Weber Shandwick - through the $800m barrier

IPG behemoth outpaces group performance as the firm breaks the $800 million plateau globally

Principals: Andy Polansky, CEO (pictured); Gail Heimann, president and chief strategy officer; and Jack Leslie, chairman
Ownership: Interpublic Group (part of Constituency Management Group)
Subsidiaries: Flipside, Prime, and ReviveHealth
Offices: Global: 76; U.S.: 22
Revenue: Global: more than $800 million; U.S.: more than $500 million
Headcount: Global: 4,700; U.S.: 2,860
U.K. revenue: £47.75 million; Headcount: 310
Asia revenue: $113 million; Headcount: 990

Weber Shandwick continued its good run in 2016 and broke the $800 million revenue milestone globally and the $500 million mark in the U.S.

Holding company Interpublic’s Constituency Management Group, which contains PR firms including Weber and Golin, posted an organic revenue increase of 3.6% in 2016 for the second straight year.

But, for the fourth year running, Weber significantly outstripped group performance, growing 7% organically in 2016 — 10% including acquisitions. This came on top of a 12% organic rise in each of the two years prior and double-digit growth in the 12 months before that. Double-digit growth was achieved in 15 markets around the world in 2016.

Andy Polansky, who is into his fifth year as Weber CEO, notes: "It says a lot about the consistency of our performance, and we continue to take market share from our traditional peer group. We’re also pushing beyond that with the integrated work we’re doing, and that’s been a big growth driver."

Integrated assignments included new clients such as Avocados From Mexico, which started working with Weber on a food services advertising and PR AOR brief in July after a competitive pitch against incumbent Ketchum and two other firms.

GlaxoSmithKline partnered with Weber Shandwick to create The Migraine Experience, which tapped into augmented reality to allow symptoms such as light and sound sensitivity and dizziness. The campaign netted two honorable mentions at the 2017 PRWeek Awards.

In the U.K., Weber was named one of nine lead agencies on pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer healthcare global marketing business roster for the skin health PR category, plus advertising, digital, and content work. Weber’s integrated work for GSK encompasses its Excedrin, Tums, Flonase, and Sensodyne brands, and the firm still does PR work.

"We had a strong year in Europe, growing by high single digits in the U.K. and mid-single digits across the continent," explains Polansky. "We had a particularly strong year in London, Spain, and Sweden through our Prime acquisition."

Strength in subsidiaries
At the end of August, Weber also acquired London-based mobile and digital firm Flipside, which specializes in app development and digital experiences.

"We haven’t seen a short-term impact from Brexit," says Polansky, "but we’re watching that carefully. Whatever happens, we have the scale to hub business out of a number of different markets in Europe."

Weber’s Nashville-based subsidiary ReviveHealth won a marketing, advertising, and PR AOR brief for Vanderbilt University Medical Center last February.

In a year when it reviewed all its PR agency options, iconic automaker General Motors selected Weber Shandwick as Chevrolet AOR, a brand for which it had previously been lead PR firm; Fleishman as U.S. brand communications AOR; M Booth as Buick and GMC PR AOR; and Kovert Creative for Cadillac.

Weber also benefited from being part of the IPG Commonwealth/McCann consortium that won Chevrolet’s social media business in February this year, taking over PR duties from Fleishman.

We're pushing beyond our traditional peer group with the integrated work we are doing

Andy Polansky

Other U.S. wins included a new one-year assignment for the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, won in June after a competitive pitch; a brief for Mattel Hot Wheels; plus work for Takeda, Spec-trum Health, Monsanto, and Nexxus.

"We saw continued strength in our largest markets such as New York City and Chicago, a strong year in Washington, DC, and great growth in the Bay Area, Boston, and Detroit," he explains. DC growth was driven particularly by integrated consumer education programs at Weber’s Powell Tate subsidiary.

Solid growth in Asia
In Asia and EMEA, Weber scored the assignment to promote The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Organizing Committee for the 2020 games.

"We had a particularly strong year in Tokyo," says Polansky. "We had a strong year in Singapore, where we hub a lot of pan-Asian business, the same in Hong Kong. China is still very strong for us, though we had slower growth than previous years." The firm is also seeing more Chinese companies on its roster — they now account for 20% to 25% of the client portfolio.

However, it wasn’t all wine and roses in 2016. Anheuser-Busch InBev replaced Weber and sister IPG firm PMK-BNC on its U.S. corporate reputation work in July and brought back FleishmanHillard. In March this year, Fleishman took on global PR duties for Saudi Aramco. Weber had previously worked with the energy giant on a project basis.

See also: PRWeek's editor-in-chief Steve Barrett talks with CEO Andy Polansky about the agency's prosperous year and what clients are demanding in 2017.

Weber lost the longstanding Electrolux and Frigidaire North America PR account it held since 2004 following a multidiscipline review that saw brand advertising, digital, media, PR, CRM, and in-store marketing work go to a WPP consortium led by VML, with Cohn & Wolfe picking up the PR brief. Weber still works with the appliances company in Europe.

ADP said goodbye to Weber last year, a further long-term relationship that was consolidated under another agency. Work with McCormick also ceased after 10 years, though Weber still works with the spices and herbs company in Canada.

In the U.K., Aldi replaced Weber with Red Consultancy for its consumer PR brief after eight years, though the agency still represents the discount supermarket chain in Scotland, the U.S., and Australia.

Weber was replaced as AOR on the Chobani account by close rival Edelman in March 2017, having worked with the Greek yogurt brand since September 2013.

The IPG firm beefed up its Mediaco practice with new services and external partners and the hiring of Vivian Schiller as editor-in-chief, chair of a new innovation council, and head of the content consulting and publishing unit in North America.

Weber brought on Microsoft account lead and San Francisco GM Wayne Hickey in August from Edelman as senior tech strategist. Earlier in his career, Hickey spent six years in Weber’s Seattle office and founded its digital entertainment practice.

"We saw great organic growth in what we characterize as tech business, such as Qualcomm, Verizon, Motorola, and Ericsson," says Polansky. Brad Williams, president of the firm’s global tech practice and previous San Francisco GM, left Weber in December.

Former General Electric CCO Gary Sheffer joined Weber at the end of February this year as a part-time senior adviser in the agency’s global corporate practice. Paul Jensen’s role was expanded to become president of the agency’s North America corporate practice.

In London, Weber hired Hugh Baillie as head of client experience EMEA, and Alex Vass as EVP of analytics came on from IPG Mediabrands. Overall global staff turnover was in the mid- to high teens.

"We’re still very bullish about our sector, but broadly speaking we’re anticipating slower growth [in 2017]," says Polansky. "We are cautious because whenever there’s uncertainty around the world, macroeconomic headwinds, and political change, it sometimes slows down decision-making."

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