News analysis: 'Sleeping giant' eyes UK growth

As Ogilvy PR Worldwide prepares for the exit of its EMEA chief, Ian Hall asks why the agency remains something of an enigma among the UK PR community.

The location of Ogilvy PR Worldwide's offices in London's Docklands is a metaphor for its outsider status among the UK's top PR consultancies. While Weber Shandwick, Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller et al huddle in close proximity in central London, Ogilvy PR sits high in Canary Wharf, also the home of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather (O&M).

Paul Barber was hired early last year as CEO for the EMEA region. But he will leave this summer to become an executive director at Tottenham Hotspur FC, while remaining as a non-executive board director at O&M.

Rob Shimmin, who has notched up ten years with Ogilvy and holds the title of EMEA managing director, is also leaving this summer (see News, p3). Matthew Anderson, an American who is EMEA and Asia-Pacific chief executive, is to assume UK control.

Though unable to provide figures because of Sarbanes-Oxley, turnover and profits are said to be up at Ogilvy UK on a year ago. The agency has 88 staff, up from just over 50 when Barber joined. The bulk of the growth is accounted for by the absorption of broadcast firm Bulletin International and internal comms outfit Abingdon.

Opportunities in Europe

It is difficult to pin Anderson down on his UK hopes specifically, but he acknowledges that the agency has little presence in public affairs ('there is real room for us in PA - we are very interested in expanding into it') while it is also exploring opportunities in 'brand entertainment'. But he asserts: 'Europe is critical to Ogilvy as a company - we believe it is a growth area. And London is the most important hub in Europe.'

Anderson prefers to stress the cross-border opportunities he is chasing: 'What we are doing internationally is incredibly relevant to the UK. Our future is cross-regional, cross-discipline and cross-practice - that's the way the world is going, we need to go where the client growth is.'

But can the WPP-owned agency - which has clients such as BP, Sony, Rolls-Royce and Novartis - extract itself from the ad agency's maternal bosom? And does it want, or need, to?

Tellingly, Anderson adds: 'I don't want to pick over the same (UK) ground as the other agencies - we are constructing an agency to do things differently than be in six-way pitches for a local publicity campaign.'

Integrated marketing (or, in Ogilvy parlance, '360deg' marketing thinking) is the firm's buzzword, and the group has more than ten different sub-brands to enact this (see box).

Ash Coleman-Smith, who joined four months ago as client services director EMEA, admits there is a lack of awareness as to what Ogilvy stands for: 'Everyone knows Ogilvy but we need to work harder to clarify our offer.' But he adds: 'Integrated marketing is the way the PR industry is going. We can walk into a room and talk about a client's business and its entire comms strategy, not just its PR.'

Similarly, Ogilvy UK marcoms head Kerry Chester points out: 'We have access to creatives and planners that other PR agencies don't necessarily have.'

One rival PR boss acknowledges that the Ogilvy group is structured in a way that genuinely facilitates such group cross-fertilisation, with profit-and-loss (P&L) accounts set up on the basis of country and marcoms discipline. In contrast, the rival points out, many other groups offer no real integration between different marcoms units, despite promises to potential clients, because of 'competing P&Ls'.

Anderson says: 'This motivates people to do what is right for the client rather than feed their narrow interest.'

But it remains the case that Ogilvy is still a relatively unknown quantity in the UK. One CEO of a leading London consumer PR agency says: 'Ogilvy? We never come across them; it's an advertising name, not a PR name. We do not compete with them for clients or staff.'

Warning from history

Ogilvy wants to boost its profile within the PR industry. But one ex-employee remembers previous such attempts: 'About five years ago it wanted to be seen as a big PR company - but it didn't work.' At that time, Ogilvy's UK PR office was shifted out of Canary Wharf to the City. If seen as an attempt to allow it to stand on its own two feet, the move backfired - a retreat to Docklands followed within 18 months.

'Just as it was trying to develop the PR side, it was also pushing the 360deg approach - we were all pitching together,' the former staffer recalls. 'There was a sense that the left hand didn't know what the right was doing - we were told to work more closely with O&M but we had just moved further away.'

The relocation also coincided with the marketing services downturn. Like most agencies, Ogilvy suffered ('WPP really put the squeeze on,' reflects one alumnus). But Chester disputes any negative impact of the move: 'It doesn't matter where we were sitting, we were - and are - always working 360deg .'

Another rival PR boss says: 'I think Ogilvy will end up in a different place to the rest of us - we are all chasing the same business, but Ogilvy is not.'

Barber describes Ogilvy as 'a sleeping giant' (ironically, an expression often used to describe Tottenham). But he acknowledges: 'Ogilvy hasn't communicated well about itself - that is the challenge now.'

Just the task for a PR firm, then.

OGILVY UK COMPANIES

- Ogilvy & Mather - advertising

- Ogilvy PR Worldwide - PR

- Ogilvy Healthworld - pharma comms

- Ogilvy Primary Contact - database mkg

- Ogilvy One direct - marketing

- Ogilvy Interactive - online comms

- Mindshare - media buying/planning

- Ogilvy Interactive Media - website design

- Matthew Poppy Ogilvy - medical marketing

- Coley Porter Bell - design/brand positioning

- QCi consumer - relationship mgmnt

OGILVY PR WORLDWIDE - SENIOR STAFF OVERSEEING LONDON

- Group CEO - Marcia Silverman (based in the US)

- CEO Asia-Pacific/EMEA - Matthew Anderson

- Client services director EMEA - Ash Coleman-Smith

- Corp/tech head - Stephen Clark

- Healthcare head - Philly Jones

- Internal comms head - Michael Frankenburg

- Broadcast head - Chris Foulerton

- Marcoms head - Kerry Chester

- Sports marketing head - Nicola Hyde

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