Burson-Marsteller EMEA: Agency Business Report 2015

It has been a bumpy road but the WPP agency has rolled with it as the Middle East and Africa make up for Euro wobbles

Jeremy Galbraith: CEO, EMEA, Burson-Marsteller
Jeremy Galbraith: CEO, EMEA, Burson-Marsteller

Principal: Jeremy Galbraith, chief operating officer, EMEA
Ownership: WPP
Offices: Global 31; UK 1
Revenues: Undisclosed
Headcount: Global undisclosed; UK 100

Burson-Marsteller’s year in the EMEA region could be described as something of the ‘curate’s egg’: good in parts.

The agency has been going from strength to strength in Africa where, says Jeremy Galbraith, chief operating officer EMEA for BM, it is now the "number one network" having introduced the brand into 31 markets across the continent.

Galbraith also describes BM as the "number one agency" in the Middle East as of last year and both of these developments are reasons for celebration.

However, the picture in Europe is patchier, as BM attempts to buck the trend of depressed economies across this region, including France, which Galbraith describes as "very challenging" with an overall market that is down 10 per cent.

The picture for the UK last year was "pretty flat" but he expects growth to return this year. Despite the Eurozone downturn, Galbraith says BM has done a little better than the industry average and that revenues are down by less than 10 per cent in France.

Brussels also proved to be a headache with a change in the European Commission last year meaning that the legislative programme – BM’s bread and butter in the country – dried up.

The good news for the agency in Europe is that some markets – perhaps counter-intuitively including Spain and Italy – are performing well, while both Norway and the Netherlands have had a "very successful" year.

Asked what the highlights were for the previous year, Galbraith points to a series of award-winning campaigns, including a bronze Cannes Lion for Travel and Leisure for its Klaus-Heidi Lufthansa campaign.

Part of the campaign was a prize of a year living in a Berlin apartment. All entrants had to do was change their name to Klaus-Heidi by deed poll. Amazingly, 40 people did so.

Galbraith also highlights the ‘Sin Riders’ campaign for Brewers of Spain emphasising its anti-drunk driving message by enlisting six leather-clad Harley Davidson riders to stop at 30 Spanish cities and promote non-alcoholic beer. BM estimates that 34 million people across Spain were reached with the campaign, which also garnered 175 news items and more than 100,000 views on YouTube.

However, Galbraith is clear that the European economy has been the biggest challenge to the agency in the past year.

He says: "The Euro crisis has not gone away. The economy in the Eurozone has been the biggest challenge in terms of clients either cutting budgets or delaying spend; that’s really the most significant challenge we face."

But, far from battening down the hatches, BM has come out swinging with Galbraith describing his mood for the coming year as "pretty bullish" and adding that the agency has already exceeded revenue targets for the first quarter, leading it to increase its forecast for the year overall.

He also describes a plethora of new hires – the highlights of which include Nikolaj Buchardt as chief executive of BM Denmark and Alexander Fink as chief executive of BM Germany – as having made "a real difference to the business".

Notable losses for BM in the past year include the German software firm SAP as well as HP, but these are balanced by wins including Aldi, Vodafone and the International Boxing Federation, AIBA.

Trends to watch
Galbraith identifies several trends that have had a growing impact on how the agency does business.

Among these, Galbraith specifies integrated comms as the thing clients require from agencies along with understanding the ‘power of mobile’.

He also cites ‘personalisation’ as both an expectation among consumers and an opportunity for agencies. He says: "If you want to talk to people interested in football or you’re interested in talking to women between the ages of 22 and 30, you can do all of this stuff in a way that you could never have done cost-effectively before the advent of social media."

But he says he is exhorting senior staff across the region to avoid the "natural tendency" to hire people in their own image. Instead, he wants them to bring in people "you wouldn’t expect to meet at Burson" who bring with them a new way of thinking, creative ideas and digital expertise.

He says: "That for me is a priority in terms of continuing to modernise as a firm. We want to continue to run award-winning campaigns and we want to bring in more top talent, as we did last year."

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