Fischer-Appelt PRWeek Global Agency Business Report 2016

Fischer-Appelt had a strong financial year thanks to the strength of the Germany economy and explosive growth in the Middle East.

Principal: Andreas Fischer-Appelt, CEO
Ownership: Independent
Offices: 7 (6 in Germany, 1 in Qatar)
Revenues: Global $78m (£51m)
Headcount: Global 395 (US 3; Middle East 15; Cont. Europe 377)

When Andreas Fischer-Appelt looks back on 2015, he is satisfied that the agency – which mainly works out of Germany but which has one office in Qatar and small teams in the US and Hong Kong – has had a good year, with six per cent growth across the board for the business.

Aside from the relatively strong economy in Germany at the moment, he points to two key drivers for the growth of the agency during 2015.

He says: "The trend towards digitalisation is a strong driver for us and content marketing is also very strong."

Another key driver of this success is the agency’s office in Doha, Qatar, where growth was more than 50 per cent in the past year alone.

Fischer-Appelt says he thinks this is the shape of things to come for the agency.

He says: "We think there is a lot of growth still to come from Qatar and we think we could develop into one of the top agencies in the country, rather than in Dubai where the PR industry is already well established."

And while the agency’s US team has expanded due to more work from its German clients who are trying to break into America, growth in Doha is entirely driven by local clients.

Looking back on 2015, Fischer-Appelt says one of his highlights was the agency’s acquisition of Atkon, which produces graphic design as well as films. 

"We have bought the strongest player so that was definitely a highlight," he says.

For Fischer-Appelt, the headlong drive towards digitalisation presents challenges as well as opportunities.

He says: "The digital curve is very fast-paced and technology sometimes trumps ideas. It’s the biggest evolutionary step in the sector right now."

The agency chief says the pace of change in this area is such that the traditional agency model could become an irrelevance in as little as three years from now, adding that he regards classical PR as a "niche market".

The other big challenges for the agency, says Fischer-Appelt, are the "commoditisation" of the business and, as always, attracting new clients.

On the subject of the account balance sheet, one significant loss in 2015 was the Technica, after a three-year run with the account. However, on the positive side there were account wins with Beam Suntori, Milka chocolate and Langnese, a leading German ice-cream brand that is a subsidiary of Unilever.

Fischer-Appelt thinks one trend that has emerged in the past year is what he calls the specialisation debate.

He says that while previously PR has used siloed specialists in social media or editorial expertise, that now needs to change.

He adds: "It is important to bring these teams together. We now use integrated teams in political, brand, creative and advertising."

As for the agency’s plans for 2016, Fischer-Appelt says it will play to its growing strength in content marketing by putting "greater emphasis on its offer" in this area.

Other investments in 2016 will be in key senior hires who understand the media landscape, to add to the 50-strong editorial team the agency already has, and in analytics so that it can make use of big data.

He adds: "The important thing is integration and bringing together strong teams that disregard the boundaries."

Fischer-Appelt gives the impression of an agency flexing its wings, both in America, where it already works with partners but hopes to diversify its client base in the coming year, and in Asia.

He says the agency does not have enough staff in the Hong Kong office yet but he hopes to expand the team with work with from its German clients, which include Mercedes Benz.

Looking closer to home – and speaking before the terrorist attacks took place there on 22 March – Fischer-Appelt says he has his eye on Brussels as a route for future European expansion but that this depends on "client-related opportunities" to make it a reality.

In the Middle East, Fischer-Appelt says he will concentrate on expanding the team in Doha, where the agency is already strong, and is not looking to open an office anywhere else in the region.

As for his objectives this year Fischer-Appelt returns to the theme of specialists and says he will reorganise incoming work in order to bring them together on client projects.

He says: "It is all about having the best team possible to help the client as well as to win the pitch. For this, you need to bring together creative, digital, website and PR people together."

This, he thinks, is what the agency of the future will look like because it is more successful at meeting the client’s needs.

He cites b2b companies, which want to get close to the groups they serve but do not wish to spend a lot of money on advertising, as an example of the changing needs of clients.

He says: "People are more open to innovation. This is the change in the market and we will see new players because of this."

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