Public sector consultancies 2008 Top 25: Meet the star agencies

Matt Cartmell speaks to four agencies that have enjoyed a successful 2007.

COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT
Rank 6 Income £868,615

Communications Management MD Pam Calvert sums up the Hertfordshire-based agency's individuality simply: 'We're all about finding those sweet spots in the public sector that no-one else has thought of yet.'

These 'sweet spots' have raked in almost £869,000 of central government income for the agency during 2007, placing it at the top of the non-London agencies. Over half of its total income is from the public sector, which equates to 25 of its 55 clients.

The agency has worked on producing offerings in five distinct sectors: education, health, enterprise, workplace and regeneration.

'We were first to market when we launched our education practice,' says Calvert. 'That's why we're such a niche practice.'

The education practice now works for establishments such as Coventry University and Lancaster University Management School.

The healthcare practice is a relatively new string to the agency's bow. Launched in 2007, it is headed by new hire Sandra Phillips, previously the director of comms at the National Patient Safety Agency.

The agency has also opened a new office in Cambridge. New business wins have included BT Better World, Royal Berkshire Foundation Trust Hospital, the Imperial War Museum, the Sector Skills Development Agency and Keele and Hull University. What is more, in 2008 the agency celebrates 20 years of business.

Calvert believes the standard of specific expertise within the agency sets it apart, citing an investment of £30,000 on training and development during 2007 for the 25-strong team. Calvert is also launching a 'consultancy skills academy'.

AT A GLANCE

Three best campaigns of 2007 Royal Shakespeare Company - the 'time for a change' campaign, which focused on improving the quality of teaching Shakespeare in schools; Coventry University Enterprises - an employer engagement campaign; Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust - communicating with the community about the closure of a hospital.

Significant hire of 2007 Sandra Phillips, practice director.

Predicted public sector fee income for 2008 £1m

Plans for the next 12 months Six hires in the next four months. Investigating a new niche relating to local government.


CONSOLIDATED COMMUNICATIONS
Rank 3 Income £1,210,866

Consolidated Communications' managing director Nick Clark knows why public sector work is so important to his agency. 'We get people inspired. There's something very satisfying about public sector work that you don't always get from the commercial sector. It's a motivating sector for people.'

Consolidated made £1.2m out of central government in 2007, which is around 27 per cent of its overall income.

The MD - appointed in May - is proud of the agency's public sector achievements. It is the only agency on both the COI and the Scottish Executive roster, for whom it has carried out hard-hitting campaigns around domestic abuse, fire safety and street prostitution.

The work the agency has done for Learndirect stands out for Clark as particularly satisfying: 'We worked to encourage consumers to make sure their reading, writing and maths skills are fit for every day life. That became a very popular campaign.'

Clark also points to the health campaigns the agency has undertaken, following a successful campaign to promote the HPV vaccination.

He believes one of the reasons for the agency's success is that public sector work is spread across the agency and not stuck with a dedicated public sector division. Although Clark says that 'the people we come up against are the people who are numbers one and two above us', he adds that 'the competition is changing all the time', and now also includes consumer agencies such as Cow.

The key developments Consolidated has its eye on this year are the changes to the COI and Scottish Executive rosters. It also expects there to be more campaigns around education and skills, and the environment.

AT A GLANCE

Three best campaigns of 2007 Learndirect - the literacy skills campaign; Scottish Executive - a hard-hitting campaign about street prostitution; Department of Health - promotion of the HPV vaccine.

Most senior promotion of 2007 Managing director Nick Clark, previously deputy MD.

Predicted public sector fee income for 2008 £1.5m

Plans for the next 12 months More work around learning and skills and the environment, and hopefully inclusion on the COI and Scottish Executive rosters.


GERONIMO COMMUNICATIONS
Rank 1 Income £5,732,510

Geronimo has gone from strength to strength in 2007, pulling in £5.7m of public sector business over the year - more than three times that of its closest competitor.

Geronimo MD Laura Oliphant puts the runaway success down to a 'can-do attitude' for its clients.

'We really focus on over-delivering. When we meet people we don't over-promise, then we go strong on delivery. That goes down well with public sector people - they want to know they will get good results.'

Last year saw the shock exit of CEO Karen Harris, who founded the public sector specialist agency from her front room in 1999. Oliphant has taken over the reins since then.

The agency also saw some high-profile account wins with government bodies such as Becta, which is responsible for encouraging children to learn ICT skills. Also on the education side, the agency promoted the Government's controversial diplomas strategy.

Geronimo handled a campaign to highlight Holocaust Memorial Day called RESPECTacles, where people were asked to send in pairs of glasses to support the cause. 'We received well in excess of 100,000 pairs of glasses,' says Oliphant. 'Daniel Radcliffe gave us a pair.'

The agency also promoted the National Lottery's good causes campaign to highlight the good things lottery funding pays for. The results included images splashed across the news of ballerinas on the Millennium Bridge.

'We used to be known for handling certain kinds of briefs,' admits Oliphant, 'but in 2007 we won some clients that took us into new arenas.'

At the start of 2008, the agency launched a UK strategy, which outlined a series of planned acquisitions, some of which will be announced soon.

The agency will soon be moving to new premises, and it is also strengthening its offering in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

AT A GLANCE

Three best campaigns of 2007 Becta - encouraging young people to take ICT subjects; Holocaust Memorial Day - RESPECTacles campaign; The National Lottery - the good causes campaign.

Significant hires of 2007 Board director Penny Clifton, who joined from Spreckley Partners, and board director Martin Osler, who joined from Osler Media.

Predicted fee income for 2008 £6.4m

Plans for the next 12 months Acquisitions, strengthened offering in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, healthcare accounts.


LONDON COMMUNICATIONS AGENCY
Rank 7 Income £857,038

London Communications Agency (LCA) founder Robert Gordon Clark says it is the agency's 'clear focus' on London-based briefs that has been the secret of its success.

'That means we can cover a number of different sectors, be it learning or health. We also put a lot of work into our intelligence -we really know what's going on in London, and we can apply that intelligence to what our clients want to achieve. And we deliver.'

The agency certainly delivered in 2007, making £857,000 of public sector fees. The figure accounts for 35 per cent of its total income.

In 2007, LCA established itself as a major player in the healthcare market, working in the much-maligned area of changing hospital services, particularly at West Sussex and Enfield Primary Care Trusts.

'We were managing a very hostile media response,' says director Luke Blair, who heads up the healthcare accounts.

Other sources of pride include the agency's handling of the opening of the Lee Valley Athletics Centre in Enfield in January 2007. The centre is one of the most highly regarded in the UK. 'We did one of our best pieces of PR for that,' says Clark. 'We got one of the radio journalists to get into an ice bath. It got more people sending emails about it that any other.'

The agency works for a number of London boroughs including Kensington and Chelsea, for which it handled comms around the proposed opening of a new Catholic school. 'You think you're on the side of the angels,' says Clark, 'but you end up dealing with campaign opposition.'

During 2008 the biggest win for LCA was being reappointed by the Met Police to handle PR around the massive overhaul of all police properties. And for the rest of the year? 'We're keen to work for more boroughs and regional clients and in the field of change management. We hope to be doing more work for London Councils as a group.'

AT A GLANCE

Three best campaigns of 2007 West Sussex PCT - handling change management comms around the closure of a hospital; Lee Valley Athletics Centre - launch of the centre; The London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea - proposed opening of a Catholic school.

Significant hires of 2007 Account manager Kate Fisher from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Predicted fee income for 2008 At least £1m

Plans for the next 12 months More work for London boroughs, more change management, more recruitment.

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