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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
After a couple of quiet years, which included its sale from China’s Bluefocus to private equity players CVC Capital/CDPQ, Citizen Relations has returned to prominence under the leadership of global president Nick Cowling. The firm’s strong roots across consumer, corporate and creative provided the foundation for the launch of a new mission in 2020, focusing on purpose-led communications and supported by a social impact division. That positioning has transformed the agency’s offering towards helping clients determine how to behave, rather than just what they say, and is supported by a new creative and strategic hub in North America.
Globally, there are 185 staffers, with the majority of staffers operating across four offices in Canada, and three more in the US and London. Citizen also owns Canadian firm Middle Child.
2022 was the best financial year in Citizen’s history, with 20% growth that pushed the agency over the $35 million mark for the first time — a testament to the transformation strategy launched several years earlier. After a seven-year stall, the US continued its growth streak, registering double-digit growth for the third consecutive year. Citizen’s reputation for delivering results paid off with new business from Champion, Carrier, Simon Property Group, Sunlife, Deltek and TSX, as well as mandate to launch Vinfast’s electric SUVs in North America. Citizens’ focus on innovation, as well as new social impact and strategy/creative, offerings secured relationships with existing clients including P&G, Duracell, PepsiCo Foods (Canada), MolsonCoors, Kraft Heinz (Middle Child), L'Oreal (Middle Child), Loblaws, Egg Farmers of Canada, United Wheels and Groupo Bimbo. Chief digital officer Crystalyn Stuart-Loayza, who runs Citizen’s new digital team, was among the year ‘s new hires.
Cowling’s leadership team also includes US GM Laura Bremer, President, Ontario and West Jenn Duggan, its first chief creative officer in Josh Budd, and its first chief digital officer Stuart-Loayza. Citizen’s employee engagement score rose to 83% (3.5% higher than 2021), reflecting how the firm’s new sense of purpose is also translating to a more vibrant employee culture. Citizen’s approach to DEI is multifaceted, evaluating the full range of measurements to identify disparities in promotions, mentorships or among suppliers. The year capped with a 40% diverse staff; Citizen’s executive team is 50% women, 29% BIPOC and 15% LBGTQIA+. The firm’s focus on mental health continues with an annual campaign conducted in partnership with local organizations where Citizen operates.
Up for 12 North America SABRE Awards, Citizen’s 2023 work reflected the agency’s rejuvenated capabilities. Among the highlights is Citizen’s creation of the ReclaimYourName.dic for Elimin8hate, a free plugin that adds over 8,000 Asian names to Microsoft Word’s dictionary, making the software more inclusive. Others include the “Cheetle in Cheadle” campaign for Cheetos and “The Really Real Book of Egg Facts,” the Egg Farmers of Canada’s response to the proliferation of egg misinformation online.
— Diana Marszalek
Didier Lagae founded Marco (formerly Marco de Comunicación) in 2002, after a career that included senior roles at progressive icons Body Shop and Levi Strauss and global agencies Edelman and Weber Shandwick, and it is fair to say that his ambition was apparent from the new firm’s early days, when it was a scrappy newcomer disrupting Spain’s established market leaders. It now ranks among those market leaders, though the challenger culture remains. The firm is now planning an IPO on Euronext Paris to fuel further expansion.
The bulk of Marco’s business is in the Iberian region, with substantial offices in Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon, but the firm has been expanding its international footprint in recent years and now has operations in European capitals Brussels, Paris and three 2022 openings—London, Berlin, and Munich; in North Africa (Casabalanca, Morocco and after its acquisition of Africa Communications Group, also South Africa, Kenya and Ivory Coast); and in the Spanish-speaking Americas markets of Miami, Bogota, Lima, and Mexico City, as well as Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Marco’s post-pandemic growth has been impressive, with a 49% increase in fees during 2021 followed by another 15% growth year in 2022, so that it ended the year at around €15.1 million—more than three-quarters of which derives from the Iberian markets, despite rapid expansion into other European markets, Latin and North America, and northern Africa. Key clients include: EUIPO (the European Intellectual Property Right Office); Amazon Prime Video, the World Avocado Organization, Udemy, RELX, Anfevi (Friends of Glass), Heinz, Kraft, Spotify, Mattel, and Danone, while new additions in 2022 included EPO (European Patent Office) DG EAC (the EU’s directorate general for education, youth, sport and culture), CANVA, Junta de Andalucia, Iberdrola, Applus, the Government of South Korea, and Tourism of Morocco.
There was a significant change in senior management last year, with founder and former CEO Didier Lagae stepping up to become executive chairman, a role that will focus on International expansion and delevering a successful IPO. As a result, managing directors Noelia Cruzado (who leads the firm’s reputation practice) and Diana Vall (brand) have been promoted to co-CEOs and Paul Baeyaert named head of EMEA. One significant new addition was Xabier Olazabal, former CEO of Publicis Group Spain, to lead a new advertising capability, and a creative team led by Carlos Bustamante. The firrm’s ethos is reflected in everything from its headquarters, located in one of the most sustainable office buildings in Madrid, to its commitment to recycling to its reduced travel, as the firm aims to be fully carbon neutral by 2030.
The firm continued to diversify its operations in 2022 with the launch of Marco Advertising and the strengthening of its video and film production offering with the acquisition of Carmela. Thought leadership, meanwhile, has focused on country branding, and includes a book as well as an annual survey and ranking of country brands around the world. As for the firm’s client work, it continues to earn international recognition, with six pieces of work nominated for EMEA SABRE Awards. Highlights include a second season of its own docuseries New Communication Frontiers (available on Prime), its public education effort for NATO (“Safeguarding Well Being and Progress”); work promoting glass recycling for Friends of Glass and the Spanish National Association of Glass Packaging); and the “Because Everybody Can Be a De3signer” social media campaign for Canva, an online design and publishing tool.
— Paul Holmes
Over its 25-year history, founder and managing director Archana Jain has skillfully built PR Pundit into a top consumer PR firm, with a particular knack for handling clients in the lifestyle and luxury sectors. Since its outset, the agency has fostered creativity, storytelling and challenging the status quo as means to achieve clients’ goals, from building brand appeal to changing conversations. Case in point: PR Pundit embraced influencer marketing well before the idea of engaging content creators took hold. The agency’s expansive services include brand reputation management, business communications, community advocacy, purpose-driven communications, influencer marketing, social media management & performance marketing, crisis communications and media Training.
PR Pundit is based in India, with three offices in Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The agency works across the country through affiliates in all of India’s major commercial hubs.
PR Pundit had a banner 2022 — a testament to the firm’s reputation as a top-tier consumer PR firm, particularly for the lifestyle and luxury sector. The agency won 50 new retainer clients last year, fueling an eye-catching 70% rise in revenue that brought fee income to INR505,621,003 (roughly US$6 million) from $3.5m in 2021. The agency expanded its headcount from 154 to 196 to service new business from Bioderma, Levi’s, Seiko, Dubai Tourism, Finnair, The Oberoi Group, Havmor Ice Cream and Tupperware, as well as existing clients including Estee Lauder, Moet Hennessy, Uniqlo, Adidas, Lexus, Rolex and Luxottica.
With people returning to work post-Covid, 2022 was a transformative year for PR Pundit, which took a range of steps to revitalize a culture of collaboration, innovation and creativity — with face-to-face interactions being essential parts of the process. To that end, the agency established a mentorship programme as well as internal and external training to address gaps resulting from staff spending the previous two years at home. PR Pundit now recognizes an expanded array of work through its recognition and rewards program and has instituted new benefits, like leave for pet owners. Women make up 76% of PR Pundit’s workforce and 100% of its leadership team leadership team. The agency has also paid special attention to the needs of working moms for decades, offering them a work-from-home option since 2004.
PR Pundit has made an art of bolstering luxury brands — a finely tuned skill exemplified in its 2022 work. Highlights of the year include the agency’s work for Italian watchmaker Panerai (an 11-year client), which last year included supporting the company’s Panarai Ocean Conservation Initiative with a beach cleanup that saw more than 200 students and volunteers collect 300kg of waste in two hours. Other showcase efforts included Pundit’s “It’s Kind of Delicious and Wonderful” campaign for Glenmorangie whisky, a multi-faceted effort to draw young people to the brand by showing that single malt scotch whisky is no longer a drink reserved for gentlemen’s clubs.
— Diana Marszalek
Founded in 2004 by CEO Alec Samways, Splendid Communications has benefited from a strong planning capability that has helped it develop cutting-edge creative campaigns for such clients as Greggs, Tesco, Smirnoff and Hendrick’s. In 2021, the firm acquired a majority stake in creative agency Kingdom Collective, the first move in its ‘Splendid Collective’ plan which also incldues the 2022 acquisition of Riot Communications. The deals give Splendid a broader footprint beyond consumer brands into fashion, music, arts and literature — cementing its ability to connect brands with real people to make a positive cultural impact.
Splendid’s 66 staff are located in the UK.
Fee income grew by 29% in 2022 to £5.8m, with £1m in new business and a 67% increase in income from existing, multi-brand clients. Headcount grew by 61% (or 39% excluding acquisitions). A 70% pitch win rate featured a number of significant account wins, including Burger King, Dettol, Doritos, Dorset Cereals, Jordans Country Crisp, Get Your Guide, Ginsters, The Flavourists, Twinings and Whitley Neil — joining an existing client roster made up of such names as Big Yellow Self Storage, Naked Juices, Pepsico, Tesco and William Grant.
Samways’ leadership team also includes client partnerships director Debi Clay-Moore, group creative strategy director Alex Clough, media and operations director Chrissy Kellaway, creative director Fran Langdon, and head of wellbeing Jane Latham. The firm runs an annual diversity barometer to create a strategy that aims to meet the best industry benchmarks, along with compulsory DEI training. There is also a Splendid Futures internship program run with Creative Access, and the firm has also appointed Sophie Barnes as D&I champion. Latham, meanwhile, is a registered therapist who oversees a wellbeing programme along with leadership training to ensure every voice is heard.
Splendid’s ‘Cultural Impact Model’ aims to measure the commercial and cultural impact of earned-centric brand campaigns, which has helped to ensure that PR campaign are now included in mixed media modelling by the likes of Pepsico. The approach is backed up by webinars and a range of thought leadership activities. Campaign highlights included Burger King’s Meat Free Launch, Walkers April Fools and Tesco’s Hot Cross Bun cafe.
— Arun Sudhaman
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