Hill+Knowlton Strategies EMEA: Agency Business Report 2015

Worldwide growth balances tough economic conditions in Europe for the WPP agency

Lars Erik Gronntun: EMEA CEO and chairman, H&K
Lars Erik Gronntun: EMEA CEO and chairman, H&K

Principals: Jack Martin, global CEO and chairman; Lars Erik Gronntun, EMEA CEO and chairman
Ownership: WPP Group
Offices: 88
Revenue: Global $350m-$450m (£239m-307m); UK £40m (estimated)
Headcount: Global undisclosed; UK 275 UK

Hill+Knowlton Strategies saw revenue across the UK and EMEA vary significantly by country during 2014-15, with some areas proving tougher than others. While most offices met financial expectations, overall revenue for EMEA was up marginally on last year.

According to UK and Europe CEO Lars Erik Gronntun, the agency developed in markets where it has previously been weak; the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Africa all performed strongly, with Germany, Poland and Denmark also seeing growth.

However, he says the Eurozone is now much harder to operate in: "All in all we are happy but following macroeconomic issues in Russia and recessions in other markets, such as the Mediterranean, the past year has been tough." That said, the agency performed well in Spain and Portugal and remains resilient in Greece and France. Gronntun is confident that the agency’s recent opening in Nigeria will generate positive effects this year.

According to Gronntun, visual content is the highest growth area for the firm. To support this H+K acquired digital consultancy Group SJR in New York in 2013.

UK headcount increased by eight per cent, up from 250 in 2013 to 270 in 2014. In London the hiring of Simon Shaw as chief creative officer and Vikki Chowney as director of content and publishing strategies reflect the agency’s key areas of growth.

Gronntun says he will continue to invest in people such as Chowney to work out of London as well as look at further acquisitions. "As we take in new people who are more tech savvy, we are modernising the workforce and making sure we get digital people into every sector," he says.

The agency picked up additional work from Adidas, and now covers its football, running, corporate and brand work across EMEA. Ford, which is led out of London, also expanded its remit with H+K in Europe, along with Shell, LG and Statoil. The agency repitched for retained client Visa and won the European and UK accounts.

New UK clients during 2014 include Bupa, E.ON and GE Oil& Gas. In Russia the agency won online marketplace Alibaba and in the Middle East won Twitter and Uber. No large single accounts were lost in the past year.

As well as new hires, H+K has been upskilling existing talent as part of its development of ‘creative hubs’ – a process started in London that is being rolled out globally by UK chief executive and global chair of creative strategy Richard Millar.

In London, H+K’s BISQIT team, made up of developers, producers, videographers, digital and graphic designers, is now 28-strong.

Alongside this the agency has created a behavioural insights model that is rooted in neuroscience, to understand its clients’ customers better. The model has been developed by Matt Battersby in London and will be taken to the market in Q2.

Millar said: "Historically, a lot of ideas PRs have offered haven’t been truly ownable. We have foc­used on the DNA of the brand as an ownable idea."

To further drive this agenda, H+K is piloting a cultural change programme in the UK in partnership with technology company Hyper Island. The programme looks at tech as a disruptor. "We have got to build a culture that responds to this," Millar says.

The agency has also focused on embedding digital into its core. "A few years ago [digital] used to be segregated, it doesn’t make sense now that there are more integrated, data-based campaigns," Gronntun says. To reflect this H+K has been developing products to offer to clients such as Influence Point, an online advertising portal,and Flight School, an immersive crisis simulation experience.

Return on investment
According to Millar the investments have paid off, particularly in the b2b, energy and financial services sectors, with improved conversion rates in pitches and expanding client relationships (Adidas and Ford).

Germany has also been an area of investment, with the appointment of Robert Belle who joined from FleishmanHillard as director of technology and corporate. A new CEO in Norway, Gaute Engbakk, and creative director Tiago Veiga in Portugal top off an impressive recruitment spree in the past year. In March H+K opened an office in Nigeria, hiring Tokunboh Durosaro as managing director.

Later this year the agency is launching a client advisory board and consulting forum across EMEA, made up of senior experts who can be called on for advice on a specific client or pitch.

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