Arun Sudhaman 14 Dec 2020 // 8:14AM GMT
We conclude our 2020 Review with our 12 most-read news stories of the year. As ever, we've excluded awards and ranking stories as they skew results.
So what grabbed your attention during a remarkable year? Well, regular readers will be the aware of the gravitational pull exerted by one PR firm in particular, which combined with our most popular series of exclusives to memorable effect. Beyond that, there were plenty of senior moves and intrigue to keep us occupied, perhaps even distracted, during a year that we will not forget in a hurry.
1. Edelman Laying Off 390 Employees Across Global Workforce
The world's biggest PR firm was hardly the only major agency to make Covid-related layoffs; there was also sad news from Omnicom, Interpublic and many others. But Edelman's announcement, coming after Richard Edelman promised zero job losses, couldn't help but prove compelling. Taken as a whole, the news of job losses paint an unsurprisingly depressing picture of the global PR industry in the early months of the pandemic. Thankfully, by the second half of the year, many firms had recovered their confidence — not least Edelman, which restored salaries and restarted investment.
2. Edelman Steps Up As Global PR Firms Again Steer Clear Of Hong Kong Government
Hong Kong's failed PR pitch was not only our most read news story of 2019, but of all time. So it stands to reason that the city's next attempt to find a PR partner would attract considerable interest, particularly beyond the usual industry media community. The presence of Edelman only added oil, to use popular Hong Kong parlance, especially when it transpired that the firm was one of the very few willing to participate in the controversial review. Ultimately, of course, the high-stakes glare got the better of Edelman too (see number four below), providing us with surely the only instance of a firm entering and exiting a pitch in this annual series. Another impressive accomplishment, then, for the Hong Kong Government.
3. Barri Rafferty Quits Ketchum For Wells Fargo
Barri Rafferty's departure from Ketchum was probably more surprising than many seasoned industry observers might care to admit, given the firm's proud tradition of long-serving CEOs and stable transition plans. It now appears that each Ketchum CEO serves for half as long as the person they succeed, which may worry new leader Mike Doyle. More broadly, Rafferty's departure was also a reminder of the limits of holding company leadership roles, which only became more restrictive during the 2020 downturn.
4. Exclusive: Edelman Pulls Out Of 'Relaunch Hong Kong' PR Tender
The rare sequel (to number two on this list) that offered more than the original, Edelman's decision to quit the controversial Relaunch HK tender left the Hong Kong government painfully short of options in terms of hiring a global PR firm. Pretty much every other major player had already swerved the 'opportunity', while Publicis pulled out a few weeks earlier. All of which paved the way for number seven on this list, which we'll get to shortly.
5. IBM Names Jonathan Adashek As Chief Communications Officer
IBM garners more interest than most tech companies among our readers, no doubt because of the tenure of corporate communications legend Jon Iwata, who left the company in late 2017. His successor Ray Day only lasted two years, but not before instituting considerable change across the function. Enter Jonathan Adashek, after departing his post as global communications lead for the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, where he reported to chairman Carlos Ghosn prior to his arrest and subsequent escape from Japan to Lebanon. Adashek's arrival promised more change at IBM, as the company continues to try to shed its reputation as a shrinking, old-world tech giant.
6. Covid-19 Comms: US Government Worst, New Zealand & Germany Best Say PR Pros
As the biggest issue of the year, it may seem strange that this is the only Covid-19 research story on this list, but much of this coverage ended up on other 2020 Review lists. That this one performed so well must be down to the tried and tested method of comparing national governments, finding that our industry rated the US government worst in terms of Covid-19 comms. That Jacinda Ardern scored so well was particularly welcomed by our research partners at Stickybeak, leading to high-profile media coverage in New Zealand.
7. US$6m 'Relaunch Hong Kong' PR Assignment Awarded To Consulum
Almost a year after it set out to hire a global PR firm, Hong Kong finally found a partner in the shape of Consulum, a firm best-known for its work on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government. That it took so long, of course, comes down to the troubled nature of the brief, which effectively became too toxic for the global PR industry to consider handling. This much was starkly underlined by the hire of a low-profile firm like Consulum, which only established a Hong Kong office at the very last minute, before going on to make a raft of hires later in the year. Meanwhile, events on the ground continue to stymie the beleaguered city's attempts to build a credible global narrative about its international business appeal.
8. Samsung Stuns Edelman With Big Budget Account Reverse
In April, Samsung decided to shift its US digital marketing duties, worth upwards of $20m out of Edelman. The timing alone, coming during the early weeks of the pandemic, was bad enough, but the decision also reflected the competitive reality faced by PR firms. Wunderman Thompson, for example, eventually took on social duties — while S4 was the beneficiary when HP moved digital content work out of Edelman earlier in the year. Edelman often serves as the industry bellwether when it comes to developments of this nature, and it will be interesting to see how the world's biggest PR firm responds to these setbacks.
9. Ex-Mischief Planning & Creative Heads Launch New Agency
In a truism that is often worth repeating, bad times are often good for new firms. Previous recessions have given rise to some of the industry's brightest agency stars, particularly in the UK, where the barriers to agency entrepreneurialism often seem lower than most. And 2020 ultimately proved to be no different in this regard, with a slew of promising firms launching as senior figures pondered their options as the industry contracted. One of the most eye-catching launches landed at number 8 here, as highly-rated former Mischief execs Gemma Moroney and Damon Statt unveiled Shook in June.
10. H+K Strategies Restructures Leadership In Wake of Grønntun Departure
H+K Strategies is no stranger to a restructuring or two, but it was the departure of global president Lars Erik Grønntun that set this one apart, as global CEO AnnaMaria DeSalva set about reshaping the firm's international operations. The sense of purpose is hard to miss, and H+K's revival, particularly in North America, will be keenly observed. In a normal year, a story like this might rank higher; perhaps it was surprising, then, that more big firms did not take the opportunity to rethink their leadership and operational models.
11. Finsbury, Glover Park And Hering Schuppener Merge As WPP Reduces Stake
One that did was over at WPP, where Finsbury's long-running desire for more independence resulted in its merger with sister firms Glover Park and Hering Schuppener, in a partial MBO that reduced WPP's stake to 50%. These cannot be the only firms that have sought to extricate themselves from holding group ownership in recent years. While it takes two to tango, it is hard to think that this is the last we have heard of this type of deal.
12. Intel Hires WE To Lead PR Remit After Lengthy WPP Relationship
At last. A reminder of more innocent times, when straightforward account reviews would dominate this list. What stood out here was perhaps the element of surprise, with WPP firms apparently startled to learn, via this scoop, that WE was displacing them in several markets.