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Today’s Weber Shandwick Collective was founded 20 years ago by the merger of Weber Shandwick (itself a merger of tech specialist Weber Group and acquisitive UK agency Shandwick) and BSMG Worldwide. The second largest public relations agency in the world, Weber Shandwick is a genuinely full-service firm, with a balanced portfolio across corporate and public affairs, consumer marketing—as well as sector strength in health and technology—and us supported by an ecosystem of specialist brands like KRC, flipside, United Minds, Revive and dna spanning areas from research to management consulting to healthcare and making up the “collective” that is not part of the brand.
The only firm to be shortlisted for Regional Agency of the Year honors in all three major regions, Weber Shandwick has an extensive global footprint. With 19 US offices and three in Canada, Weber Shandwick has strong coverage across North America, with strong offices in all the key markets, particularly its New York headquarters and its Washington, DC, operations. Weber Shandwick is a top three PR agency in the UK market, its largest operation in EMEA, and is also among the market leaders in Germany, the Nordics and the MENAT sub-region. In Asia, where the firm has sold some operations to MBO in recent years, there are around 650 staffers working across a regional footprint that features major operations in Greater China, North Asia, Singapore and India (200).
For the second consecutive year, Weber Shandwick experienced single-digit growth across all regions, while client retention was strong among the firm’s top 40 clients (98%) and 25 of those top 40 clients use at least five WS brands, a sign that the Collective approach is paying off. Weber Shandwick saw mid-single digit growth in EMEA, with strong margins and retention of 95% of its top 50 clients. The MENAT operation’s performance was also of note, with double-digit growth, as was Switzerland, which had strong double-digit growth and has become a regional hub for corporate and healthcare work. In Asia, after returning to growth mode in 2021, Weber Shandwick expanded topline revenue by 8% in 2022, propelled by its top 40 clients.
The new Collective has four core values—curiosity, courage, inclusion and impact—and global CEO Gail Heimann insists that “DE&I and values” are inseparable, with inclusion laying the groundwork for equity and belonging. New business resource groups are developing all the time, there’s a DEI curriculum, and a “differentiated development” approach seeks to create new opportunities for BIPOC talent. In Europe, The agency 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.
Billing itself as “the earned first network,” Weber Shandwick continues to evolve intellectually and philosophically, even in years when its financial performance is somewhat slower than its peers. A new “Earned Effect” study, for example, shows how culturally-salient storytelling drives sales gains and profit growth. And the past 12 months have seen the launch of a new consultative offering, Business & Society Futures, the development of AI tools (some in partnership with Blackbird AI) and other technologies (via the groundbreaking Media Lab), a focus on combating disinformation, and a seriously enhanced suite of data and analytics tools and services. Weber Shandwick’s creative capabilities remain in strong shape, reflected in a thought leadership platform that focuses on solving at the intersections, at a time when the overlap between practice areas and sectors calls for a more integrated mindset.
— Paul Holmes / Arun Sudhaman
The largest agency in the WPP public relations family, formed in 2018 by the merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe. Burson-Marsteller was best known for its work in corporate and public affairs, while Cohn & Wolfe was a specialist in healthcare and consumer marketing—the synergy is what made the merger a sensible option for WPP. The combined firm remains strong in the corporate realm—including crisis and employee engagement—and in healthcare, areas that stood it in good stead during the pandemic, while the expansion of digital and data expertise over the past few years positions BCW to take advantage of the future.
Headquartered in New York, BCW has one of the largest global networks of any agency. Its North American operation includes 11 offices in the mainland US as well as a presence in Puerto Rico. BCW now has 850 people across Europe and Africa, and a separate Middle East region, a market leader with five offices of its own. Asia totals 1,200 employees, with more than 500 in Greater China and a similar number in India.
Growth was in line with its peer group, up by high-single digits globally, by slightly slower single digits in North America, with standout performance from corporate affairs (where BCW has broad capabilities , a growing range of C-suite services focused on issues from climate change to geopolitics, with significant growth in ESG, financial communications, tech policy and change management) and in the healthcare arena, which was up by double digits in 2022. Fee income for Europe and Africa increased by very high single digits in 2022—the best performing region in the BCW network—with markets such as Brussels, the DACH area and Turkey among the top performers. In Asia, BCW’s growth story in recent years has been nothing short of spectacular, reaching 18% in 2022 after 15% expansion in 2021. Singapore shone as the firm’s fastest-growing market.
The big news of the past 12 months came early in 2023, when BCW revealed that Donna Imperato—CEO since the firm’s creation—will be stepping aside later this year. While she will leave in place a strong senior leadership team (Mary Corcoran, who joined from Real Chemistry as North American president in 2022; chief people officer Patricia Enright; chief creative officer Fede Garcia; global president Brooke Hovey; chief innovation officer Chad Latz; chief inclusion officer Carol Watson) the news creates some uncertainty for a firm that has evolved in the image of its leader. Replacement Corey duBrowa, a veteran of senior roles at Starbucks, Salesforce and Google, has agency side experience with what was then Waggener Edstrom.
BCW’s integrated public affairs offer (spanning the Direct Impact and Prime Policy Group units) continues to offer a broad range of expertise in DC and nationally, with a strong emphasis on technology-related policy challenges. In the healthcare space, meanwhile, the most significant development has been the growth of digital health—now a quarter of the global healthcare team—as well as expansion into areas such as scientific communications. BCW’s history of thought leadership continues with projects like BCW Navigate, a Europe-wide offer that helps companies with the policy and regulatory implications of AI; a study from BCW Change focused on changing employee expectations; and an update Twiplomacy study, looking at how politicians use Twitter for digital diplomacy. The client work, meanwhile, has never been better with standout work including the “Sunken Bar” campaign for Carlsberg Sweden, and in North America the “First Ever Gaming Shower” for Irish Spring and “The Reality Flag” for the Human Rights Campaign.
— Paul Holmes / Arun Sudhaman
The world’s largest public relations firm, and the only independent, family-owned firm in the top tier, Edelman was founded in Chicago in 1952 and has grown to become a global powerhouse. In recent years, with digital and social media driving much of the PR industry’s growth, attention has been focused on Edelman’s strong consumer portfolio, which catapulted it into the number one spot, and its creative credentials, which were strengthened with the addition of experts in paid media, digital content creation, and data and analytics. But Edelman has equally formidable expertise in corporate and financial PR, public affairs (including a specialist unit focused on geopolitical challenges, healthcare and technology.
Edelman is headquartered in New York, remains a market leader in Chicago, and operates an extensive network of 13 offices in the US and an additional five in Canada. Edelman has 1,200 people in 17 offices in 12 markets across EMEA. It is the largest full-service agency in the UK, which accounts for about half of its total EMEA revenues, and has substantial offices in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brussels and the Netherlands. There are another 1,200 people across major operations in Greater China, Southeast Asia, Australia and other Asian markets.
Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2022, Edelman became the first billion dollar public relations agency, ending the year with fees of around $1.08 billion, up 9.6% on the previous year (12.8% in constant currency terms). The US contributes about $700 million of that revenues (up 13.8%) with Canada adding another $34 million (a more modest 3%). In EMEA, the firm grew its fee income in EMEA last year by 11.9%, putting its revenues at more than $200 million in the region. There was particularly strong growth in technology while health remains Edelman’s biggest sector in EMEA. Warren Fernandez’s arrival as Asia-Pacific CEO marked another leadership shift at an agency that has seen more than its fair share of C-suite turnover in recent years. But Edelman’s creative progress continues to progress in relatively serene fashion, underpinning healthy new business in the Asia-Pacific region.
Edelman has championed diversity throughout the organization, and the progress is tangible: 31% of US employees come from diverse backgrounds, and more than half of the leadership team is now female. Edelman’s new operating system across EMEA means it is now much more purposeful about how it asks employees to spend their time, cultivating talent, enabling its people to do their best work, considering what individuals want and need to learn, and supporting them across the regional network, from mental health to an inclusive working culture. In 2020 the agency created a ‘Social Contract’ with employees, which sets principles and expectations for how its teams show up for each other, for clients and society.
The Edelman Trust Barometer, now 23 years old, continues to be the industry’s leading piece of thought leadership, unveiled at Davos and quoted widely in mainstream media, delivering real insight in changing public perceptions. This year, there were specific reports looking at issues such as trust in the workplace, climate change, racial justice and more. Edelman also continued to develop new products and services, with its Gen Z Lab a particular standout. A finalist for Creative Consultancy in Asia, Edelman’s “Streetcode” work for HP won the region’s Platinum SABRE, while work for Unilever and Vaseline in North America made our Global Top 40.
— Paul Holmes / Maja Pawinska Sims / Arun Sudhaman
Founded in St Louis in 1946, FleishmanHillard grew from one of America’s best regional agencies into a national and then a global player before its acquisition by Omnicom in 1997, since which it has been the holding company’s largest and most global public relations brand. Fleishman’s roots are in business-to-business and corporate communications, but today it is a genuine full-service agency with significant strength in public affairs and consumer brand work, as well as in the healthcare and technology and financial services sectors—all underpinned by impressive digital capabilities and a growing data and analytics expertise.
The firm remains a powerhouse in its native St Louis, as well as several other midwestern locations, but today is equally strong in New York and Washington, DC, and has a presence in 22 US markets—as well as Puerto Rico and Canada. FleishmanHillard has one of the most extensive networks in Europe, with 270 people in its London headquarters and another 290 or so across continental offices. Greater China and North Asia together account for around 400 people, while there are also significant operations in Australia, India and Southeast Asia.
With another years of double-digit growth in 2022, FleishmanHillard has seen its revenues increase by 33% over the past two years. And other metrics are equally impressive: the firm now has more than 100 seven-figure clients, was able to retain 96% of its top 100 clients in 2022, and is seeing growth of more than 15% from what it calls its “FHX” clients—essentially the largest, multi-practice multi-region accounts. 2022 was a second consecutive year of double-digit growth for FH in the EMEA region, with both the Brussels office (a public affairs powerhouse) and the South African operation leading the way with double-digit increases. With a change in leadership and the lingering impact of the Covid pandemic, overall revenues were flat for Fleishman in Asia last year—although a recovery began in the third quarter and continued into the first half of 2023.
Global chief executive John Saunders has outlined his ambition to make FH “the most inclusive agency,” which has translated in practice into nine global FH communities (the Jewish community is the most recent). A Global DE&I Summit, partnerships with the National Association of Black Journalists and others, and in 2022 34% of new hires were people of color. The firm has also been focusing on mental health (the Calm app, its FHeel Well wellness initiative, even “Paw Patrol” for pet owners) and personal growth, launching a Senior Leaders’ Institute and inclusive leadership training.
Some of FleishmanHillard’s most impressive growth has come from areas such as TRUE Global Intelligence (its data and analytics capability, which last year launched a new “media mapper” service that ensures maximum impact and relevance from earned campaigns) and True MOSAIC (a diversity-focused practice that now has more than 160 counselors and covers everything from anti-bias training to advice on health equity). A new 70-strong culture unit, meanwhile, tracks developments in popular culture and society more broadly, while a new approach to “story science” helps clients connect more meaningfully with specific audiences.
— Paul Holmes
There was a time when Hill & Knowlton (before the Strategies) was one of the two largest public relations brands in the world and a powerhouse in the United States, where its New York office was home to one of the first financial communications specialty practices in the nation, a pioneer in mergers and acquisitions, and its Washington, DC, operation was immortalized as “The Power House.” But two decades of chaos and confusion—leadership transitions and costly missteps—saw a steep decline in the firm’s domestic capabilities (even as its European operations in particular flourished). But in 2019, AnnaMaria DeSalva, previously head of corporate affairs for Pfizer and Dupont, was named global chairman and CEO and a few months later co-president Richard Millar moved from the UK to take responsibility for revitalizing the US operations. The three years since then have seen the firm first stabilize and then begin to rebuild.
With its headquarters in New York, H+K has additional US offices in Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Abgeles, Miami, Orange County, San Francisco, Tallahassee, Tampa, and Washington, DC, as well as a substantial Canadian operation—which took home Canadian Agency of the Year honors in May. With 1,200 people in more than 30 offices across the region, Hill+Knowlton has one of the largest EMEA footprints of the PR networks, and won our top EMEA honors again in 2023.
A second consecutive year of double-digit growth for H+K globally, which means that the firm has grown by 25% in the past two years, and all regions are hitting or exceeding their targets, which means that North America (where the firm has about 550 people—350 of them in the US) is finally beginning to contribute something like its fair share to the global growth story—growth of better than 15% over the past two years. n Europe overall, the agency grew by double-digits, with double-digit margins in the majority of markets. Growth was particularly strong in H+K’s biggest operations, in the UK (up 17%, led by Simon Whitehead) and the Middle East (up 31%, led by Bashar AlKadhi).
Hill+Knowlton is working hard to modernize its work environment, with an emphasis on five pillars of the employee experience: being flex, being connected, being well, being empowered, and being valued. There is also an emphasis on building an inclusive culture, with the launch of a DE&I training program in partnership with Cornell, a recruiting event with partner ColorComm, and a host of engaged employee resource groups. In EMEA, H+K has maintained a flexible working approach, while enhancing learning and development programmes at all levels and other people-focused efforts such as Thrive, its well-being and mental health umbrella programme, and a whole raft of DE&I initiatives and internal groups focused on all aspects of diversity, from ethnicity to neurodiversity, tailored for market priorities across the region, including partnerships with schools and non-profits. It has also brought policies around menopause, parental leave and fertility up to date, and found ways to bring everyone together.
On the corporate side, where H+K’s traditional strength resides, the firm has been working on a “sustainable value creation” model that combines reputation, risk, and growth strategies, underpinned by data and creativity, to deliver long-term success in sectors such as tech, health, and energy. H+K was one of the most-shortlisted firms in this year’s EMEA SABRE awards, with 13 nominations. It was also instrumental in two of the pivotal global events of 2022: the agency was Egypt’s official communications partner for the hosting of COP27, in a huge 50-person effort around the network that included media relations and press conferences, social media, data, insights, monitoring, crisis, messaging and creative content, not to mention lighting up the pyramids.
— Paul Holmes / Maja Pawinska Sims
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