Top 150 PR consultancies 2006: Profiles

Scottish agency The Big Partnership is eyeing opportunities south of the border

EDELMAN (6) - £16,499,796 G 22%
Sixth-placed Edelman is also the number two-ranked independent PR firm. Despite its significant global presence, Edelman is keen to promote itself as a family-run business: launched in the US by Daniel Edelman in 1952, it is now run globally by his son Richard.

In the UK, the agency has three distinct brands - Edelman (covering sectors such as public affairs, corporate affairs and healthcare); consumer agency JCPR (formerly Jackie Cooper PR) and CSR specialist agency, First & 42nd.
 
Edelman's UK operations performed strongly in 2005, with overall fee income up from £13.5m in 2004. Consumer fee income was up 18 per cent with non-consumer fee income up 12 per cent. In addition, 50 per cent of all new business has come from existing clients.

JCPR made significant advances in 2005, one of which was joining the GlaxoSmithKline roster, and working on briefs for Aquafresh, Beecham's and Nytol. It also successfully negotiated Masterfoods' statutory review, where the number of agencies was reduced from three to two: JCPR and Ketchum. The division made a number of senior hires: David Fine, formerly of Freuds and Borkowski, Ross Cathcart, formerly at Weber Shandwick, Dione Morris, ex-GCI and Ketchum and finance director Gurjeet Singh, formerly an analyst at Starbucks.

Other growth areas include healthcare and bioscience led by UK health managing director Mike Kan who now oversees the accounts of Pfizer and Novartis. Technology also performed well, with new work brought in from existing clients such as Microsoft and Orange, and client wins such as CGI. The division was boosted by the appointment of former Weber Shandwick technology director Jonathan Hargreaves as managing director.

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005: Shell's retail business; Arla Foods; internet domain-name manager ICANN.
Three best campaigns in 2005: Get Safe Online; launch of transatlantic   airline, EOS; launch of Brazilian beer, Brahma.
Best hire: Jo Sheldon, strategic media unit director, who joined from CNBC.
Predicted PR fee income for 2006: Up 10 per cent.
Plans for 2006: Seeking work where both Edelman and JCPR teams can be involved, and opening an office in Manchester.


THE BIG PARTNERSHIP (34) - £5,258,303 G 35%
Scotland's largest PR agency the Big Partnership generated strong growth last year, adding another £1.25m of fee income to its £3.9m for 2004. This substantial increase would have led to a top 20 spot without the addition of Sarbanes Oxley-affected companies.

Formed in 2000 by former journalists Neil Gibson, Alex Barr, and Graham Isdale, the agency has recently branched out  into internal communications and contract publishing with the acquisition of Fife-based marketing and communications company Catchline. The purchase expanded the agency's Scottish presence, adding a Fife base to its offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and  Aberdeen.

Barr believes the firm's momentum is set to continue into 2006. In March, this year, the agency recruited Harriet Davies, an account director at John Brown Citrus Publishing. Part of her role is to seek new business wins in the contract publishing industry.

Another aim is to distribute more of the agency's existing consumer PR, crisis management, speech writing and media training work UK-wide. Currently, Big has a long list of Scottish clients including, Scottish Power, and Celtic and Aberdeen football clubs. Barr aims to extend its work to southern audiences - as it has already successfully done with whisky brands The Macallan and Highland Park.

Barr is adamant that as Big grows it will retain its culture, saying: 'We will always have a senior, experienced member of staff working on each account. It might mean we have higher wage costs but it is worth it in the long term.' 

As PRWeek's Top 150 Consultancies went to press, Neil Gibson confirmed that Graham Isdale was due to leave The Big Partnership in April. He declined to comment on his future plans.

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005: The Macallan and Highland Park; Barclays   Bank; Scottish Renewables Forum. 
Three best campaigns in 2005: 'Choose Life' suicide prevention campaign for Scottish Executive; Scottish Power's support for Scottish Athletics; UK-wide campaign for online tyre retailer, blackcircles.com
Best hire of 2005: Sarah Bailey, head of consumer team in Edinburgh.
Predicted fee income for 2006: More than £6m.
Plans for 2006:  Increasing work south of the border.


HOTWIRE (52) - £3,377,103 G 61%
Hotwire PR launched at one of the worst times for a technology specialist: at the start of the dot.com crash of 2000.

Despite this inopportune timing, the agency has grown steadily over the last six years and has even held on to seven of its original ten staff, including founders Kristin Syltevik and operations director Anthony Wilson.

Last year was the company's best year to date, with an impressive 61 per cent rise in fee income. This performance means it drops fewer places than the number of Sarbanes Oxley agencies added - so the agency has more than held its own in 2005.

According to UK regional director Brendon Craigie, a key factor in this success is the increasing crossover between the technology and consumer lifestyle sectors, a trend that has particularly helped its work with client BlackBerry.

Expansion into Europe has also underpinned Hotwire's current financial success. Last year, it opened offices in Madrid and Milan, adding to offices in London, Frankfurt and Paris. Craigie says this expansion is already paying off with a raft of clients, including BlackBerry and Flextronics, opting to use the agency for pan-European campaigns.

During 2005, the agency benefited from a spate of new clients wins, with 13 joining the agency, including enterprise software firms Datanomic and Workshare, and banking software providers Chordiant and ACI Worldwide.

As well as being divided into Europe-wide offices, the agency has six specialist divisions - applications and services, digital media, consumer, telecommunications, enterprise and electronics and, adding in 2005, banking and finance. Craigie says the latter division is one where he expects a significant growth in the coming years. His aim is to win non-technology focused work in this sector. As a sweetener for staff working in the financial sector, he offers a £300-a-year 'well-being allowance'.

But consumer technology remains the core business of Hotwire for 2006, states Craigie, adding: 'Most people now own two or three computers, so tech PR is still an expanding area.'

To ensure one major market is not missed, the agency is also urging clients to look at more effective ways to target women. 'Promotional activity is still too focused at the male market,' he says.

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005: Direct Marketing Association; Information Builders; accountancy software firm MYOB.
Three best campaigns in 2005: Direct Marketing Association; In2Gamesto's Real World Golf computer game campaign; an MYOB campaign to promote its SME-  focused products.
Best hire of 2005: Paul Naphtali, previously at Porter Novelli, as head of consumer technology practice.
Predicted fee income for 2006: £4,430,000, a 31 per cent increase on 2005.
Plans for 2006: Increase banking and finance work and continue growth in consumer technology.


AS BISS & CO (61) - £2,810,937 G 39%
The end of 2005 marked a major transformation for public affairs specialist AS Biss after marcoms group WCRS, (later rebranded as Engine), bought an undisclosed stake in the agency.

This gave agency founder Adele Biss a place on Engine's board and the chance to grow the business's key sectors of corporate and public affairs as well as developing other areas such as finance and healthcare. It also gave the agency the chance to link up with Engine's other businesses, such as consumer and events management shop Slice, in which the group has a 60 per cent stake.

Biss describes 2005 as 'another very good year for the agency', not just because of the move into Engine and raft of new client wins but because  high profile campaigns for existing clients have helped contribute to  organic growth of 35 per cent.

Account win highlights include Nationwide Building Society the England &Wales Cricket Board, UEFA and Wembley National Stadium, the London Development Agency, London 2012 and BT Phone Book.

Its campaigns have included a drive to raise awareness of prostate cancer for Prostate Cancer Charter for Action, during which Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke on the issue. Public affairs work has included lobbying the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Home Office on behalf  of the Society of Ticket Agents and the Concert Promoters' Association to make all touting illegal.

Last year Biss oversaw an influx of senior staff. These include former acting chief executive of the Football Association Nic Coward joining as deputy chairman, and senior consultant roles for former Salvation Army public affairs chief Jonathan Lomax, Conservative House of Lords policy adviser Sophie Fry, and Cancer Research's former public affairs manager Sarah Lee.

AS Biss & Co's commitment to graduate recruitment was cemented with four new recruits joining during the course of 2005, with the same number planned for this year.

Two existing graduates on the scheme, Pamela Learmonth and Nick Laitner, were recently commended at The Independent's Graduate of the Year Awards. Former graduate trainee Sacha Deshmukh was also recently promoted to the role of managing director. When asked about the move to Engine, Deshmukh said: 'It makes it easier for clients if they can get a variety of communications needs from the same place.' 

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005: Nationwide Building Society; Associated Newspapers; National Accident Helpline.
Three best campaigns in 2005: UK Coal on emissions; free ATMs by Nationwide; loud tie campaign for Beating Bowel Cancer.
Best hire of 2005: Graduate recruits: Jo Cole, Sarah Walker, Jennifer Lynch and Kate Riley.
Predicted fee income for 2006: More than £3m.
Plans for 2006: Develop growth of core corporate affairs and public affairs business.


GREEN ISSUES COMMUNICATIONS (64) - £2,765,000 G 34%
Green Issues Communications was launched in Reading in 1998 by managing director Tom Curtin with the aim of handling PR, public affairs and crisis management around planning and consultation matters. Eight years on, it has grown to a 36-strong team with offices in London, Manchester and Cardiff, and later this year, a fifth office will be opened in Newcastle.

This year, the agency finds itself at a Sarbanes Oxley-induced 64th place, a position which masks the firm's high organic growth - on average 30 per cent a year for the past three years, and 33 per cent during 2005 (last year, the agency was at number 41 with a fee income of £2.1m).

Growth has come from existing clients in the areas of parliamentary affairs, stakeholder liaison and land assessment, while new client wins have included four airports (Bristol, Southampton, Liverpool's John Lennon and Luton), and work for Berkeley Group, Barratt Homes and Crest Nicholson.

Curtin says: 'Although we now have a wider selection of clients, offering a variety of services, public affairs remains our core area of business, and the property and regeneration sectors are still the highest areas of growth for us.' He adds: 'When we first launched the agency, public consultations were the exception to the rule; now they are much more widespread and there is a still a lot more work out there for agencies to communicate with stakeholders and communities.'

Although consultations are more plentiful, Curtin also believes his year-on-year increase in fee income is testament to the agency's unusual no retainer policy. 'We only work for clients on a project basis, which they like as it gives the work we do greater transparency. If a building firm can bill a client down to the nearest brick then so should a PR firm for its work,' he says.

To secure further growth, the agency is looking to increase the number of its waste management and retail clients and also to become more involved in major regeneration and planning projects, including work surrounding the London 2012 Olympics. It is also looking to extend its offerings in community consultation, parliamentary affairs and crisis and reputation management.

Curtin adds: 'I see growth in healthcare and education. Issues such as the disposal of NHS property for housing, the building of primary care 'super surgeries' and student accommodation will become big media stories.'

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005: Barratt Homes;  Liverpool John Lennon Airport; SITA.
Three best campaigns in 2005: Crisis management training course for the International Institute of Management Development in Switzerland; East London home development campaign for Barclay  Homes;  planning campaign for a Barratt Homes North London development.
Best hire of 2005: Associate director Kelly Edwards.
Predicted fee income for 2006: £4m.
Plans for 2006: Gain more work in the commercial   development, waste and minerals sectors.

FRANK PR (74) - £2,300,749 G 59%
With long-standing clients such as Brylcreem, Nickelodeon and computer manufacturer Amstrad,  consumer PR specialist Frank PR has established its reputation by providing creative solutions for some of the UK's biggest brands.

And last year the agency added more than £1m worth of new PR fee income - an achievement which proves all the more notable when you factor in Sarbanes Oxley. Frank PR has only fallen five places overall since last year, but in the absence of Sarbanes Oxley consultancies would have risen to 52nd place.

Fee income has grown partly from the agency winning a coveted place on FMCG giant Unilever's roster, which led to work on campaigns for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Sure for Men, Birds Eye Frozen Peas and Ben & Jerry's.

But in addition, Frank picked up work in 2005 from events firm DMG World Media - handling PR for shows including the Autumn Ideal Homes Show and the Ski and Snowboard Show.

Graham Goodkind, the agency's chairman and founder, says: 'We want to find more gaps in the consumer sector. The aim for this year is to attract more clients in travel and leisure, health and beauty, confectionery and consumer technology.'

Goodkind has devised a structure that allows senior staff to concentrate more on the client side rather than focusing on management work. And he is keen to promote ambition among young staff - Goodkind himself was only 28 when he became managing director at Lynne Franks PR. 'If you are good enough then you are old enough,' he argues.

Frank bolstered its ranks in 2005, with notable appointments including Alex Grier, formerly of Shine Communications, who was taken on as an associate director in April.

Staff retention currently stands at 88 per cent, a factor Goodkind attributes to good benefits, including free private healthcare and gym membership, and other more quirky attributes. For example, Frank PR has its own greyhound - Flying Frank - which is regularly raced at Walthamstow Stadium and is described as the 'only dog with a blog'.

In 2005, Frank PR won the PRWeek award for Marketing Communications: Consumer campaign of the year for its work with HP Foods. Its high profile in the consumer sector was also recognised by Marketing magazine, which named it PR Agency of the Year.

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005:  Unilever; Budweiser; 3.
Three best campaigns in 2005:  HP Sauce: 'Brown is the new white'; Nickelodeon: 'Time for a new rhyme';  the launch or printer firm Epson's Picture Mate.
Best hire of 2005:  Former Cohn & Wolfe creative director Frankie Burstin, who joined as deputy MD in April.
Predicted fee income for 2006: More than £3m.
Plans for 2006: Breaking into new consumer markets including, cars, confectionery, health and beauty, travel and leisure and consumer technology.

FRESHWATER UK (91) - £1,641,943 G 100%
Launched from one small office in Wales in 1997, Freshwater UK has since developed into a nationwide network. Last year saw it opened new offices opened in Birmingham and Edinburgh, bringing the overall total to six.

This regional expansion, along with organic growth of 19 per cent, was a major factor in the agency doubling its income during 2005. Freshwater's strong performance is reflected in the firm's rise of 33 places from 124 last year to 91 this year - taking the return of Sarbanes Oxley agencies into account, it is a stunning result.

The Birmingham office, called Birmingham Quantum, was set up after the acquisition of Quantum PR last June, while the Edinburgh office opened last July, following the 2004 purchase of Reekie PR.

And the acquisition train is still rolling. Freshwater has since added London-based consumer specialist Trew Relations (December 2005), technology shop Black and White (March 2006) and more recently, Sheffield-based Kath Harding PR in April.

All of this activity means Freshwater has more than 200 national and regional clients, including Specsavers, Age Concern, retail chain Sweaty Betty and golf tournament The Ryder Cup. Regional clients include No 5 Chambers, the UK's largest barrister chain outside London, with bases in Bristol and Birmingham, and road-safety firm Hill and Smith, for which the agency handles its financial PR.

Last year Freshwater secured a number of new clients including Gamers Cider and Gullivers Theme Parks and increased staff numbers from 21 at the start of 2005 to 47 by the end of the year.

Once the 2006 acquisitions have bedded down, the total number of staff is predicted to be around 65. And to ensure staff retention remains high during this period of change, staff are being offered share options after one year of service.

Despite Freshwater's raft of acquisitions chief executive Steve Howell, who is a former BBC journalist and PRO at Sheffield City Council, says the company has not only 'bought' growth. 'The acquisitions have contributed enormously to the growth in income but, there has been good organic growth too,' he insists.

Howell adds that no further buyouts are planned for this year, and that his main task will be integrating the new operations and promoting their offerings to clients and prospective clients.

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005: PGA; Aston Hotels; Leading Wales Awards.
Three best campaigns in 2005: Promotional work for home furnishings chain Leekes; internal communications for trailer and truck rental firm Hill Hire; an equal pay campaign using the prize money at Wimbledon as a news hook for Amicus.
Best hire of 2005: Edward Carter MD of Birmingham Quantum and Larissa Trew MD of Trew Relations.
Predicted fee income for 2006: 100 per cent growth for the second year running, taking it over the £3m mark.
Plans for 2006: Being listed on AIM.


TAYLOR HERRING (96) - £1,574,780 G 50%
Since its launch in September 2001 Taylor Herring has built a strong track record in the entertainment and celebrity PR sector. On the celebrity side, the agency managed ongoing work for Robbie Williams and Richard & Judy last year, while its entertainment briefs have included Channel Four's film brand 4DVD, which became a retained client this year.

Television has always been a strong focus for the agency, which is now retained by 24 channels, including working  Jamie Oliver TV format distributor Freemantle International Distribution. However, last year it moved further into the consumer brands sector, setting up a dedicated division called Taylor Herring Brand Communications, headed by Justin Crosby. Its clients already include distiller Whyte & Mackay, electronics firm Pioneer and computer games giant Eidos, for which it has been promoting the 10th anniversary of Lara Croft.

Both factors have helped Taylor Herring sustain rapid growth over the last five years with year-on year-growth of 47 per cent and client retention rate of 95 per cent. Taylor Herring's 96th placing this year sees it slip just  three places since last year - this is a major achievement considering the inclusion of the 23 new Sarbanes Oxley-affected companies. MD James Herring says: 'Our expertise in the entertainment and celebrity sectors has given us editor-level contact which we have been able to transfer to the consumer brands sector.'

Herring says he is also keen to diversify into corporate communications and reputation management - in particular, raising the profile of senior company executives. Referring to another of his briefs, for the Sir Alan Sugar-hosted reality TV show, The Apprentice, he says 'we can use format of the programme as a way of educating businesses about how they operate'.

The agency says its strong performance in fee income is increasingly linked with an appealing work environment. Staff benefits include flexible working, sabbaticals, birthday days off and cash rewards for staff who give up smoking or go to the gym. Also, 2005 saw Taylor Herring's first graduate recruitment scheme, with three already taken on.

This year is likely to herald the launch of another arm dedicated to lifestyle clients. In March this year, the agency won a contract with cosmetic and plastic surgery business Europa International and hopes to land more health, beauty and fashion clients.

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005: MTV Networks; The Walt Disney Corporation; Clear Channel.
Three best campaigns in 2005: Raising awareness for broadcaster UKTV; promotion of BBC Two's The Apprentice; promoting Richard & Judy's Book Club.
Best hire of 2005: Alex Farley, financial controller.
Predicted fee income for 2006: At least 24 per cent higher than last year.
Plans for 2006: Expand the brand division and set up a lifestyle specialist arm.
 

LONDON COMMUNICATIONS AGENCY (107) - £1,420,743 G 24%
It is a criticism often levelled at PR agencies that they are obsessed with the capital and believe business stops at the M25. But the London Communications Agency makes a virtue of this idea.

Founded in 1999 by director Jonny Popper and managing director Robert Gordon Clark, the company offers public affairs and media relations but on London issues only.

Popper says: 'We are interested in projects that are of benefit to London. We have no intention of setting up the same model in another area. Even though we are ambitious and want to expand our scope, it will still be within London. We are a regional agency and often have to say "no" to clients who want us to carry out work in other locations.'

That said, the growth rate of London Communications Agency has been 30 per cent year-on-year for the last six years. Only with the admittance of Sarbanes Oxley-affected companies is the company now showing its first fall in ranking.

During 2005 the agency has picked up briefs on weighty issues such as urban regeneration, as well as more popular events such as London's hosting of the first stage of the Tour de France in 2007. In fact, the agency is now focusing its efforts in four main sectors:  property and regeneration, transport, local and regional government and non-departmental agencies.

Beyond 2005, the agency is looking to grow in the healthcare and education sectors and, of course, is looking to sport and culture in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics.

Popper believes the operational quirks of the agency help to attract clients. For example, it still bills clients on an hourly basis even if it is the retained agency. In addition, because it is a London-based agency, it does not charge travel expenses.

The policy must be working. Already during 2006, the agency has picked up work from the Commission for Integrated Transport, which advises transport secretary Alastair Darling on issues such as congestion charging and climate change. Recently the firm also hired its third senior member of staff, director Luke Blair, who previously had stints at Transport for London and Fishburn Hedges.

Refreshingly, Popper says he wants staff to feel they are appreciated just as much as clients. 'We discourage late working. We don't want to see anyone working here until midnight and want our staff to have a good work/life balance.'

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005: Transport for London; First Group; Chelsea FC.
Three best campaigns in 2005: PR for International Olympic Committee's visit to London for client London and Continental Railways; building of residential tower block Vauxhall Tower for client St George; £2bn development of Kings Cross Central on behalf of Argent.
Best hire of 2005: Suzi Lawrence, account manager.
Predicted fee income for 2006: £2m.
Plans for 2006: Recruit new staff and expand into healthcare, education, sport and environment sectors.

WILDCARD(123) - £1,141,546 G 40%
Since launching in 1997, Wildcard has been one of the most successful PR outfits in the niche food sector, counting Laurent-Perrier and Gü Chocolate Puddings among its clients. Agency-founder Kate Wild, an ex-Hill & Knowlton executive, honed her experience working with clients such as Kelloggs, St Ivel Gold and Quorn.

Wildcard, which boasts a £300k gain in fee income on 2004, would have missed the top 100 by just one place but for the Sarbanes-Oxley reinstatements (it was 125th last year).

Today, Wild prefers to describe the agency as having a broader media relations expertise across the lifestyle and consumer sectors. 'The food sector is where we came from and it is the core of our business. But I don't want the agency to be pigeon-holed,' she says.

Wild likes to identify potential clients in the consumer sector, who have previously only had exposure in the trade press. She then pitches the agency as having the expertise to help them make the leap into the nationals. 'We can give clients national contacts that they wouldn't have had access to before,' Wild says.

The strategy has worked, with Wild winning a raft of accounts, including tea brand Twinings and products from the entrepreneurial food market, such as premium cereal bar Dorset Cereals and fine nut specialist Dormens.

Last year the firm branched out into other consumer and events areas with gains including the Times Crème Executive and PA Show and work surrounding the Chelsea Flower Show. This involved promotional activity for client Laurent Perrier, one of the event sponsors.

Account wins have also led to an expanding workforce. It has risen from 25 in 2004 to 36 last year, and includes the hire of Laura Pope, who joined as an account manager from Haygarth. Later this year, the agency plans to hire its first human resources and operations director, freeing up senior management to devote more time to client servicing and business development.

Wild hopes to build on its diverse portfolio for the rest of this year and is wants to bring in more lifestyle brands to join the likes of high-end camera maker Leica and Australian boot manufacturer RM Williams.

Other brands on the agency's roster include Laurent Perrier champagne, Glenfiddich whiskey and the Milk Development Council.

At a glance:

Top three client wins of 2005: Jacksons of Piccadilly; Plum Baby; Sparky Brand.
Three best campaigns in 2005: The Gü-d Life, for Gü Chocolate Puddings; Heart to Heart, a consumer communications  programme for Celery & Beetroot; In the Pink to promote Laurent-Perrier Rosé.
Best hire of 2005: Ruth Allchur, account director.
Predicted fee income for 2006: £1.275m.
Plans for 2006: Develop an in-house training programme, improve human resources function and expand further across the consumer sector.

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