Top 50 Digital Consultancies 2011

In recognition of the growing importance of online PR activity, Cathy Bussey looks at 50 agencies leading the field and the emerging digital trends.

For the first time, when collecting information to inform PRWeek's Top 150 report and league tables, we asked agencies to provide figures for income from online activity.

Agencies were asked to report how much of their fee income came from online promotional activity, and how much came from online reputation management.

The total sums for both activities have been added together to create the first ever PRWeek digital league table.

This table gives an overview of digital activity in the PR industry and shows how much agencies are making from this activity, and what percentage of their total fee income is made up from digital work.

There are inherent difficulties in collecting digital fee income. Online is a channel, not a specialism, and many agencies were unable to separate online income from overall fee income.

Therefore PRWeek would like to make it clear that the table presented on these pages is a table of agencies that were able to accurately provide figures about their online income.

This could be because of the way fee income is audited internally, or because the agency has a dedicated digital department. In some cases, 100 per cent of the agency's income comes from digital work.

Therefore Top 150 agencies that do not appear in this table do not necessarily have a low fee income from digital activity.

Despite this we feel it is relevant to publish the digital table, as many PR agencies are leading in this area and showcasing real best practice.

Online activity will only increase in importance and it is hoped PRWeek can repeat the digital league table in future years.

Engine topped the inaugural digital table with a fee income from online activity of nearly £9.8m. This accounts for 44 per cent of the group's total fee income in 2010. Second place went to Grayling, with £6.8m from online activity. Hotwire Group, which includes digital specialist 33 Digital as well as tech shop Hotwire and consumer agency Skywrite, took third place.

Top independent agency Edelman was at number six with more than £2.6m in online fee income in 2010 - accounting for nearly ten per cent of the agency's overall fee income.

PRWeek looks at some of the trends agencies have reported in digital activity in 2010 overleaf, as well as some predictions for 2011.

44% of Engine's total fee income in 2010 came from online activity

*Incorporating Haslimann Taylor and Stephanie Churchill PR

**Incorporating Fever PR, Things With Wings and Nelson Bostock Communications

***Incorporating Huntsworth Health

Encompassing Wyatt Public Relations

Measurement: The process of auditing digital income

All the agencies featured in the digital league table have been able to accurately deduce how much of their fee income came from online promotional or online reputation management activity.

Not all PR agencies are able to do this. Some consider online work another aspect of ordinary campaign work, so do not separate fee income for digital activity in the same way as they would not separate fee income for broadcast or print media.

For those agencies that do want to separate their online fee income, there are a number of ways to do this.

'We are set up with a digital P&L', says Marshall Manson, MD of digital EMEA at Edelman. 'We track digital revenue just like any other part of the business.'

Manson says the agency has embraced the strategy of having an in-house creative digital and tech capability, adding this resulted from the acquisition of digital shop Spook Media in 2008 and German digital agency Gosub in April this year.

Brendon Craigie, CEO of Hotwire, says the group provides projections for all clients every month, in which activity is broken down including into online, which enables the group to pinpoint income from digital activity. 'We have a very transparent way of working,' he says.

At Engine Group, which topped the digital table this year, work across all channels including digital is recorded for internal purposes to make sure staff are in the right place with the right skills. Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Engine's PR group MHP Communications, says: 'Some agencies say digital is part of everything they do - and it is for us too - but if we didn't have a sense of which channels we are using, we would simply be making random decisions about what people we want and what skills they have.'

Demand: What kind of work are clients asking for?

Online promotions and online reputation management covers a broad sphere of work. In 2010, some clients were more informed about and open to digital work, agencies have reported, and were increasingly asking for more sophisticated efforts than simply running a Twitter feed.

This is not to say that Twitter feeds and Facebook pages are not still important, rather that in the vast spectrum of digital work, they are becoming more 'bread and butter' for PR agencies than special tasks.

Edelman's Manson says: 'There was a massive opportunity in 2010 around community management, helping clients interact with their communities, fans and advocates.' As Hotwire's Craigie notes, the trend is increasingly for 'influencer relations' rather than simply 'media relations'.

Facebook and Twitter did still provide lucrative channels for PR agencies. Manson says the changes that have taken place on Facebook have been important. 'Brands have to put more effort into creating custom tabs on Facebook pages in particular,' he says. Previously any content could be added to a tab on Facebook but now more build is required. 'Brands have to invest more for a top quality presence,' he says.

Craigie says at Hotwire and sister agencies Skywrite and 33 Digital the big change is that from a client perspective, having a digital aspect to campaign work has gone from being 'nice to have' to a must-have. 'We are also seeing more training work.'

This is not to say that all clients have embraced digital. Pam Calvert, MD of Communications Management, says in 2010 'clients weren't so much asking for digital work, we were advocating it'. However, some clients have taken a more progressive attitude, she says, citing the East of England Development Agency as an example: 'We developed a social network for them to create an online community of SMEs.'

Sectors: Which are embracing digital work?

The overwhelming trend in 2010 was for consumer brands to lead the way in terms of digital work. 'Consumer brands are more comfortable engaging directly with their audiences,' says Hotwire's Craigie, who notes that consumer brands also tend to lead the way on experiential work: 'It's something that tends to come quite naturally to them.'

'We always had a good strong level of consumer brand activity and that continued in 2010,' adds MHP's Deshmukh.

Where consumer leads, other sectors follow, and Craigie, Deshmukh and Edelman's Manson all reported an increase in corporate clients requesting digital work.

'Brands that are reaching an audience of businesses aren't just doing b2b work any more - the people they are trying to reach are consumers in their own right,' points out Craigie.

Craigie says there have been exceptions to the increase in demand from corporates, in particular from the financial services sector: 'But even there we have seen gradual movement in the past 12 months from financial services. The first thing brands do online is listen, and that's what financial services brands are doing at the moment. They are starting to listen and trying to understand how their brands are being talked about online.'

The logical next step, he says, is for financial service brands to begin engaging with their target audiences online.

Traditionally the healthcare sector has been the most wary of online and social media, partly because of the vast amounts of regulations to which the sector is subject. But Communications Management's Calvert says some clients in the health arena, in particular NHS organisations, have been embracing digital work.

The future: Predictions for online work in 2011 and beyond

Looking ahead, the demand for online work is only likely to increase as more sectors and clients embrace the medium. Corporates are expected to continue their forays online, as are clients in the healthcare and public affairs sectors.

'I expect to see growth in online work around reputation in the public affairs space. These are interesting times in corporate and public affairs,' says MHP's Deshmukh.

Edelman's Manson expects to see a greater demand for demonstrating the value of online work from clients. Just as the debate around measurement of traditional PR continues, clients will be expecting robust measurement around digital and online work. 'Clients have to deliver,' he says. 'More are asking, how do we show value?'

Manson also expects Facebook to increase in importance. 'A year ago we were talking about Google as proxy for reputation - now we're talking about Facebook on the same level,' he says.

Hotwire's Craigie predicts that this year 'there will be a consolidation of thinking around influencer relations'. He also predicts a greater move towards more integrated campaigns, saying: 'The two trends are interlinked. Thinking about influencer relations makes thinking less siloed.'

Communications Management's Calvert says traditional comms channels will diminish in importance: 'This is good for PROs; it opens up a world of challenges in which clients will need support. PROs are the specialists with the experience to help clients take up these opportunities.'

Rank Consultancy name Online Total PR % total Staff Location
income income PR
in Top 150 2010 2010 income
(pounds (pounds
k) k)
1 9 Engine Group 9,781 22,252 44 195 London
2 12 Grayling* 6,829 17,421 39 228 London
3 32 Hotwire Group 3,493 6,501 54 70 London
4 28 Four Communications 3,123 7,037 45 124 London
5 5 Edelman 2,677 28,777 9 298 London
6 86 We Are Social 2,001 2,001 100 30 London
7 27 Lexis Public 1,780 7,126 25 84 London
8 38 Nelson Bostock 1,674 5,600 30 64 London
9 89 Communications 1,581 1,851 80 24 St Albans
10 24 Exposure 1,329 8,632 15 100 London
11 44 Bite Communications 1,183 4,732 25 53 London
12 33 Brands2Life 1,157 6,386 18 67 London
13 56 Shine Communications 1,095 3,523 31 50 London
14 47 Camargue Group 957 4,553 21 55 London
15 70 Kazoo 915 2,774 33 36 London
16 83 Splendid 828 2,071 40 18 London
17 45 Virgo Health 800 4,718 17 49 Surrey
18 48 Consolidated PR 800 4,081 20 55 London
19 79 Mischief PR 726 2,269 32 34 London
20 92 Focus PR 638 1,823 35 29 London
21 57 Kindred Agency 635 3,496 18 40 London
22 NA Wolfstar Consultancy 630 728 87 11 Leeds
23 22 Tonic Life 628 9,105 7 84 London
24 99 Pinnacle Marketing 598 1,710 35 15 Middlesex
25 51 Octopus Communications 590 3,837 15 38 Windsor
26 126 Wyatt International 566 1,181 48 13 Birmingham
27 80 Brazen 545 2,180 25 27 Manchester
28 71 Pegasus Public 523 2,751 19 37 Worthing
29 42 Freshwater 510 4,945 11 71 Cardiff
30 72 Citypress 495 2,751 18 35 Manchester
31 101 Johnson King 491 1,638 30 25 London
32 113 The Reptile Group 478 1,365 35 18 London
33 61 Waggener Edstrom 464 3,247 14 40 London
34 91 Richmond Towers 458 1,831 25 23 London
35 136 Rostrum Communications 426 969 44 8 London
36 25 Lansons Communications 423 8,283 5 83 London
37 125 Amaze PR 420 1,201 35 15 Manchester
38 103 Bottle PR 403 1,610 25 23 Oxford
39 13 Citigate Dewe Rogerson 400 17,207 2 111 London
40 39 TVC Group 383 5,431 7 42 London
41 62 The Whiteoaks 318 3,184 10 36 Surrey
42 55 Smarts 285 3,535 8 56 Edinburgh
43 74 MC2 285 2,633 11 35 Manchester
44 73 Munro & Forster 282 2,717 7 30 London
45 41 3 Monkeys 261 5,187 5 54 London
46 43 Red Door 243 4,856 5 41 London
47 63 PHA Media 229 3,131 10 30 London
48 87 The Wriglesworth 229 1,908 12 24 London
49 68 Colman Getty 209 2,837 7 35 London
50 NA DTW 196 709 29 10 Cleveland

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