SYDNEY, April 18—Over the past few years, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide has built one of the most extensive networks in the Asia-Pacific, with 21 offices around the region, but it had been a marginal player at best in one of the region’s key markets: Australia. This week, it moved to remedy that omission with a series of dramatic moves that includes taking majority or minority interests in three top boutique agencies and formalizing its relationship with Singleton Group PR, part of one of Australia’s leading communications holding companies.

According to Ogilvy’s president of Asia, Matthew Anderson, the deals will give Ogilvy projected annual fees of around $9.5 million (U.S.) in Australia and the nation’s largest public relations network, with particular expertise in information technology, financial and corporate communications, public affairs and ethnic marketing.

The network consists of corporate and financial communications specialist Savage & Horrigan, headed by former Burson-Marsteller Australia CEO Chris Savage; technology PR specialist Howorth Communications; public affairs specialist Parker & Partners; and two units of Singleton: Impact Employee Communications and Ethnic Communications.

“In each area we offer the deepest skills and a narrow focus,” says Savage, who will serve as the group’s managing partner. “Clients buy it immediately. They see the relevance and understand how it can operate for them.”    

When Anderson took over the Asia-Pacific region for Ogilvy in 1997 (having previously headed Europe), he found a network of strong local offices, many of which operated under the Ogilvy & Mather name while in the U.S. the firm was still known as Ogilvy Adams & Rinehart. Under the leadership of CEO Bob Seltzer, who joined Ogilvy the same year, offices around the world adopted the Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide brand.

Ogilvy had previously had a minor presence in Australia—“three or four publicists who would be called in a couple of days before a product launch to get some ink,” says Anderson—but over the past few years, O&M had forged an alliance with Singleton Group, the third largest communications holding company in Australia, which owned one of the hottest ad agencies in the market and was expanding into other areas.

“As an advertising agency, they represented the number one or number two brand in Australia in almost every category,” says Anderson. “They realized that their growth was going to come from expanding into other disciplines. They were in one of the world’s top ten PR markets and they did almost everything but PR.”

But they shared Ogilvy’s perspective on what was happening in the Australian PR business.

“The Australian PR market has been polarized between five or six very large full service firms, structured along traditional lines, and about a thousand small firms, sometimes just two or three people, in specific niches,” says Anderson. “We found that the small specialist firms were eating the larger firms for lunch, but they were being asked to provide greater international reach into Singapore or Hong Kong, and they were being asked to provide financial PR advice, or employee communications counsel and they just didn’t have the resources.”

Singleton Group chief executive Russell Tate takes up the story: “A number of major clients have acknowledged frustrations that so-called full service PR firms in Australia don’t provide enough specialist senior counsel, and niche firms can’t scale resources enough to solve complex challenges that combine different areas of expertise and international scope,” he says. Ogilvy decided to create a network that would offer the best of both worlds.

Founded in 1993, Howorth Communications offers a wide range of product and corporate PR services to technology companies, and has worked with clients such as Borland Software, Citrix Systems, and EMC Corporation in the Australian market.

Headquartered in Canberra, Parker & Partners was launched by former political adviser Andrew Parker, and has represented clients including Australian transportation giant National Express, Unisys Australia, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers. It also has its own research unit, headed by former Australian Labor Party pollster Rod Cameron.

Savage & Horrigan was founded just a year ago by Savage and fellow B-M alum Jennifer Horrigan. The firm offers corporate reputation management, crisis and issues communications, investor relations and transaction communications services.

Impact Employee Communications focuses on organizational and workplace performance issues, and Ethnic Communications targets non-English speaking Australians. “The multicultural marketing business is incredible,” says Anderson, who adds that one in five Australian families speaks a language other than English around the dinner table.
Anderson says Ogilvy expects to add additional specialist firms “within months.”