Former Nike CMO Brent Scrimshaw was named Enero CEO last year, succeeding Matthew Melhuish at the top of the Australian holding group. Enero has emerged from a chequered past to post impressive results over the past couple of years, and its most recent trading update was no different — with revenue up 19% for the six months ending December 31 2020.

In an interview with PRovoke Media, Scrimshaw outlined his expansion plans for Enero, his views on the three PR firms within Enero — Hotwire, Frank and CPR — and why he thinks public relations deserves a greater share of the limelight.  

Arun Sudhaman: To what do you attribute Enero's most recent trading results?

Brent Scrimshaw: We have momentum across the entire business — Europe, North America and here in Australia. The drivers of that growth really come across all parts of the business — Hotwire, BMF and also Orchard and OB Media, our adtech platform.

You mention Hotwire as being a big part of that growth. Why do you think Hotwire has performed so well?

First of all, as you know, they’re one of the world’s most highly-regarded enterprise tech specialist communications businesses, so a lot of that growth has come from within. In other words, organic growth within the Hotwire client list. The good news there is we’ve also managed to grow some key clients across geographies. For example, the Zoom business we won in the UK has crossed multiple countries in Europe and into the United States.

But most importantly, I think it’s really been down to the commitment and the resilience and the creativity of our people because, as you would well know, it’s a challenging time due to Covid in both North America and Europe, specifically. I couldn’t be prouder of the Hotwire team and their commitment to growing the business, by obviously creating amazing work for our clients.

Based on Hotwire’s performance, and you also have Frank and CPR as PR agencies, how important is public relations to your expansion plans?

It’s incredibly important. It’s one of our four pillars and, obviously, CPR down in Melbourne and Frank in the UK are important parts of our portfolio. Moving forward, of course, we are always evaluating the shape and the trajectory of our portfolio for the future, so they remain important to us and the role of communications within a modern marketing business is, I think, definitely at the centre of our thinking.

The results would suggest a certain amount of financial headroom. What do you plan to do? For example, are acquisitions on the agenda?

Two things. One is we increase the dividends to our shareholders as a listed company here in Australia. Two, the headroom to be more aggressive in the acquisition of complimentary businesses to the portfolio. So we are actively now involved in conversations in both North America and the UK to enable us to continue to refine the capability we have within our existing offer, but obviously also to continue to use acquisitions as a way to grow the business.

When I interviewed Matthew a couple of years ago he said the key goal then was to grow in North America, the UK and Europe. Is that still the case? Are those the key focus areas?

I guess things have changed a little. 60% of our revenue now is derived from what we call our international business, so that’s business outside of Australia. We don’t see that changing. In fact, we are committed to accelerating that. Not just as a percentage of business, it’s because we believe they are the most progressive, creative clients. There are clearly clients in those markets that provide us with scale and they are all growth markets in their own right, particularly within the industries where we have deep connections — so enterprise technology, consumer staples and obviously in healthcare.

Do you see your PR brands expanding more geographically as well?

I think we still have enormous room for growth within our existing geographies. That's where we are continually refining our offer to be as progressive as the more progressive clients that we work with — and bear in mind we work with some very impressive technology clients, clearly with Hotwire. It’s actually about driving penetration and depth within existing geographies as a priority, before we move to new geographies such as Asia, for example. I think there is so much opportunity for our existing brands, given the momentum they have, to continue to drive really strong and organic business growth.

And do you think Enero needs more PR brands?

For us it’s not about the number of brands that we work with, it’s about the creativity and effectiveness of the brands that we have. So, in the short term, I don’t view our model as one that’s a more traditional holding company model, where it’s about adding additional brands to grow. The investment is more about continually transforming our offer to be the most progressive, global and creative that it can be. 

Meanwhile, we’ve seen agency consolidation sweeping through the bigger holding groups. Do you see that affecting Enero at all?

I think you will see, in the next 12 months, some transformation of our portfolio and transformation both in terms of consolidation but also acquisition.

In terms of the type of agencies you are looking to acquire, how would you characterize that?

Really kind of three areas are important to us, not just within the communications industry but across the group. One is businesses that are creatively-led, first and foremost, both in terms of their end product, but more so how creativity can bring an edge to our clients’ business. Two is businesses that are data-smart. So, we will continue to invest in businesses that bring data science and more progressive ways to think about data to drive more effective results for our clients. Three, businesses that are obviously technology-enabled. The continued transformation of the group really revolves around those three tenets.

As a former client, a former CMO, how would you like Enero to organize its services? For example, do you feel like the PR services offered by the PR brands should be more integrated perhaps with the advertising and digital agencies that you have?

Definitely I think there is a role for greater integration, particularly across a nimble and progressive portfolio. That doesn’t mean that one model suits every particular client that we work with, but we are nimble enough and global enough in our perspective to understand when integration makes sense and for it to be as seamless as possible from a client perspective to drive real added value across the group.

Do you think there should be more integration from your agencies?

Well, integration clearly is one of our priorities and not necessarily just within a particular vertical. So, communications in this case. As an example, in our office in Sydney we have BMF, Hotwire and Orchard — the three core brands within the group — in ways for them to be thinking about integration. From a client perspective, we need to make it easy to create great work across different client demands and [make it] obviously easy for clients to access the best talent across creativity, across communications, across data and data science, and across technology within this building, regardless of the individual agency brand that they are connected to. What we are seeing there is clients’ ability to access the best talent is truly a game changing proposition in terms of the way clients are thinking, but also in terms of the way we leverage the momentum and the equity of our portfolio together.

And, as an ex-CMO, I’m curious to hear your thoughts about the growth prospects for public relations in general. Was it something that you felt you needed more of, or that, perhaps, had more strategic value today than it did previously?

From my experience, I think it was traditionally always underserved in terms of its role both in the communications mix and the role of developing clear and articulate points of view for brands. My background has likely helped me to understand that there is a role for communications at the most senior level of almost every great global brand. So I view the opportunity there as infinite for us to truly serve as business partners, as well as communications departments in developing both business and brand strategy and being able to articulate that with clarity in today’s world, which as you know continues to get smaller as people are more connected.

Are there any specific plans for Frank?

We’re a 75% shareholder of Frank, but obviously the management team hold the other 25%. They’ve had an incredibly successful six months where they have done a great job in regaining momentum in a very challenging marketplace in the UK. So I would point to that as evidence of their success in that challenging marketplace. I think the Weetabix campaign that’s in the market right now is something that really has stood out as being a return to some of the great creative work from a communications perspective for that business.

How do you see the pandemic impacting how agencies operate, and how do you see opportunities emerging?

We definitely see opportunity. I think our business performance points to our ability to be able to create momentum in challenging circumstances and, as you see different results from different holding companies around the world, I have yet to see a result that provides the same type of momentum that I believe we have in the marketplace.

Our focus really is on doing three things. One is, how do we continue to simplify our business? Two is, how do we think of the Covid situation as a way for us to accelerate? We are very focused on growth and acceleration. Three is, obviously, how do we continue to care for our people. We have 600 staff in seven countries in 14 cities around the world. Clearly they are the engine of growth, creativity and opportunity for our business and their wellbeing continues to be first and top of mind for everybody within the business.