Top 40 Technology Consultancies 2008: Reaping the rewards

Clare O'Connor speaks to some of the top performers in the Top 40, only one of which is London-based.

CC Group

RANK: 15, TECH FEE INCOME: £ 1,712,446, GROWTH: 10%

The past 12 months have been a 'rollercoaster' for the newly rebranded CC Group, which has seen a ten per cent rise in fee income since the last Top 40 Tech Consultancies' list.

See a table of the Top 40 Tech Consultancies

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The Reading agency, formerly known as CompanyCare, is now positioning itself as the lead consultancy in Europe's B2B wireless market. 'The Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona was a massive success for us,' says managing director Ian McCann.

'We've had some significant blue chip interest in our telecoms heartland and the development of our consumer technology division is continuing apace. The potential in the market is phenomenal - if you have the right offering.'

McCann sees 2008 as a time for the CC Group to move away from media relations and offer broader marcoms support. 'We recognise there are some fundamental changes in the way PR is developing,' he says. 'While media implementation is certainly a strong suit, to focus on pure media relations is to engage in a race to the bottom.'

The agency's location outside of London has certainly not hindered its success in getting on pitch lists against larger agencies. 'Brands2Life, Hotwire, Liberty and Harvard are becoming quite familiar faces during pitch processes,' claims McCann. 'Multinationals are starting to recognise that a specialist, regional consultancy can be a more important consideration than the convenience of a single monthly invoice from a global agency.'

He says a predicted recession would not stop the agency from recruiting, especially at the account executive and account manager level. 'So far, we haven't seen any negative affects of the much-discussed economic downturn on our business, aside from a slight lengthening in sales cycles,' says McCann. 'From a hiring perspective, we're looking to recruit across the board. Frankly, you can't really afford to stop hiring in the tech market at the moment.'

Like other tech agency MDs, McCann sees the mobile market as a booming sector, and one on which CC Group will focus in the year ahead.

'We're keen to grow our presence in consumer tech, mobile and telecoms, and enterprise tech,' he says.

AT A GLANCE
Three best campaigns of 2007 'Taking a bite out of Apple' for Omnifone, a start-up UK mobile music company; AIRCOM International's 'Speak up!'; and 'Creating the goldrush' for Cambridge-based ip.access.

Most significant promotion of 2007 Richard Fogg, who joined us nine years ago, was appointed to the board and now heads the agency's technology business.

Predicted fee income for 2008 Up 15 per cent to £2.5m.

Plans for the next 12 months Taking advantage of increased interest in market engagement initiatives that deal directly with stakeholder audiences.

 

Hotwire
RANK: 2, TECH FEE INCOME: £5,210,510, GROWTH: 15%

It seems that Hotwire can do no wrong. The tech specialist clinched the top awards at PRWeek's 2007 ceremony, being named international consultancy of the year, among other accolades. The awards success was closely followed by news of its £10m acquisition by marcoms group Photon (PRWeek, 8 November 2007), which scooped up Hotwire holding company North by Northwest, alongside Frank PR.

Now in its eighth year, Hotwire has broken the £5m fee income barrier for the first time, thanks to some big name new clients and loyal retainer business. Not bad for an agency founded from MD Kristin Syltevik's own flat in 2000, as the dot.com boom crashed around her.

In 2008, Syltevik sees more organic growth for her agency, which now boasts a staff of 64 - and an offshoot business, conflict arm Skywrite (profile, p27). 'The majority of our new business opportunities come from client referrals, so continuing to do good work for our clients is an absolute priority,' she says of plans for the year ahead. 'Our expertise in social media is attracting everyone from global banks to major consumer brands.'

The next 12 months will see Hotwire offices 'springing up all over Europe,' as Syltevik reveals: 'There are two set to open in Munich and Vienna, and we are also formalising our global partner network.'

Further expansion is not on the cards for the immediate future, but she will not rule it out in the medium term. 'Maybe we'll set up an office in the US one day,' she says. 'We have affiliates across Asia and the Pacific, but we can service the whole of Europe from our own offices. That's a big thing to do in seven years.'

While Hotwire lost social media expert Daljit Bhurji and colleague Ivan Ristic to start-up agency Diffusion in April, Syltevik is optimistic about staff intake, noting that this September will see a new crop of graduates moving into its London offices. 'As ever, we're always on the lookout for great PR skills across all of our practices,' she says. 'We are constantly seeking rising stars in the technology industry, whether they be companies or talent.'

AT A GLANCE
Three best campaigns of 2007 The PRWeek Award-winning NetNames 'Protecting Against Cybersquatters' campaign; online and social media work with FT.com launching its new subscription model; and the global launch of Acision.

Most significant hires of 2007 Ginni Arnold, new UK deputy MD, Drew Benvie, head of digital media, and eight 'young guns' from the 2007 graduate intake.

Predicted fee income for 2008 Declined to say, but 'confident of strong results'.

Plans for the next 12 months Cleantech and interactive practices are big focuses. The agency has set up a 'green taskforce' to minimise its impact on the environment.

Six Degrees
RANK: 19, TECH FEE INCOME: £1,467,188, GROWTH 16%

In the three years since rebranding as Six Degrees, the agency has steadily moved up the league table, with a 16 per cent growth in fee income in 2007. The Marlow-based outfit has managed to retain clients despite the economic climate, which has seen many tech clients opt for project-only business. 'Our first client from 30 years ago is still a client today,' says MD Jennifer Janson.

The tech shop has landed some big name business this year from its Buckinghamshire base, where a team of 16 works in a converted church. Six Degrees supported the launch of the 3 Skypephone, which resulted in an unprecedented two million Google listings and 10,000 blog posts. Perhaps the agency's news savvy has something to do with the hiring of ex-Reuters correspondent Stephen Rowe and ex-BBC News journalist Toby Poston.

Last year also saw a major milestone for the agency as Janson and co-director Mark James completed a management buyout of the company from the founders, Roger and Angela Staton. 'I have been with the company for ten years and have been MD since 2005. Mark has been with the company for 22 years, so we knew what we were buying,' says Janson.

Janson is optimistic about the year ahead, mostly because the agency's expertise in digital is winning over prospective clients. 'We are seeing an increasing recognition of the importance of online communities - and user-generated content in general,' she says. 'The word "viral" is almost a given on any company's wish-list these days. This year is shaping up to be better than last, but we are cautious about the second half of 2008 because of the economy. That said, our new business pipeline is busier than ever and we are being approached by the kinds of companies we like to work for.'

She adds that the agency will take a 'pragmatic approach' to new technology in the year ahead, particularly with web 2.0. 'Having worked with the biggest online brand, Skype, for the past three years, we understand how online communities work - and we understand when it is not the right avenue for a company to explore,' she says. 'Above all, PR is about relationships. And that means dealing with people with respect, professionalism and integrity.'

AT A GLANCE
Three best campaigns of 2007 The 3 Skypephone launch; working with water fundraising programme Blue Planet Run; and the Qtopia Greenphone launch for Norwegian open source software company Trolltech.

Most significant hires of 2007 Ex-BBC news journalist Toby Poston and Hoffman Europe senior global PR expert Lesley Booth.

Predicted fee income for 2008 £1.9m.

Plans for the next 12 months New business pipeline is busier than ever, but 'happy clients need happy staff'. A continued focus on staff development is top of the list.

 

The Whiteoaks Consultancy
RANK: 10, TECH FEE INCOME: £2,365,289, GROWTH 31%

Surrey-based Whiteoaks has had an outstanding year with 31 per cent revenue growth, breaking the £2m mark for the first time. The agency, which works solely in the tech sector, has climbed up from 14th place on PRWeek's Top 40 Tech Consultancies last year to number ten - making it the top ranked agency outside London.

MD James Kelliher and his team have won a new client every two months on average, including Japanese printing outfit OKI, for whom Whiteoaks promoted the sponsorship of Portsmouth Football Club. The agency, with a staff of 33, also secured accounts with big-name tech players Global Crossing and the Computer Sciences Corporation.

Kelliher explains this year's success as a move away from big name, global agencies to savvy specialists. 'We have been speaking to many companies that have historically spent big fees with large London agencies and received little tangible return,' he says. 'While the old school still clings to retainers and no guarantees, savvy buyers of PR services are moving on.'

He adds that the economic uncertainty of 2008 will help Whiteoaks fight off larger agencies for lucrative accounts. 'We believe concerns regarding the global economy will, if anything, make organisations seriously consider investment levels versus return,' he says. 'We guarantee results and deliver tangible return on investment. For us, this is a massive opportunity.'

Other plans for the year ahead include a move out of pure tech and into the built environment and professional services arenas. Kelliher says he and his team will also look to expand the agency's international network, establishing affiliates in emerging markets. Of course, like any tech PR agency worth its salt, Whiteoaks will strengthen its digital offering in the year ahead. 'We will particularly be focusing on new media and non-traditional audience engagement campaigns,' Kelliher confirms.

Another crucial factor heading into 2009 will be ensuring clients are embracing the environment without being seen as 'greenwashing'.

For now, the team is optimistic about the year ahead. Fee income is up 60 per cent over the past two years, and first quarter fee income for 2008 is already ahead of the same period in 2007.

AT A GLANCE
Three best campaigns of 2007 Leveraging architectural software client Autodesk's sponsorship of the RIBA Stirling Prize; promoting OKI Printing; representing clients at the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas.

Most significant hires of 2007 Account director Pauline Gillan from Conder Environmental Services, and account managers Mike Wooles and Samantha Hewitson from IBM and Amarillo Films respectively.

Predicted fee income for 2008 £2.5m.

Plans for next 12 months Strengthening its position in the technology market, and expanding its offering to clients in the built environment.

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