Helsinki, London, Oslo, Paris, Riga, Sofia, Stockholm, Tallinn, Vilnius and Warsaw.
The agency has grown by an average of 30% every year for the past five years in terms of fee income, with 2022 growth in line with this at 29.5% to €46 million. Rud Pedersen now has almost 500 people across Europe, one in five of whom are shareholders. Geographical expansion and a wider range of services has been a gamechanger for the scale of the work and the size of its clients; Rud Pedersen now works for the likes of Bayer, P&G, Estee Lauder, AkzoNobel, Diageo, Lego, Ely Lilly, Hello Fresh and chemicals giant Chemours. The agency has roughly 500 clients across the group in every industry sector including technology, healthcare, automotive, and a number of major trade associations and industry groups.
Rud Pedersen’s culture has been defined by the Nordic values of its charismatic founder, and despite its rapid growth it remains entrepreneurial, independent, ethical, open and straight-talking, with a great deal of motivation in each market thanks to the high proportion of senior employees who are shareholders. The firm holds regular town halls where information about the business is shared transparently, and is characterised by a non-siloed, decentralised, collegiate and collaborative approach. More than half the managing partners are female, and while racial diversity has been less of a hot-button issue on the continent than in the UK, the firm is conscious of its increasingly international client base and is developing programmes to address representation. Significant new hires in 2022 included former Sard Verbinnen and FTI leader Jon Aarons to lead its new London office, joined by former Chelgate CEO Liam Herbert earlier this year. In Germany, the firm had something of a coup in the appointment of prominent trade union leader Reiner Hoffman as a senior advisor, and it also hired former Edelman public affairs leader Sebastian Kruse as MD and head of healthcare in Berlin, and in Brussels, the team was boosted with the addition of European Chemicals Agency regulatory and risk expert Peter Simpson and former Syngenta public affairs and communications director Graeme Taylor as head of food and agriculture. .
Much of Rud Pedersen’s work is continuous and long-term, from influencing legislative change in different jurisdictions to an increasing amount of financial-adjacent work, advising investors on the political risks of M&As and IPOs in various countries. With so many employees in the Baltic region and Poland, the invasion of Ukraine has affected many of Rud Pedersen’s people; over the past year its team has been involved in humanitarian activity, fundraising and hosting refugees, and the firm agreed it would do no work to support the Russian regime. In terms of thought leadership, the firm’s senior leaders are often called on for political commentary around elections, and it publishes regular reports on topical issues across its markets. Rud Pedersen has also grown its work in organising events, including taking part in Sweden’s political festival, Almedalen.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Grayling has had an impressive turnaround over the past couple of years, testament to the leadership of Sarah Scholefield, who became global CEO in 2020 at the same time as taking on the same role at Accordience, the international communications agency group made up of former Huntsworth agencies Grayling, Citigate Dewe Rogerson, Red and Cirkle. Last year regional public affairs powerhouse Grayling also acquired Berlin public affairs and crisis communications specialist Advice Partners to enhance its PA strength in Germany. The agency – which describes its offer as ‘mission critical, audience first, creative communications’ – has particular sector strength in financial services and fintech; energy, sustainability and the circular economy; transport and infrastructure; retail, leisure and hospitality; food and agriculture; and health. Grayling also expanded its service offering in three key areas. public affairs marketing, which fuses political affairs with advertising to create campaigns that enable business to reach stakeholders, opinion formers and consumers across multiple channels; a new research function, with investment in insight and measurement tools and capabilities including polling, focus groups and creative testing; and a reworked digital offering with new expertise including SEO and paid.
In the UK, Grayling has a regional network of nine offices as well as its London headquarters. Across Continental Europe, it has wholly-owned offices in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Ukraine— it divested itself of its Russian operations last year—plus affiliates in 15 other countries. It also has affiliates across the Middle East and Africa.
Across EMEA, Grayling’s revenue grew by 13%, with margins of 18%, and the firm delivered £13.2m of new business. There was standout growth in the core UK business, which grew by 15%; across Central and Eastern Europe, which grew by 16%, including 26.6% in Poland, where Grayling is now one of the top four agencies by income; and in Spain, which delivered 33% growth. The agency doubled revenue from digital and social media work last year, and headcount grew by 4% to 526 people across Europe. Grayling Austria was also ranked as the No.1 agency in the country by comms industry publication Horizont. New business across the region came from the likes of Pernod Ricard, AEG and Zalando, which joined Visa, Tetra Pak, Huawei, Associated British Foods, the Environmental Defence Action Fund, National Grid, Fujitsu and Badoo on Grayling’s client list in the region, as well as a leading global social media and electronics firms.
Grayling’s culture took a leap forward in 2022, with the business placed fifth in Newsweek’s first rankings of the UK’s top 100 Most Loved Workplaces, higher than any other marketing firm. The agency has continued with flexible working but also ensured that there is energy and a great environment in every office, whatever their approach; in Austria, for instance, the team is trialling a four-day week. More than 50% of leadership roles are held by women and a third of the UK senior team is from a BAME background. Teams are encouraged to celebrate religious and cultural events, and the agency has introduced new policies for carers, and around women’s health and financial wellbeing. Last year, Grayling invested more than £750,000 in its biggest ever senior talent upgrade, with new hires including corporate affairs senior counsel Emily Walch from the Investment Association, crisis and issues specialist Scott Langham from Freuds, and Charlotte Harvey from Amey and the Global Fund as head of corporate.
In partnership with Opinium, Grayling produced the Dis/Connected Consumer Index, seeking to understand how people are connecting with brands, government, culture and society. The agency was shortlisted for three SABRE awards, including launching Primark in Prague and a partnership between More Than insurance and Dogs for Good to underline the mental health benefits of dog ownership. Grayling helped to keep the spotlight on malaria funding, enabled the Environmental Defence Action Fund to campaign across Europe for governments to act on methane, helped Meta reframe its approach to communications about the power of Facebook communities across Europe, helped dating app Badoo get a better handle on what makes young single people tick across eight markets by creating a new feature on dating intentions that became the most popular on the app, with millions of views, and launched electric train service Lumo across social, selling out three months of journeys in two weeks before any advertising.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
PLMR has always been a public affairs firm with purpose: it was founded in 2006 by CEO Kevin Craig with a commitment to making a positive and sustainable impact for clients, its people and society. After strong organic growth and five agency acquisitions, the agency now numbers more than 100 colleagues delivering communications and public affairs campaigns that leverage digital innovation to deliver commercial growth and societal impact. In 2022, PLMR – which has always been strong in health and social care – accelerated its firepower in this area with the acquisition of specialist agency Healthcomms. PLMR’s other primary sectors of expertise are education and training, science and technology, sustainability, energy and the built environment, with its work covering public affairs, campaigning, public relations, crisis communications and new media. Its specialist digital unit works with a number of health and social care providers on web development, social media support, graphic design and video production.
PLMR is based in the UK, headquartered in London, with offices in Scotland, the East of England and the Midlands. It is also the lead agency for the Global Communications Alliance, a network of independent consultancies based across the world.
PLMR had an exceptional year in business terms, with revenue growing by 33% to just over £9 million in 2022. The agency performed strongly across the board, but much of this growth was driven by its health and social care practice, where revenues increased by 48%, with marquee clients including Novavax, Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim. New business wins also came from the likes of the British Heart Foundation and other charities and foundations, Medtronic, Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, as well as launching workplace menopause policies for Adecco, the world’s largest recruitment firm. PLMR’s client roster also includes HC-One, the UK’s largest care home provider, baby food brand Ella’s Kitchen, and airline Jet2’s sustainability strategy.
PLMR has a collaborative culture where everyone is given the opportunity and support to excel. The agency provides excellent pay and benefits packages, as well as training from bespoke academies for junior and senior staff, and senior colleagues attend courses at Harvard and Oxford business schools. Since the start, PLMR has been a force for good, donating 5% profits each year to charitable causes. PLMR is committed to fostering a diverse and equitable workplace. The board is made up of 47% women and 24% Black, Asian and ethnic minorities, with no gender pay gap. PLMR makes all its products and services accessible to people with the likes of visual, cognitive and motor impairments. Last year the agency started a scheme for sixth formers in schools in disadvantaged areas of England, covering all expenses for a week in London with work experience supplemented by an enriched cultural programme from theatre trips to House of Commons debates. It also offers mentoring and intern opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, has established a graduate trainee programme with a leading UK university, and is a partner of the Taylor Bennett Foundation. A significant new hire in 2022 was former MP Anne Milton, who was also health minister and minister for women, as a senior advisor.
PLMR supported Big Issue magazine with a major health campaign to reduce homelessness, developing an online tool allowed users to see how many people in their community were at risk of becoming homeless because of the impact of the pandemic. The platform enabled users to email their MP to push for a new homelessness prevention grant, leading to the Treasury funding £316 million to prevent homelessness. For Dexcom, which makes glucose monitors for those with Type 1 Diabetes, the agency secured changes in NICE guidance to broaden access to the devices, helping the bottom line and those suffering from the condition. And for B Corp Ella’s Kitchen, PLMR developed ‘Eat.Play.Love’, a public affairs and PR campaign to persuade the Department for Education to champion sensory food play in early years educational settings, to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables. The agency created a digital platform to make it easy for people to write to their MP, which yielded more than 7,000 letters, reaching every constituency in the country, and more than 100 MPs writing to the government; the campaign secured a public commitment of support from the Department for Education about sensory food play as an educational tool. Last year PLMR launched its ‘From the Frontline’ healthcare podcast, with interviewees including the president of the Royal Society of Medicine and the CEO of NHS Digital.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Technically, SEC Newgate is less than four years old, dating to September 2019 when Italian firm SEC merged with Newgate’s holding company Porta. But SEC’s roots stretch back to its founding in Italy 30 years ago, while Newgate itself has been around for more than a decade. And there has been a sustained burst of activity since the merger, including the acquisitions of GSG in the US and Another in LatAm, backed by equity investment from THCP, and adding up to 52 offices across five continents. All of which adds up to a firm with considerable depth across corporate, public affairs, financial and crisis.
SEC Newgate is based in Milan but its 1,100+ staffers operate from 52 offices across five continents. There are seven offices in Italy, along with eight in the UK, a sizeable Brussels operation, along with a presence in France and Germany and Spain. SEC has a strong footprint in Poland too, plus offices in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
SEC Newgate reported $196m in fee income in 2022, with acquisitions helping the firm grow rapidly from $106m in 2021. Its EMEA fee income accounts for around $70m, thanks to a client roster that features the German Government (framework agreement), Countryside Property, Fondazione Cariplo, ACOS, TERNA, CEFIC, Cain International, ED&F Man, and Gore and Associates. There was also new business in 2022 from Acoss, THW, Sunnica (Kestrel Meadow), Temenos, Sodexo, Vanguard Asset Services, VCTA
TVN and Sacem.
CEO Fiorenzo Tagliabue is supported by deputy group CEOs Emma Kane and Tom Parker, while Paola Ambrosino and Eric Giuily play key roles in Italy and France, respectively. SEC Newgate’s DEI policies have been a priority since 2019, resulting in 47% female leadeship, and 10% staff identifying as BIPOC. SEC Newgate is certified as a ‘Benefit company’ in Italy, and is currently obtaining B-Corp status, as is the UK operation. All of the group agencies sponsor and executive pro-bono work for charities dedicated to diversity and inclusion, or initiatives for health and diversity.
SEC Newgate launched its major thought leadership initiative in 2021 with a new ESG Monitor that included global research of consumer attitudes. Campaign highlights included Expo Dubai; resetting policy for French energy think tank Cérémé; and supporting Falck Renewables’ decarbonisation goals in Italy. In the UK, meanwhile, SEC Newgate successfully handled political engagement for the Institute for Family Business
— Arun Sudhaman
WA Communications has quietly become one of the biggest independent political communications agencies in the UK, advising on gritty business challenges and delivering work that has an impact on clients and society. With a heritage in addressing policy, legislative, regulatory and reputational issues, in the past couple of years the agency has evolved to an integrated firm with a team of 60, including specialists in public affairs, strategic communications, investor relations, health, education, private equity, energy and the environment, and transport and infrastructure. In 2022 WA established three new offers: a creative and content practice, applying brand expertise and creative intelligence to public policy issues and corporate reputation challenges; a research practice that distils data into insights-led narrative supported by creative data visualisation; and a financial services team to help client navigate an increasingly complex regulatory environment.
WA Communications is based in London. Its work focuses on Westminster and the devolved administrations, and it also works with clients facing challenges across the EU, in Dublin and Brussels.
After a turbo-boosted year of growth in 2021, during which it grew by 45%, last year WA’s income grew 10% to £6.4 million, with headcount up 14%. New business came from the likes of GambleAware, Guide Dogs for the Blind, KPMG, innovation foundation Nesta and pay-later firm Humm, who joined Abbvie, Cycle to Work Alliance, Gilead, Grant Thornton, Newcastle University, Novartis, Stagecoach, Sanofi, private equity firm Trilantic and WaterUK on the agency’s client roster. WA also managed change communications during one of the pharmaceutical industry’s largest ever mergers.
All WA’s colleagues share in the agency’s success, through a quarterly and annual bonus scheme, and last year through an across-the-board 10% cost-of-living pay rise. The agency is committed to supporting people at the start of their political communications careers, and last year its team mentored 15 young people from under-represented backgrounds in partnership with political participation charity I Have a Voice, as the organisation’s sole sponsor. The agency had staff retention of 86% last year, with almost everyone saying they felt motivated to do their best, felt supported, and work together was a team. WA offers flexible working, core hours and an early Friday finish and enhanced maternity and paternity policies, and all interns are paid the Real London Living Wage. WA has no gender pay gap, and 40% of its senior team are female. The firm has identified its low representation of those from BAME backgrounds as a priority business KPI for 2023. The firm’s MD is Dominic Church, who has been WA since 2007, supported by a board and senior advisors including Alison Clarke and Steve Richards. New hires last year included former Conservative Party communications director and Google public affairs manager Amy Fisher; Alex Plumb, who joined from Portland to head up the new research practice; creative lead Gary Neale, who joined from MHP; and head of financial services Cat Ommanney, also from MHP.
Working with the Department for Transport, HMRC and the Financial Conduct Authority, WA made the case for changes to the rules of the Cycle to Work scheme, significantly expanding e-bike availability and opening up this benefit to new cyclists including those who are disabled, older workers and those who live further away from work to encourage a greener, healthier commute. The agency secured the Free School Meals programme during lockdown, promoting the benefits of the UK’s approach across Europe, gaining positive National Audit Office feedback, and opening up international markets for social-voucher provider Edened. WA also advised private equity firm Trilantic Europe during its acquisition of market research firm Kantar, on the political and regulatory environment across the UK, Europe, and Australia, and positioned national bus operator Stagecoach as a leading voice in the Net Zero debate. One of its outstanding campaigns was working with ATM network Notemachine, journalists and MPs to ensure access to cash withdrawals and deposit facilities is enshrined in legislation, protecting millions who still rely on cash machines despite the decline in cash usage in the UK.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
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