Principals: Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO; Jean-Michel Dumont, chairman, Asia
Offices: Global 12; US New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC; APAC 16
Revenue: Global $74m; US $46.5m; APAC $25m
Headcount: APAC 331
Ruder Finn closed 2015 with flat overall revenue in the U.S. and globally after two consecutive years of double-digit growth. The firm’s CEO Kathy Bloomgarden attributes this to a large global integration assignment coming to an end, which offset a positive new business start to the year. Work with Amgen, a significant win in 2014, ended earlier this year.
Bottom-line growth was stable due to investments in key areas, including expansion of consumer capability in the U.S., the launch of an integrated content offering, and talent acquisition in San Francisco and Asia. Bloomgarden notes that the firm achieved top-line growth across each of its four pillars — corporate reputation and transformation, health and wellness, technology and innovation, and digitally driven consumer connections. Consumer accounted for 12% of the agency’s overall revenue — 30% came from corporate; 35% from healthcare; and 23% from tech.
Business transformation has been a major focus, helping companies to communicate during pivotal moments such as leadership changes or major launches. Additions included Sarah Anderson, who joined as head of U.S. consumer; Elizabeth Lehpamer, SVP of corporate communications; and Stephanie Snow, director of U.K. healthcare.
"The U.K. healthcare team is working globally with the teams in New York and Asia," says Bloomgarden. "That’s an important integration piece in our global culture mindset."
Ruder Finn also rehired Katy Kelley as SVP of global marketing and creative culture and created a video and content team. In March 2016, Louise Harris left after a 16-year stint at the firm.
Account wins included Arria, AstraZeneca, Kenneth Cole, Montblanc, and Pfizer. More than 80% of 2015 revenue came from multinational clients, notes Bloomgarden.
A new trend in 2015 was clients showing interest in efforts that encompass virtual reality. The firm worked with GSK Vaccines on a VR project that highlighted its new campus and aided Nokia with the global launch of its virtual reality camera, OZO.
Ruder Finn acquired the China business of Japan’s Kyodo Public Relations. The firm continues to look for bolt-on acquisitions, says Bloomgarden. And this year, the firm is moving its New York City office to an open plan space to foster deeper collaboration. In 2016, Bloomgarden expects a "good flow" of large-scale, new assignments. "We want to move the field of PR and help people realize that, as our business model changes, we are going to play a more important role to companies as they go through their own changes," she adds.
With Ruder Finn’s average growth across Asia an impressive 16 percent in 2015, Asia chairman, Jean-Michel Dumont says he is cautiously optimistic for this year.
India was particularly successful for the agency, growing by 66 percent with margins that rose 50 percent year-on-year. Dumont notes that the market remains highly competitive where agencies are required to constantly innovate and provide the expertise that clients do not have in-house.
Despite the economic slowdown and uncertainties in government policies in China, Ruder Finn has expanded its portfolio by adding two offices (Thunder Beijing and RFI Shanghai) and one agency (RFI Kyodo with offices in Beijing and Shanghai). China has consistently been a strong market for Ruder Finn.
"We are still very gung-ho in the market. We have the best team, which has been with us on average for 10 years. We are very confident that we will continue our growth," says Dumont.
The agency has continued growth in its primary sectors such as luxury, automotive and healthcare. Dumont notes that they are continuing to work with some big names in the market such as Sephora, Yoox and Porsche.
The agency is also working with young and promising startups that have shown explosive growth such as Grab, HappyFresh, TrustsSphere and PropertyGuru. "It has proven to be really interesting because by working on integrated campaigns we have really achieved great goals and it has built our name in that sector," says Dumont.
He notes the overwhelming move towards the digital space that is reshaping the entire industry and client relationships. Hence Ruder Finn strengthened its position in this area last year.
"We see an immense interest in this area, but the challenge is to create fully integrated communications campaigns – with digital taking a bigger share – while we need to continue to show strength in traditional communications, as well as to show value and how work ties back to the bottom line," says Dumont.
The agency also developed several new products last year. Dumont talks about the importance of the social media crisis simulation platform SONAR that was launched in June 2015. "This adds to the depth and breadth of our comprehensive offering in training and communications solutions," says Dumont.
Showing further commitment to digital, Ruder Finn integrated its online comms and digital services. All divisions are required to enhance their social media skills, which the agency has supported with a training programme.
"At the end of the day, social and digital is also a part of their life now," says Dumont. Ruder Finn is also developing more training systems for c-suite clients in 2016.
Talent acquisition is a key area for Ruder Finn. Dumont says they are on the lookout for young talent, particularly fresh recruits from universities.
"Our brand is generating a lot of interest/buzz so we have no shortage of candidates. However, the industry is changing in front of our eyes and yet we still see people who think a ‘media briefing’ is the answer to every client situation or question.
"Thus we now look in different industries and especially the universities for bright graduates who are more of an open book. We are supported in this endeavour in a well-structured talent acquisition department, which helps our recruitment a lot," says Dumont.
The agency is also developing its proprietary HSI Digital research that focuses on how digitally savvy Heng Seng Index companies are in their communication. Dumont says that they are moving into high value "briefings" for clients in 2016.
In China, the agency has built a national luxury practice, added a public affairs unit, and strengthened its healthcare practice with senior hires in all APAC markets.
Dumont acknowledges that 2016 will be a challenging year but he is confident that they have the resources to prevail. The agency received a flurry of awards with an average of one win every 10 days last year.
Ruder Finn intends to explore new ways to further strengthen and enhance their capabilities and acquisitions for 2016.
"The challenge is to equip ourselves and transform ourselves fast enough for ‘what’s next’. Saying it is always easier than actually delivering it, so we need to really think ahead," concludes Dumont.