Most of the agencies in PRWeek's Top 50 consumer consultancies league table experienced fee income growth - some, such as Nelson Bostock, as high as 151 per cent (see profile). Overall, consumer fee income rose by just over 11 per cent for the top 50 consumer agencies, breaking through the £100m barrier for the first time.
There are 13 agencies new to the 2006 table, the highest placed of which is Talk PR (see below).
A quick glance at the top 10 throws up two agencies that the majority of the industry would not instinctively call ‘consumer' agencies: Geronimo Communications and Lansons Communications. The former, which topped the consumer table last year as well, estimates 85 per cent of its fee income comes from consumer-facing work, the majority of it for public sector clients.
Lansons (up one place from last year to eighth) is usually thought of as a financial sector specialist, but joint MD Ian Williams points out about half its income comes from consumer work.
‘Our consumer growth [of 17 per cent] is down to a conscious strategy,' Williams explains. ‘Lansons has built a reputation as the leading agency for financial services, but it's hard to keep squeezing growth from one sector. You have to offer a range of services.'
The agency has managed to get consumer work from existing clients such as online payment service PayPal as well as new ‘pure' consumer accounts such as the findmypast.com group of websites.
Far from being driven by acquisitions or a flurry of new business wins, CEO Raoul Shah claims 80 per cent of Exposure's performance came from existing clients. Key to this has been the agency's US operation, which now includes offices in New York and San Francisco.
Although 2006 was generally a buoyant year for the consumer sector, tighter procurement and recruitment problems have dogged agency chiefs. Shine Communications's MD Rachel Bell says an industry shortage of account managers was heightened last year by a double whammy of agencies competing on price to attract talent, while reducing their commitments on training and development to fund the increased payroll demands - something Bell says is ‘unsustainable'.
As with last year, the majority of the top consumer shops are based in London. The highest-placed agencies outside London are Leeds-based Ptarmigan Consultants at number 15 and EHPR at 16 - although the latter's Home Counties base still puts it within striking distance of central London. Only 11 of the 50 have their HQ outside the capital.
Scotland and Wales' sole representatives are the Glasgow-based BIG Partnership and the acquisitive Freshwater.
Freshwater, which has its HQ in Cardiff, bought consumer lifestyle specialist Trew Relations at the end of 2005, rebranding it Freshwater Consumer. Under CEO Steve Howell it also snapped up London consumer shop Attenborough Saffron this March.
Attenborough Saffron may have dropped its consumer income this year (down 11 per cent to £1.57m), but it is still in the top half of the consumer top 50. Its strong client portfolio (including brands such as Nivea and Morphy Richards) and London base persuaded Freshwater to part with £2m for it, but the agency is expected to lose its name and come under the Freshwater Consumer brand later this year.
BIG Partnership's head of consumer Sarah Bailey says location does not have to be a limiting factor. ‘2006 was a strong year for us,' she says. ‘While we clearly have particular expertise in our home market, the vast majority of our campaigns are UK-wide. We are working on Coors Brewers' Grolsch Green Light District campaign, focusing on key English regions and London, and a North of England campaign for Stones Bitter.'
Another ‘new' agency in this year's top 50 is the recently merged Trimedia Harrison Cowley (THC). January's splicing of Trimedia and Harrison Cowley by parent Huntsworth has created a 149-strong agency with a consumer fee income of just over £5m and total revenues just shy of £11m.
Notable exclusions from this year's consumer table include luxury shop Halpern, food and drink specialist Nexus Communications and Sputnik Communications.
It is worth pointing out that none of the Sarbanes-Oxley-affected agencies that feature in our Top 150 PR consultancies table are featured in the consumer league table. As Sarbanes-Oxley rules preclude some of the UK's biggest agencies from submitting detailed data on fee incomes, they cannot be included in this table. One such agency is WPP-owned Hill & Knowlton.
H&K's head of consumer marketing Richard Millar hints at 2006 being a healthy year for his division. ‘We've had some good wins and have seen growth in the work for present clients,' he says.
Wins include Castrol, Comet and the brief to promote Norwich Union's UK Athletics sponsorship.
Millar adds he has also noticed more multi-disciplinary agencies on consumer pitch lists - sometimes at the expense of boutique consumer shops.
It is perhaps unsurprising for someone from H&K to extol the virtues of a bigger agency, but Millar is adamant ‘clients are looking for expertise that goes beyond one discipline. It is only when you can show you understand the whole business challenge and not just the comms issues that you will get to the top table,' he adds.
But the most obvious shift has been towards the green agenda, which Millar says is something consumer clients have started to pay a lot more attention to.
Rana Reeves, a Jackie Cooper PR stalwart who took up a creative director position at Shine Communications last year, firmly believes this ‘eco trend' will gather pace through 2007. ‘The knock-on effect of this is that PR agencies are increasingly being asked to demonstrate their own eco credentials to existing and new clients.'
NEW ENTRY - TALK PR (9)
Consumer fee income £3.1m
PRWeek caught up with Talk PR CEO Jane Boardman the night after Talk client and carbon neutral airline Silverjet had won the aviation category at the Conde Nast Traveller Innovation and Design Awards. Silverjet has just handed a corporate brief to Talk, boosting the agency’s nascent corporate portfolio. More than 90 per cent of the agency’s portfolio is currently consumer.
The big news for the agency next year is the planned buyout and rebranding of an as-yet-unnamed New York agency, which would give Talk a US foothold.
Boardman, who left Ketchum five years ago to set up Talk, says the agency’s work is split fairly equally between a beauty division, a fashion, luxury and lifestyle division, and a general consumer brands division.
A 2005 fee income of around £2.6m means Talk grew by nearly 20 per cent last year – despite the agency’s split with long-term client the British Fashion Council. Boardman estimates a fifth of 2006’s work came from strategic planning for global campaigns. Although lacking the network of a bigger agency to carry out implementation, clients such as P&G have not baulked at asking Talk to draw up a strategy for a multi-country PR drive.
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