2023 Creative Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke Media

2024 Creative PR Consultancies of the Year

The 2024 EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 200 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the UK, Europe the Middle East and Africa. Analysis of each of the Winners and finalists across 20 geographic and specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are unveiled at the 2024 EMEA SABRE Awards, which take place in London on 17 April. Tickets and tables are available here.

You can find the 2024 SABRE Awards EMEA finalists here.

Finalists

Cirkle (UK/Accordience)

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In its second year as part of the Accordience group, 22-year-old Cirkle focused on bedding in new foundations for a fast-evolving agency while maintaining its culture. New offers for clients included a creative studio – with significant investment in creative talent – as well as expanding its social media and influencer marketing teams. The agency also achieved B Corp status, all while finalising a complex sale – the agency had been an Employee-Owned Trust before its acquisition – and integration into the Accordience group. Under the leadership of CEO Ruth Kieran, the agency also now has purpose squarely at the heart of its brand work.

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Cirkle is based in London.

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After 53% revenue growth in 2022, Cirkle’s fee income rose by 3.4% in 2023 to £7.5m, with a full-time team of 70. The agency has an impressive client bench, featuring AkzoNobel, Heineken UK, Mars Petcare, Ferrero, Britvic, Nomad Foods, Pepsico, Premier Foods, GSK / Haleon, and Noble Foods. New clients included Organix, Nomad Foods (social channels including Birds Eye, Aunt Bessie’s, Goodfella’s), Yoplait, Shopt, Fox’s Burton’s Biscuits, Absolute Collagen, Trek & Nakd and Edgewell (Wilkinson Sword). 

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Cirkle showed its commitment to diversity and inclusion by achieving B Corp accreditation, securing Bronze Ecovardis certification, and signing the UN’s Global Compact agreement, as well as the Clean Creatives Pledge. The agency has made significant strides in ED&I, moving from ally to full Blueprint diversity mark status, with 15% Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Group representation, 36% of the agency identifying with a social mobility characteristic, 19% considering themselves to have a disability, and 26% having caring responsibilities. Cirkle’s annual ED&I survey revealed 92% of the team believe that regardless of their background, they feel their views are valued and listened to, 92% feel respected by their colleagues and 87% feel they have a sense of belonging. The agency also ramped up its commitment to wellbeing, sustainability and social purpose, with a huge benefits overhaul including up to 33 days’ holiday, paid leave for fertility challenges, and career breaks, sabbaticals, carers leave and a new volunteering policy (supported by a partnership with social and environmental volunteering app OnHand) and mobility policy, giving the teams access to international secondment opportunities across the group. A ‘Force for Good’ programme rewards those who go above and beyond in areas such as wellbeing, ESG and ED&I. And the entire team attended CirkleFest – a two-day festival with yurt camping by the coast.

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The agency launched its Power of Earned Media report last May, looking at how to build brand love and trust with families. Cirkle has six SABRE nominations this year, including work for Dulux, Yoplait and Goodfella’s. To help Birds Eye frozen food brands facing the challenges of product dupes, the cost-of-living crisis and discounting competitors, the team pulled out all the stops, including a Captain Birds Eye swimwear range made from sea-bound plastic, the first Aunt Bessie’s packs for shoppers with visual impairments, and the first restaurant with a menu made solely from Birds Eye Peas, growing sales and share of voice well ahead of the category. 

Maja Pawinska Sims

Hope&Glory (UK/Independent) 

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Hope&Glory’s stated goal is to be the most-admired PR agency in the UK, and heading for 12 years since they co-founded the firm, Jo Carr (chief client officer) and James Gordon-MacIntosh (chief creative officer) do indeed continue to garner industry admiration and awards. The powerhouse leadership team again proved in 2023 that it’s possible to run a large pure-play brand agency that balances stand-out, multi-award-winning creative ideas with long-standing client relationships, and makes robust margins without compromising on being a great place to work. As its annual haul of SABRE nominations and trophies shows, Hope&Glory shows no sign of resting on its laurels, neither losing its creative edge, nor taking its reputation for attention-grabbing consumer brand campaigns for granted. In 2023, the agency focused on building its data-led influencer practice, growing its purpose campaigning, and developing cross-border campaigns: The agency is now a global or regional creative hub for brands including Pepsi, Polestar, Adidas, Converse, Levi’s, YouTube, Google, Meta and LinkedIn.

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Hope&Glory is based in London. 

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Hope&Glory comfortably sailed through the £11m fee income mark last year, with revenue increasing by more than 5%, after growth of 10% the previous year, and a notable contribution coming from the new influencer practice. The full-time team grew to 92, up from 86 in 2022. The agency has some of the longest-lasting client relationships in the industry, with world-leading brands: it has worked with Virgin Media O2, Barclays and IKEA for more than 10 years, and with Amex, Adidas, SEGA, Pokemon, Argos, Sky, LinkedIn, Uber, Uber Eats, Edrington UK, Meta and Sainsbury’s for more than five years. The agency is choosy about its pitches, focusing on whether the prospective work meets its criteria of “fun, fame and fortune”; it turned down 50% of serious leads last year, but picked up work with PepsiCo, Now, Nestlé, Premier Foods, Kelloggs, Mars Wrigley, Dacia, Polestar and Maserati, as well as taking a place on Samsung’s creative roster. 

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Hope&Glory is industry-beating in growing its own talent: nearly half of the team started as interns, and three are now board directors; two-thirds of the agency have worked there for more than five years. Churn was just 10%, with only one person going to another agency and others leaving to go travelling or in-house. The agency has introduced on-going measurement not just of diversity but also of professional inclusivity: the senior team is 69% women, 10% of the board (and around a quarter of the whole team) are Black, Asian, mixed race or minority ethnic, and 11% identify has having a disability or being neurodiverse. There is pay parity across all groups and no gender pay gap. The agency added six new board members; three of whom were promoted while on maternity leave. The agency is known for its innovative policies and initiatives to support employees through life stages, offering flexible hours and generous paid parental leave, we well as adoption leave, fertility loans, compassionate leave for pregnancy loss, menopause support, settling-in funds for interns (who are paid London Living Wage), neurodiversity reports and return-to-work coaching. 

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Hope&Glory has 10 SABRE nominations this year and won four In2 SABREs, including for Uber, HMV, Amex, IKEA, Trainline and Dacia. There was a notable focus on purpose-led campaigns this year that are not only relevant to consumers but also socially impactful, including a campaign for IKEA and homeless charity Shelter calling for the building of more social housing via ‘real life roomsets’ in its stores that mirrored the living conditions of those in temporary accommodation, and creating a partnership between Trainline and Missing People to serve live missing people alerts in the Trainline app. 

Maja Pawinska Sims

Retroviral (South Africa/Independent)

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Last year’s African Consultancy of the Year, South Africa’s Retroviral made an impression in 2023 that reverberated globally. Having won multiple SABREs in Africa and EMEA last year, and having been named a finalist for Global Creative Agency of the Year by this publication, Retroviral was  pound-for-pound the most creative firm in our Global Creative Index—quite an accomplishment for a firm founded in 2010 by a former actor who had decided to redirect his passion into a different kind of storytelling. Mike Sharman created a firm that was focused on data-driven campaigns and the digital landscape, a “challenger agency for challenger brands.” Retroviral now specializes in branded storytelling that converts to sales and is one of the most dynamic and creative independent PR firms in South Africa.

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Retroviral is headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, but the firm has executed campaigns across the continent, in markets such as Ghana, Namibia, Zambia, and Kenya—as well as the occasional creative campaign in the UK.

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Growth in 2023 was modest, as Retroviral saw fee income climb from ZAR 39.6 million to ZAR 41.3 million, although the team grew from 12 to 19. The firm continued its work for marquee clients such as Lil-Lets South Africa, Ryobi, Liberty, Blue Ribbon Bread, HTH, Dove Cotton, Iwisa No.1, Beko, and Grundig, while picking up new assignments from the likes of RCL, Hohm Energy, Ultra Pet, Discovery Bank, South African Breweries (AB inBev), and Ouma Rusks. As always, the firm’s growth was driven by its ability to develop bold creative campaigns that go viral not only in the local market but across the continent and around the world, often making the leap from social media to traditional media to extend their reach.

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Founder Mike Sharman is also the is the co-founder of influencer marketing platform webfluential.com and athlete ecosystem MatchKit.co and has applied his entrepreneurial enthusiasm to the growth of Retroviral into a market leader. He is supported by managing director Pippa Misplon and creative director Koketso Masisi and a team of close to 20 professionals with diverse backgrounds in content creation and digital media. The firm’s overall workforce that is now 80% female and 65% Black, with a similarly diverse senior management team. The flexible work culture is designed to foster both freedom and creativity. 

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Last year, it was the “Be You. Period” campaign for Lil-Lets that garnered headlines and plaudits around the world, an inclusive marketing initiative that was named the fourth best public relations campaign in the world at the Global SABREs. This year, Retroviral had six separate campaigns for six different clients named among the finalists for our EMEA SABRE competition, including “The Granboks,” a social media campaign around the Rugby World Cup for AB InBev’s Castle Lager; “The Makazole Mapimpi story” for Ryobi; “My Best Friend” for Ultrapet; “Bread for Bricks” for BB Bakeries; and a solar power initiative for Hohm Energy. The body of work is impressive and suggests that Retroviral has delivered on its promise of transforming “going viral” from an art to a science.

Paul Holmes

The Romans (UK/Independent)

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What’s the point of calling an agency The Romans if you don’t build an empire? Last year the London-based agency – which in 2022 had already outgrown its ‘creative boutique’ label and was winning agency-of-record retainers for big brands – significantly grew its fledgling US operation and expanded to Dubai and Amsterdam. The agency more than doubled both global revenue and team size in a rollercoaster year that careered from losing five pitches straight and then winning eight retainers in a row, including seven-figure accounts, but managed to maintain its culture and the outstanding quality of its consumer campaigns, plus an expansion into corporate work, underpinned by new hires from the likes of Portland. And as if it wasn’t busy enough, the agency led by Joe Mackay-Sinclair also made a six-figure investment in Bear Grylls’ men’s mental health app, Mettle, and another six-figure investment in a new agency, Earnies, which opened in late 2023.

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The Romans is based in London and opened its New York office in 2022. Last year it expanded to Dubai (August) and Amsterdam (September). 

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The Romans had impressive financial performance in 2023, with a total global PR fee income of £13.5m, up 114% from £6.3m in 2022, while maintaining strong margins. The agency's workforce also doubled from 63 full-time employees in 2022 to 127 by the end of 2023. Growth in its home UK market was a highly respectable 25%, with income approaching £8m, and income grew exponentially in its newer offices, reaching revenues of £4m in the US (where the team will reach a headcount of 30 this year). The Dubai office will hit seven figures in its first year, and Amsterdam opened in September 2023 and within weeks had picked up Flora, Tony’s Chocoloney and Heineken as founding clients. The Romans lost Twitter as a client after seven years, but immediately replaced it with the Snapchat retainer, alongside another 35 UK briefs including Airbnb, Candy Crush, Deliveroo, Dove, Flora, Fosters, Heineken, Malibu, Mecca Bingo, Monzo, Muller, OnlyFans, Pip & Nut and Strongbow. The new corporate practice grew from zero to £1.3m in revenue during the year. 

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The Romans’ 50+ hires globally in 2023 included creative director Dan Roberts, formerly of ad agencies Grey and Havas and a campaigner for working class representation in the creative industries. The agency also hired Shivani Choda from Portland as head of digital and Sam Hodges, formerly in senior comms roles at Twitter, the BBC and Netflix, to lead a growing portfolio of corporate, B2B, tech, and financial clients, while Kandace Williamson was named as one of PRovoke Media’s Young Changemakers. The agency has a long-standing pro bono partnership with People Like Us, a not-for-profit organisation that works to attract more diverse talent to the PR industry. Across the agency, 26% of the team are Black, Asian or mixed heritage. The Romans has trained seven mental health first-aiders, and offers comprehensive mental health support, including free access to psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists. The Romans has its own chef and everyone gets free breakfast and free lunch every day, as well as a Shoreditch House membership and a summer party at Soho Farmhouse. The agency implemented a 10% cost of living pay rise, and 10% of company profits are paid as annual cash bonuses. The agency also has long-term pro bono partnerships with Macmillan Cancer Support and Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, and donated around £230,000 worth of time in 2023. 

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The Romans had eight SABRE nominations, including a divisive Brussels sprout Christmas sandwich for Deliveroo, promoting ‘rizz’ as the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year and creating ‘Lidl Fashion Week’. But it wasn’t all just for fun: the agency also worked with sports retailer Wiggle and Adidas to address racism aimed at a group of Muslim hikers, with a campaign that included installing signs pointing to Mecca on National Trust Property and developing the world’s first all-weather prayer mat; the campaign has already won multiple awards. 

Maja Pawinska Sims

W (Independent)

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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 165-strong creative boutique with offices all across the globe. All of this remains built on W’s focus on blending commerce and culture with creative entrepreneurialism, producing campaigns that reach beyond traditional PR. 

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In addition to its London HQ, W’s EMEA presence also includes offices in Edinburgh, Paris and (from last year onwards) Berlin, Reykjavik, Madrid, Dubai, Riyadh and Jeddah. These are supported by operations further afield in Singapore, New York, Buenos Aires, Miami and Mexico City — reflecting the rapid pace of W’s expansion. 

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Despite a difficult market, W grew fee income by 8% to £19.2m, supported by 73% client retention — with 25% of revenue coming from organic growth. The agency's clients include Adidas, Unilever, Spotify, Deliveroo, Sony, Papa Johns, and Pentland Group. In 2023, there was also significant new business from Tinder, Speedo, Citizen M, LIDS, and Kellogg’s. 

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In addition to Johnson, key figures at W include global board director Nadia Hamed and creative director Scott Dimbleby, while new appointments included industry veteran Tim Sutton as chairman and Ash Black as CMO. Co-CEO Frankie Cory stepped down earlier this year. W’s focus on DEI has always reflected its focus on grassroots entrepreneurs, including female-led hubs ins Saudi Arabia, and a multi-year commitment to social mobility in the UK. The firm’s WX initiative aims to nurture regional talent and improve access to the UK PR industry, pledging to create 25 jobs outside London by 2025. Last year, the firm also launched W Capital to formalise its investment approach — focusing on sustainable communities businesses such as Known Source, the Good Charcoal Company and, in Singapore, Black-owned BYGB. 

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In 2023, W responded to the most volatile economic period in its history by rethinking its client servicing approach — diversifying its high-margin services and practices at the expense of lower-margin work by focusing on such areas as brand strategy, advertising, experience and content, while also launching an SEO service. This was reflected in the quality of the firm’s campaign work, which included no fewer that five Gold SABRE nominations for the likes of Breast Cancer Now, Endura, Marmite, Tesco, Pot Noodle and Grow To Know. The firm also collaborated with Tinder for its first-ever UK-specific TV OOH campaign.

Arun Sudhaman