Fishburn: Old PR agencies don't die, they just re-emerge as someone else

When I heard the news, all I could feel was a touch of sadness. The agency that set up in 1990 as Fishburn Hedges Boys Williams, a year after we started Lansons, is dead, writes Tony Langham.

Tony Langham is sad to see Fishburn subsumed by Fleishman Hillard
Tony Langham is sad to see Fishburn subsumed by Fleishman Hillard
Or rather, it’s suffered a fate worse than death, having reduced to Fishburn Hedges and then Fishburn – it will now temporarily exist, zombie like, as the third word of Fleishman Hillard Fishburn – in the agency we all call Fleishman.

I don’t always feel sadness when agencies disappear, it happens all the time. No one feels emotion over the disappearance of Financial Dynamics for example. 

But Fishburn Hedges was different. Over the last 25 years four agencies (or we should say consultancies) have defined the best in British "PR": Brunswick, Fishburn Hedges, Red and Blue Rubicon. 

And Fishburn Hedges was crucial in our industry’s journey from PR to reputation management; from siloed advice to holistic, integrated advice. Created from the wreckage of Valin Pollen, Fishburn Hedges, to borrow a Blue Rubicon phrase, helped teach our industry how to think. 

And everything was beautifully crafted, beginning with their simple launch letter 25 years ago. 

Their strategic ideas were not only good, but they sounded and looked better than everyone else’s. For a decade they rightly swept the industry’s awards before them – and in Neil Hedges they were led by someone who personifies the best in our business.

Our industry needs iconic brands. 

Brunswick has a seat at the global boardroom table that didn’t seem possible before. Red helped us realise we could challenge ad agencies for creative primacy. 

Blue Rubicon, particularly since their acquisition by Teneo, shows that the integration we all talk of – where corporate, reputation, financial and brand advice come together – is already here. 
In the UK, the Fishburn Hedges name carried a lot of kudos. 

So I don’t really understand Omnicom’s thinking in killing off, rather than re-investing in, the Fishburn name.  

Yes Fishburn was too reliant on the public sector when the crash came and yes, it hadn’t made the transition to offer quality financial communication advice, but it wasn’t dead. 

And it was recoverable, even though the last five years have seen it suffer badly.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. 

The British PR skill has been to create agencies from not very much and sell them to international groups for a lot. Then leave and do the same again. 

And the spirit of Fishburn lives on, in places like Headland and creative hot-shop Hope & Glory, but even more at Blue Rubicon where ex-Fishburn director Gordon Tempest-Hay helps steer the ship. Old PR agencies don’t die they just re-emerge as someone else. 

But this morning, like many across the PR and consultancy sector, I just feel a touch of sadness.

Tony Langham is chief executive of Lansons

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