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There are few PR agencies – and few industry leaders – as entrepreneurial and restless in spirit as W Communications and its charismatic founder Warren Johnson, who started the firm in 2009 and has grown it to a 160-strong creative boutique at scale, with global reach. In 2022, the agency underwent a leadership refresh with the departure of CEO Rachel Friend and the arrival of former Mischief boss Frankie Cory as co-CEO with Johnson. W’s work blends commerce and culture with creative entrepreneurism to produce campaigns that reach beyond traditional PR, from big brand campaigns, corporate and crisis communications, and work with influencers, with an increasingly purposeful bent to its work. Overall, it was a transformational year for the agency, with a focus on its culture, creativity, commercial growth through deeper client relationships, and innovation – including the introduction of a web3 and metaverse PR agency. W also invested in its talent & influencer and sports propositions, as well as setting up a new events and experiential division as part of its studio.
As well as its London HQ, W Communications has offices in Singapore and New York.
W’s transformation strategy led to revenue growth of 21% to £17.7 million in fee income and 28% EBITDA margin for 2022. Its focus on organic client growth and diversified services led to two-thirds of the agency’s growth coming from existing clients and revenue growth for non-traditional sources increasing by 65%. The agency was appointed as lead agency on several seven-figure campaigns, with new clients including global entertainment brands such as Sony and Sony Music, as well as leading drinks brands, Costa, Fender and the Anthony Nolan leukaemia charity. These joined existing clients – many of which have been on W’s roster for years – including Adidas, British Airways, Levi’s, Spotify, Intercontinental Hotels Group, William Grant & Sons, Very, Marmite, Branston and Unilever.
Culturally, W doubled down on rebuilding its office spirit post-pandemic, doubling its space so that the team would willingly want to return and investing in an enriched curriculum of in-office and external cultural experiences. To support staff through the cost-of-living crisis, pay rises were given over the rate of inflation (averaging 15%), the agency set up an employee assistance programme programme to support mental health and financial planning, made all work-time meals free, and encouraged shared parental leave. W extended its commitment to diversity and inclusion, transforming its WX social enterprise – set up in 2019 to give young people from varied backgrounds a way into the industry – to become an integrated part of the business. It also set up WX Accelerate, a nine-month training programme for new joiners, and this is now the only way W hires anyone new to the industry, regardless of education. As a result, W was the UK’s highest-ranking agency in the 2022 Social Mobility Employer Index and at the end of 2022, 90% of the team said its people and culture were the best thing about working at W. A leadership team that includes creative director Scott Dimbleby and media and entertainment director David Frossman-Miller was boosted by new hires including Philippa Barker as head of restaurants, property and hotels and Cass Robinson-Brown as talent and influencer lead.
W is shortlisted for nine SABRE awards this year, for a broad range of campaign briefs from Hellman’s mayonnaise to Anthony Nolan. Its standout work included enlisting singer Ronan Keating as Costa’s ‘Director of Love’ for a series of integrated stunts that won the hearts and minds of coffee lovers around the nation, modernising horse racing with Newbury Racecourse by introducing the industry’s first ever female on-course caller, and encouraging young Black men into the horticulture industry with the Grown2Know non-profit.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Founded in 2000, Brands2Life has grown with a remarkable consistency over its 22-year history, and has also evolved, from a technology public relations specialist into “the agency for the brands transforming our world,” which has allowed the firm to take on a broader array of consumer and business-to-business clients. It has also developed sophisticated digital practice (it has one Tech and Digital Consultancy of the Year recognition from this publication), delivering truly integrated services—social, influencer, creative content and public affairs—to most of its largest clients. Just as important, though, are the communications strategy and organisational re-engineering capabilities that mean B2L operates higher on the value chain than most of its tech-focused peers.
Headquartered in London, but in recent years has expanded into the US, with offices in New York, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. The firm also operates its own bespoke global network: made up of 18 partner agencies covering more than 30 cities and 30 countries.
Last year saw Brands2Life deliver 16% growth, ending the year with fees of $28.6 million. The social, influencer, creative content and public affairs teams all delivered significant growth, up 50% over the course of the year. The firm won $5.5 million in new business, including huge brands like CooperVision, GoogleCloud, Pearson, Perrigo, Universal Robots, and Vitality. Brands2Life also heped existing clients such as Hologic, LinkedIn, Sitecore, Tetra Pak and Vodafone transform their international communications structure and strategies and continues to work with long-term clients such as Experian, Moonpig, Qlik, Russell Reynolds, and VMware.
Still led by co-founders Giles Fraser and Sarah Scales, Brands2Life is the largest employee-owned trust in the UK public relations sector, which means everyone at the firm is an indirect shareholder and gains tax-free bonuses. That has positive implications for employee engagement and also ensures a real commitment to issues of importance to team members: there’s a director led DE&I taskforce, for example, an allyship month, and a sustainability effort that means the firm is now carbon neutral and working towards net-zero before 2030. New additions to the team in 2022 included Tim Corcoran as MD of marketing and creative services from marketing agency Brilliant Noise; Chris Buckley as MD strategy and client growth from Omnicom; and Penelope Lipsham as digital strategy director from Edelman.
B2L’s proprietary approach to influencer strategy, PUNCH, uses real-time data from various platforms to give clients a unique view of individual influencers, validated by the firm’s own expert team to ensure brand-match. Another initiative, the Recharging Life Science Tech Comms report, looked at what lies ahead for the life sciences industry and how this might shape communications in the sector. Client highlights included taking LinkedIn’s Changemakers 2.0 initiative, creating a safe space for discussing workplace issues, global; helping Perrigo develop advertising and other content as creative agency of record; and working with Tetra Pak on its “Choose Carton” campaigntargeting consumers, food producers and policymakers with positive messages about the waste and recycling issues surrounding cartons. The firm partners with with charity Family Action’s HeadStart, and has supported almost 100 disadvantaged young people into work.
— Paul Holmes
Ketchum UK aims to be the most diverse and inclusive consultancy in the UK, doing work that matters for leading companies across its brand, corporate and healthcare divisions. In 2021, the agency became arguably the most progressive, dynamic and influential office within the global network under the leadership of UK CEO Jo-ann Robertson, who also added responsibility for global client solutions to her remit last year. Many of the initiatives and work that comes out of London now drives the entire global agency agenda, including prioritising diversity. Last year, for the first time, two of Ketchum’s top five clients globally were based in the UK. Agency innovations in 2021 included a new programme for the senior client directors of its top 10 accounts in the UK, helping them cross-fertilise ideas, deliver broader strategic thinking to clients that is rooted in culture, and providing new products and services that are rooted in commercial success.
Ketchum’s UK office is in London, but works closely with colleagues in 30 offices across Europe and a network of offices that spans the globe.
Ketchum was “intentional” about its growth, a word PR firms typically use to imply a strategic approach to new business (but which is often code for unimpressive numbers). In Ketchum’s case, that translated into a 14.3% increase in fee income, which is pretty impressive for a top five UK firm. There was £2.7 million in new business and 19% growth across the firm’s top 10 clients. The highlight, undoubtedly, was winning the Danone UK & Ireland business, a seven-figure account and perhaps the biggest competitive pitch of the year. Additional new business came from OVO Energy, supermarket chain Iceland, AWS, Vapianos, Yale, Roche and Insmed. Organic growth came from major clients such as Velux, Samsung, BMS and Mastercard.
Ketchum is being equally intentional about creating a differentiated employee experience, with initiatives covering family policy (including adoption and IVF benefits), financial support during the UK’s massive cost-of-living crisis, and a Diversity & Inclusion Council that has led the way in recruitment and professional development. Much of this effort can be attributed to Jo-Ann Robertson, who had served as UK chief executive since 2018 until her elevation to the newly-created role of president, global markets, early last year. She has built a strong leadership team in London, with new additions in 2022 including Heather Blundell, who joined as chief growth officer for Europe after a six-year tenure at Weber Shandwick, and Sarah Pinch, was who named managing director for social and influence. There will internal promotions to, including Indy Selvarajah to chief creative officer for global markets; Rachel Rix to deputy MD for brand; and Alicia Solanki to a newly created role as chief client & innovation officer.
Highlights of the firm’s creative work included its support for progressive supermarket chain Iceland, to launch Food Club, one of the first UK programs designed to help with the cost-of-living crisis by partnering with a social enterprise charity. The firm also worked with the Food Foundation, which has been campaigning for free meals in UK schools in partnership with chef Jamie Oliver; helped travel site Booking.com build a reputation as an employer of choice; and supported Olay as the beauty brand sought to build greater equity with new and diverse audiences. Ketchum also committed to pro-bono and cause-related work, providing support to the likes of Diversity UK and partnering with the Social Mobility Foundation on a campaign designed to highlight and close the class pay gap.
— Paul Holmes
It has been a long and winding road for Ogilvy, globally and EMEA, in recent years. The nuch-discussed but ultimately ill-fated “refounding” in 2018, which sought greater integration between various disciplines and led to the temporary elimination of Ogilvy PR as a brand and profit center. Well-intentioned the reinvention may have been, but it diminished the brand and coincided with a lack of leadership in the function. But the past couple of years have put that turmoil in the rear mirror, at least in EMEA and especially in the UK, where the public relations and influence function is both working closely in partnership with the other storied components of Ogilvy and bringing its own earned-first creativity to clients once again, delivering “Ideas Others Can’t.”.
London remains the critical hub for Ogilvy’s EMEA operations, which also include formidable operations in Ireland (where both the Ogilvy and Wilson Hartnell brands form a market leading presence), Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, as well as South Africa and the Middle East—600 people in total.
EMEA growth was an impressive 15% last year, with the UK leading the way—a combination of strong retention, organic growth and new business success. There was strong growth from existing clients such as Bacardi, IHG, J&J and Google, while other retained clients in the region include names like Vodafone, Nestle, Amazon, Tata Consulting Services, Volkswagen, Intel, IHG, Ford and AIB. The most notable new business success was Coca-Cola (Ogilvy was chosen by WPP as the global, regional and EMEA PR agency lead for OpenX from WPP). Other notable new business came from Unilever, Badoo, Nestle Influence, and Boehringer-Ingelheim.
The turnaround in the UK and EMEA more broadly can be traced to the promotion of Joanna Oosthuizen, former head of the South African operation, to lead Europe in 2019, but has clearly accelerated over the past couple of years. In the UK, key talent includes Nicola Dodd, managing director of the London oeration; CEO of Ireland Sharon Murphy; creative and strategy officer for EMEA Charlie Coney, who has just completed his first full year with the firm; and Fola Odumosu, who is leading the new “lived experience” unit. There’s a renewed emphasis on culture, with a simple statement of values: “Do the right thing. Do the best work of our lives. Do it together.” Under Oosthuizen’s leadership, there’s been an emphasis on creating a listening culture, on expanding diversity, equity and inclusion, and health and wellness (particularly mental health). Employee scores on all those dimensions have gone up as a result.
Ogilvy styles the function as “PR and influence” and it is in the latter space that there has been particular innovation in the past 12 months, with the growth of a B2B influence discipline (oft-ignored by more consumer focused firms) working with clients such as EY and IBM; and an emphasis on inclusive influence, reinforced by standards and rigorous vetting. The firm has also been focusing on all the intersectional dimensions of “lived experience” (age, gender, race, culture, ability, socio-economics, sexuality) that has impacted both the internal culture and the client work. But the proof as always is in the quality of the creative product, and Ogilvy’s work is undeniably smarter and slicker than ever: helping Sky Badger reduce school bullying; working with the Mayor of London to address young men with messages about sexual harassment and violence; shifting perceptions about produce inclusivity at Mattel.
— Paul Holmes
The world’s second largest public relations agency, Weber Shandwick has been a force in the UK since its formation 22 years ago. Its story for 2022 was one of increased integration across its three UK offices and with its London-based creative and digital businesses Flipside and That Lot, under the steady leadership of UK CEO Helen Bennett, who was promoted from London MD last year in her 15th year with the agency. As Weber Shandwick’s largest operation in EMEA, the evolution of the UK business is a microcosm of new EMEA chief executive Michael Frohlich’s plans to bring a renewed sense of connection and collaboration to the agency across the region, including a five-year plan and a new proposition focusing on the power of earned communications to shape society by working at the intersections of business, culture, media and policy, all underpinned with data.
Weber Shandwick has UK offices in London, Manchester and Glasgow, working alongside EMEA colleagues in 21 other owned offices across the region.
Weber Shandwick saw growth of mid-single digits in the UK, with strong margins. The agency introduced a ‘fewer, bigger, better’ approach to new business, which to a 70% pitch conversation, bringing on board UK work for major brands and organisations including Adobe, IKEA and the Greater London Authority, who join eBay, IBM and Novartis on the UK client roster. Around 75% of clients are now serviced across two or more of its UK offices.
With new values in place – impact, curiosity, inclusion and courage – Weber Shandwick refreshed its approach to talent and its employee value proposition in 2022, including a focus on DE&I, with a raft of new inclusive policies, the launch of inclusion and sustainability boards in the UK, and a celebration of National Inclusion Week. The agency, which has a total of 580 people in the UK across its businesses, introduced a new mobility programme, Access All Areas, and a new mental health programme, Open Minds, alongside a three-year partnership with mental health resource This Can Happen. The UK is also represented on the new EMEA-wide ‘side board’ allowing younger employees to bring the issues of the day to the main board, from culture to employee advocacy, giving them a voice in the future of the firm. Senior hires included Gen Kobayashi as chief strategy officer, former adland exec Dylan Davenport as EVP brand UK, and Kristen Dimmock as health of health strategy. At the end of the year, the Weber Shandwick Collective introduced its new C-suite advisory, Business & Society Futures, which pulls talent together from across its agencies.
Weber Shandwick’s outstanding creative work in the UK included ‘Unmute’ a campaign for Unilever to end the silence on domestic violence, which won so many awards it put the agency at the top of the PRovoke Creative Index for 2022. For Ebay, the team developed the integrated OG Drops campaign platform to make the brand relevant to the sneakerhead community, and for the Greater London Authority, Weber Shandwick worked with the mayor’s office on the Love London campaign to reignite Londoners’ love of the capital post-pandemic. The firm’s United Minds management consulting business adds another dimension to its thought leadership.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
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