2020 EMEA PR Agencies of the Decade | PRovoke Media

EMEA Consultancies of the Decade

The 2020 EMEA PR Agencies of the Decade are the result of an exhaustive annual research process involving more than 200 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. You can view all Agencies of the Year for previous years here

Winners are counted down at the EMEA SABRE Awards ceremony, which will take place in late June as a virtual awards event, with more details forthcoming soon.

#1 H+K Strategies (WPP)

At the start of the decade, there was not necessarily much to suggest that Hill+Knowlton Strategies would become the dominant EMEA network of the next 10 years. The firm's extensive regional footprint meant it was more exposed to the global financial crisis than most, and conventional wisdom suggested that smaller, leaner networks would benefit in the years to come. That H+K has been able to debunk that kind of thinking is testimony, above all, to the relentless innovation the firm has displayed since Lars-Erik Grønntun and Richard Millar took on regional leadership in 2014. Indeed, Grønntun's ascension (from the firm's standout Norwegian operation), reflected the advantages of H+K's geographic diversity — which also includes market-leading operations in the Middle East, Russia and Eastern Europe. Always a powerhouse in the UK, meanwhile, Millar has turned the market into the firm's global innovation hub, responsible for leading H+K's global offering in terms of such areas as creativity, behavioural science, analytics and content.

All of which helps to explain why H+K has been named EMEA Network of the Year in three of the last four years, while also landing UK Agency of the Year in 2017 and multiple honours for the Middle East and Russia/Ukraine. There has been notable elevation in the firm's professional development and diversity initiatives, along with consistent excellence in terms of thought leadership. That includes a geographic restructuring into a '5 plus 5' strategy, which has split the network into five key markets — including the UK and Germany — and five 'clusters,' including the Nordics, continental Europe, and METIA (the Middle East, Turkey, India and Africa). 

Under Grønntun and Millar, furthermore, the network has continued to grow, despite difficult economic conditions in many markets, thanks to a client roster that now includes Adidas, Activision, Dell, Ford, Huawei, LG, Procter & Gamble, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Spotify and Takeda. And H+K's creative work also underlines its EMEA resurgence, thanks to notable campaigns such as 'Born Again Simulator' (which won Best in Show at the 2014 Global SABRE Awards) and 'Quest for Knowledge' for Norad; 'SA Tomorrow' for the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; and #SaveBooks for the Polish Chamber of Books. — AS

#2 Weber Shandwick/Prime (Interpublic Group) 

By almost every criteria, Weber Shandwick has enjoyed a tremendous decade in EMEA, where the Interpublic-owned agency has one of the most comprehensive networks, with 14 offices in Europe as well as operations in the Middle East and Africa. It has maintained an average growth rate in the high single digits throughout the decade; it has won Consultancy of the Year awards from this publication in the Nordics, Iberia, the Middle East, and France/Benelux, as well as Digital Consultancy of the Year and our pan-European Consultancy of the Year award twice (2012 and 2017); and it has taken home 48 SABRE Awards in the region, including the Platinum SABRE for Best in Show in 2018 for its #toocoolforplastics campaign on behalf of UK supermarket Iceland, and in 2016 for “Follow Felix” on behalf of Nestlé Purina Petcare.

But what stands out most over the course of the decade is the firm’s willingness to disrupt—unusual for an established market leader. The most obvious evidence for this is its acquisition in 2014 of award-winning Swedish creative shop Prime and its business intelligence arm United Minds. Arguably the most successful acquisition of the decade in the public relations business, the Prime deal continues to pay off in multiple ways, beyond establishing Weber Shandwick as a leader in the highly competitive Nordic market. Prime’s Jonas Palmqvist has risen to become chief operating officer of Weber Shandwick EMEA; his colleague Tom Beckmann chairs the agency’s Global Creative Collective; and the United Minds operation has expanded throughout Europe and North America to provide a range of management consulting solutions.

Other acquisitions have been equally bold. In 2016, Weber Shandwick added to its already formidable digital and creative capabilities with Flipside, a specialist in mobile and content marketing, whose CEO Marcus Dyer now serves as group managing director and leads many of the agency’s innovative campaigns. Two years later, Weber bought award-winning social specialist That Lot, a 67-strong team led by actor, writer, director and social media expert David Schneider, who continues to serve as creative director.

Weber Shandwick continues to merge a culture of innovation, developing a suite of high-impact solutions, including a new suite of digital solutions tailored to healthcare clients and a burgeoning network of sustainability experts across the region, with a work environment that values work-life balance and invests in professional development. And while there have been recent changes at the top—the departure of UK chief executive Rachel Friend and the impending exit of EMEA chairman Tim Sutton—the firm continues to both develop and attract new talent.—PH

#3 Hanover (Avenir Global)

After 21 years of independence and five years on the trot of over 25% growth, last year Hanover was bought by Canadian holding company Avenir Global. The consultancy founded in 1998 by former journalist and Conservative Party director of communications Charles Lewington – who remains as CEO – is now a 170-strong $20 million heavyweight with true trusted advisor status, working behind the scenes with some of the world’s biggest businesses on complex communications challenges.

From its corporate and public affairs heartland, Hanover has expanded its offer over the decade and has developed a particular strength in healthcare: it now works with half of the world’s leading pharma companies. In 2016 it also opened The Playbook, a creative comms agency looking after sports, consumer and technology clients, and Multiple, a brand and culture consultancy working with fast-growth businesses. Hanover has also grown geographically from its London base, opening its Brussels office at the start of the decade and its UAE office in 2017, which turned into a bigger Dubai presence than originally planned after Hanover won the bidding war for Bell Pottinger’s Middle East business. It also works alongside other independent agencies around the world who are part of Hanover’s global network, The Ecosystem.

First named as our EMEA Public Affairs Agency of the Year in 2011, Hanover has rarely been off our regional Agency of the Year shortlists since then, across public affairs, corporate and healthcare categories, including being named as both EMEA and Global Public Affairs Agency of the Year in 2017. But Lewington and his formidable senior bench have never rested on their laurels: the agency is constantly innovating its products and services in areas from crisis comms to sustainability and purpose, as well as strengthening its talent offer year on year with new initiatives and support for employee development, training and wellbeing. — MPS 

Brands2Life (Independent)

Brands2Life celebrates its 20th birthday this year with 20 years of uninterrupted growth, and arguably deserves a place as one of the (still fiercely independent) UK agencies of the 21st century, let alone the past decade. Founders Giles Fraser and Sarah Scales, who both left Hill + Knowlton to start their own firm, still lead Brands2Life together and still get their hands dirty on client work, although the nature of that work has changed dramatically over the past decade. The agency started out as a B2B technology specialist, and has kept up with rapid change in the tech sector to develop expertise in AI, fintech, healthtech, cleantech and security, but has also successfully evolved into a full-service agency with clients in the business services, energy, financial services, health and wellbeing and retail and leisure sectors. The health and wellbeing business, launched in 2018, this year hit revenues of more than £1 million, contributing to another year of double-digit growth and revenues now standing at more than $21 million.

The agency has also branched out geographically from its London base, opening its San Francisco office in 2017 and building its own network of like-minded independent agencies in 17 countries around the world to support global clients. Brands2Life now has 150 employees in London, San Francisco and New York, and an enviable client roster, including digital leaders, industry disruptors, B2B and consumer tech players and corporates with purpose. Another evolution over the past decade has been in the sheer breadth of truly integrated work the agency is now carrying out, including planning, strategy, branding, digital, social, content and creative as well as traditional PR, and across paid as well as earned and owned channels.

Brands2Life continues to innovate with new products and services, as well as nurturing its people and supporting the local community, and has rarely been off our agency of the year shortlists. Its accolades include being named as EMEA Technology Agency of the Year in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Global Technology Agency of the Year in 2013 and 2016, and UK Agency of the Year in 2016, as well as being a finalist in this latter category for the past five years. — MPS

Farner (Independent)

Farner, now 67 years old, has been the Swiss market leader in corporate and public affairs for as long as anyone can remember, with seven offices in Switzerland: Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen, Lausanne, Geneva, Basel and Lugano. Yet Farner is not just a domestic heavyweight, but one of the decade's defining firms in EMEA, as evidenced by its selection as DACH Consultancy of the Year in 2018 and 2015. That award recognised Farner’s impressive diversification beyond traditional corporate and public affairs work, bolstered by the 2016 acquisition of brand marketing specialist YJOO, Switzerland’s third largest PR firm. 

Farner's transformation has not stopped there; the firm now sits atop not just Switzerland’s PR market but also its advertising/creative rankings after acquiring data/tech agency Du Da and ad agency Rod Kommunikation last year. All of which makes Farner one of the rare PR firms able to assist clients across the entire brand cycle, supported by Du Da’s data and commtech offering and Rod’s distinct creative focus, along with its proprietary Farner Lab, in which the firm co-creates prototypes in such areas as AR/VR, voice-first technologies, neuromarketing, and AI in cooperation with specialized technology partners and the University of Lucerne.

Now numbering more than 140 staff, Farner reported fee income of almost $30m in 2019, from a client roster that includes McDonald's, Roche Pharma, Nestlé, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Swiss Post, Julius Bär, Swiss Federal Railways, Coop and Touring Club Switzerland. And Farner's campaign work reflects its restless capacity for innovation, including a Global SABRE Award for its 2015 national referendum campaign in favour of an amendment to the country's Reproductive Medicine Act. — AS

Hope & Glory (Independent)

London's consumer PR market is often viewed as the world's most competitive, and no agency has won more plaudits over the past decade than Hope & Glory, a veritable awards machine that was once likened in these pages to "a mainstream pop band that cannot help but reach number one with each of its new releases." Appropriately enough, Hope & Glory's history effectively encapsulates the decade itself, progressing from the latest hot shop upon its 2011 launch to a 75-person operation with fees of more than $10m as of 2020. That ability to remain relevant in the face of newer contenders remains rare in London, and is surely down to the unwillingness of founders Jo Carr and James Gordon-Macintosh to rest on their laurels. The duo has remained consistently focused on “fun, fame and fortune” as filters for the clients it represents, along with a pledge that its staff will do “the best work of their career” at Hope & Glory.

Neither are those idle promises; Hope & Glory must surely rank as one of the top SABRE-winning outfits of the past decade, regularly featuring in our Global Creative Index and wowing awards judges for consistently impactful consumer campaigns for a client roster that features O2, HTC, IKEA, Airbnb, Barclays, The Royal Mint, Sony and Adidas. That mindset, that the firm is only as good as its last campaign, has helped Hope & Glory land multiple Agency of the Year honours, including Global Creative Agency in 2018. But Hope & Glory takes its employee culture as seriously as its campaign work. In 2019, the firm revamped its management structure with the introduction of joint MDs (Seb Dilleyston and Anna Terrell), while the firm's intern programme remains the bedrock of Hope&Glory’s development: 30% of the team started as interns, with one now the agency’s youngest associate director, seven years on. — AS/MPS

LLYC (Independent)

Ten years ago, Llorente & Cuenca was named by El Publicista as Best Communication Consultancy of the Decade following a poll of 10,000 Spanish communication, marketing and advertising professionals. At the time, the firm now known as LLYC was a $20 million business, a leader in corporate and financial communications (already topping the ranking of PR advisers to M&A in Spain), with fledgling operations in Latin America. Since then, it has more than doubled in size (it ranked among the top 50 PR firms in the world this year, with fees of slightly more than $45 million), has broadened its focus to include strong public affairs, consumer marketing, and digital and social media capabilities, and has expanded its Latin American operations to include wholly-owned offices in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and the Dominican Republic accounting for about half of its global revenues—all while maintaining its leadership position in Spain and Portugal.

The firm’s growth has been consistent throughout the decade, but a turning point came in 2015, when president and founding partner Jose Antonio Llorente announced that L&C had secured €6.35 million in funding from French private equity firm MBO Partenaires, which took a 22% stake as a result. Since then, the firm has embarked on its own acquisition spree, expanding its geographic footprint to include Miami, but also strengthening its domestic operations with Cink, a digital innovation consultancy; Arenalia, a 50-person Barcelona firm with strong consumer and digital capabilities; and Diplolacy, a public affairs specialist.

In April of last year, Llorente & Cuenca became LLYC, promising to help its clients anticipate change and “embrace disruption.” A couple of months later, the firm joined Finsbury, Glover Park Group and Hering Schuppener in a partnership focused primarily on the global M&A arena (it finished third in the mergermarket ranking of M&A deals worked last year and was number one in Europe). As a result, the firm was nominated for our Financial Consultancy of the Year honors this year.—PH