The idea that hi-tech PR could be seen as ’traditional’ may be an
oxymoron, but 1999 will be remembered as the year when the definition of
hi-tech, well, lost its definition.
Hi-tech PR benefited the most from the the year of the dot.com, although
there was debate over whether the sector was best placed to
fully-service the new breed of businesses. The need for corporate,
financial and consumer expertise meant that some hi-tech specialist
agencies expanded their remit, and others decided that new media was not
Larger agencies also had to make a decision about which division, or
divisions, were responsible for dot.coms. Dedicated new media divisions
sprung up at a number of agencies, while others include dot.com income
within their hi-tech divisions. As a result, the hi-tech income quoted
in the league is a combination of hi-tech and dot.com, although the
tables show the proportion of income which is derived from dot.com
Already this year there has been consolidation in the industry, as
larger agencies buy in hi-tech expertise to meet the demands of a
booming market: Chime has bought Harvard and Insight Marketing, while
Band and Brown acquired Larkspur.
’Few dot.coms are technology companies,’ says Chris Lewis, president and
CEO of consumer technology specialist Lewis. ’They are merely on-line
shops or services. IT agencies should be wary of taking on too many of
these campaigns as they can often lie outside their core
At Miller Shandwick, its burgeoning dot.com business meant that the
agency had to broaden its skills set. The influx of dot.com clients
helped turn in a 13 per cent increase in fee income. Director Suzanne
O’Leary says: ’During 1999 we morphed into new areas following an influx
of non-traditional IT companies. Dot.com start-ups wanted to launch as
fast as possible, so the time taken to market the product was
A welcome by-product of the dot.com boom was that many agencies were in
a position to cherry pick their clients.
Gill Coomber, board director at Grant Butler Coomber says: ’It was the
first time in my experience where you could sit and choose your
But there was a naivety in the market and some dot.coms were misled by
inexperienced agencies over what could be reasonably expected.’
This spring, a number of established companies were edged out of the
FTSE 100 in favour of new media companies. This was closely followed by
media speculation that the dot.com bubble was close to bursting as the
stock market fell. Blame was laid at the door of dot.coms, such as
Lastminute.com, which raised their share prices to unsustainable levels
prior to flotation.
As for the future, the next round of dot.com launches is likely to be
very different from the first. According to Firefly director Mark
Mellor, established high street names have yet to fully exploit on-line.
’There is room in the market for strong players,’ says Mellor. ’However,
the same rules apply to on-line as anywhere else, you must have a viable
’We’ll be seeing many more traditional names coming on-line,’ agrees
Coomber, whose on-line clients include WH Smith. Coomber believes that
the high street retailer’s long heritage will take some of the weaker
competition out of the market.
Much of the attention over the past year has focused on the shop face -
building web sites. This is particularly true of the small business
community which has become increasingly web-literate. Astonishingly,
only three per cent of all small UK companies last year had any web
presence and this is changing daily.
Large organisations, on the other hand, will devote more of their IT
spend and energy to developing web sites that interact personally with
the individual customer. It seems increasingly likely that the future of
dot.coms as a commercial enterprise lies in the business-to-business
sector, which has not been nearly as exploited as the
business-to-consumer side of the market so far.
Web personalisation, or Customer Relationship Management, to use the
industry jargon, will also be supported by the development and
application of technology that makes web sites work faster - everyone
knows how frustrating it is waiting for information to download.
Last year the top ten hi-tech agencies had total hi-tech and dot.com
fees worth more than pounds 49.5 million compared with pounds 38.2
million in 1998, an increase of 30 per cent. Outside the top ten,
fortunes were more mixed, which suggests that despite the enormous
amount of work from the new media sector, this has not yet had an impact
Agencies such as Beattie Media, Banner PR and GCI UK experienced
tremendous growth, while others, such as Kaizo and Ketchum experienced
drops in fee income. While the reason for dips in fee income will differ
from agency to agency, Banner director Robert Hollier believes agencies
which take a more generalist approach to hi-tech PR will be
’The technology market is very broad and we are entering a phase of
increasing specialisation, which has already happened in the US. Clients
don’t just want you to understand technology, they want you to
understand their technology and for that you need to have a track record
and relevant experience.’
Text 100 had a busy year but it lost its place at the top of the table
to Shandwick, as the full service giant’s hi-tech and dot.com income
grew to 31 per cent of fees. Text is still far and away the biggest pure
hi-tech agency in the league, however. Last summer the agency spun off
August.One Communications into an 80-strong PR consultancy. And in
December, Text 100 successfully floated on the London Stock
Text 100’s managing director, Glen Goldsmith, says he expects the
wireless market will continue to expand as new technologies and sexier
software applications are introduced. Standards such as Wireless
Application Protocol (WAP) and Bluetooth, which enables mobile phones
with the same chip to communicate with each other, are already having an
impact on work in this sector.
’I’m sure it won’t be long before the majority of people are using their
mobile phones in underground stations. Clients in the wireless sector
are already increasing their PR spend in a bid to capture market share,
both in the business and consumer markets,’ says Goldsmith.
In the business arena, now that the Y2K bug is out of the way, companies
are starting to refocus their IT budgets on improving the speed and
efficiency of their networks and e-commerce infrastructures. This could
lead to greater emphasis on improving information-sharing and knowledge
management among employees and stakeholders, particularly among the
large corporations who can reduce costs and in some cases gain hundreds
of thousands of pounds in productivity.
In the home, Goldmsith says he expects that the latter part of 2000, and
certainly early 2001, will see the interactive digital TV revolution
take off. More than three million households in the UK have access to
digital TV and this is forecast to rise. Surveys suggest that there will
be over eight million digital subscribers by 2003 and nearly 20 million
by 2008. DVD and the MP3 games platform also made their mark on the
hi-tech sector during 1999.
All this activity means that hi-tech PR is suffering even more acutely
than other sectors from a shortage of talent.
At Text, Goldsmith said the problem became increasingly strained at the
end of 1999: ’It was a case of the industry believing its own hype,’ he
says. ’Head hunters were offering staff positions that were too good to
be true and in many cases were outside their capability and
Few can deny hi-tech PR is one of the most exciting and dynamic sectors
in PR, but some in the industry fear that hi-tech PR is in danger of
becoming a victim of its own apparent success.
Lewis says: ’Over the past year, the industry has grown at such a rate
that standards have been allowed to drop. This means that a lot of
clients are being overcharged and under serviced by agencies keen to
cash in on the free-flowing money.’
His solution is likely to be too extreme for most - as well as unlikely
in the foreseeable future. ’The IT PR industry needs a recession to
shake the market out a little,’ he says. ’This should hopefully bring to
an end the high prices and low quality that is currently affecting many
clients,’ he says.
TOP HI-TECH CONSULTANCIES: 1-30
Rnk Company UK hi-tech % over- Dot.com UK % Total PR Staff
income all % hi-tech growth income
99 99 income income income
Intl* 8,075,190 31 5 5,948,490 36 26,049,000 349
100 1* 7,524,999 100 10 7,729,446 -3 7,524,999 116
cations* 5,652,082 100 15 4,020,794 41 5,652,082 93
nology 5,314,762 18 7 1,856,431 186 30,026,902 295
wide* 5,225,370 100 - 4,227,779 24 5,225,370 84
6 Hill and
UK* 5,014,999 20 2 3,494,250 44 25,201,000 330
7 Weber PR* 4,053,654 41 7 2,626,269 54 9,886,961 129
wide* 3,060,240 34 8 2,858,826 7 9,000,705 100
Relations 2,895,494 63 - 2,798,720 3 4,596,023 61
Coomber* 2,735,290 95 16 1,689,066 62 2,879,253 54
11 Lewis 2,690,606 100 - 1,789,448 50 2,690,606 47
12 AxiCom 2,443,737 100 - 1,572,289 55 2,443,737 50
cations 2,382,844 100 13 1,333,155 79 2,382,844 43
Media 2,360,000 40 15 206,000 1,046 5,900,000 93
Relations* 2,342,400 48 - 1,473,550 59 4,880,000 63
16 Kaizo* 2,056,250 88 8 2,616,644 -21 2,350,000 43
cations 1,972,092 100 - 1,258,750 57 1,972,092 22
Relations 1,809,088 100 - 1,219,937 48 1,809,088 28
19 Noiseworks 1,804,029 100 - 1,498,464 20 1,804,029 28
20 Band &
cations 1,796,165 60 60 770,431 133 2,993,608 55
Relations 1,781,511 100 - 1,151,260 55 1,781,511 21
Worldwide 1,767,810 18 1 1,540,335 15 9,821,166 108
Novelli* 1,711,682 9 - 1,253,883 37 19,018,694 280
Grp* 1,665,527 43 34 657,068 153 3,873,319 51
cations* 1,601,434 100 - 1,681,013 -5 1,601,434 21
Group* 1,565,350 18 2 1,132,670 38 8,794,100 108
Alliance 1,506,635 100 - 1,354,670 11 1,506,635 19
cations* 1,496,484 82 11 1,127,816 33 1,824,981 38
29 GCI UK* 1,483,424 16 2 593,736 150 9,271,400 167
Relations 1,385,938 100 - 1,391,153 0 1,385,938 28
Assocs* 1,340,751 100 - 938,688 43 1,340,751 14
32 Ketchum* 1,232,907 14 3 1,537,269 -20 8,806,480 143
cations* 1,231,822 70 40 535,782 130 1,759,746 30
cations 1,137,436 100 - 865,135 31 1,137,436 31
teller1* 1,102,590 6 - - - 18,061,000 152
King 1,071,128 100 50 660,419 62 1,071,128 19
cations* 1,011,118 69 11 889,739 14 1,465,389 26
cations 927,181 35 10 280,533 231 2,649,088 36
Lee* 906,570 21 8 606,900 49 4,317,000 60
cations* 885,251 68 20 733,828 21 1,301,839 27
41 EML 882,000 100 - 921,162 -4 882,000 21
Group 864,000 100 - 725,129 19 864,000 20
ancy* 813,539 95 3 619,917 31 856,357 19
Wyllie 804,715 100 95 634,967 27 804,715 24
45 The Red
ancy* 803,154 20 2 457,956 75 4,015,769 77
cations 796,053 100 - 579,837 37 796,053 13
47 QBO* 793,380 21 5 488,880 62 3,778,000 51
48 Warman &
Cambridge* 788,480 77 - 280,805 181 1,024,000 21
Hillard* 721,486 20 5 1,083,958 -33 3,607,429 61
50 ICAS Public
Relations* 697,367 28 3 790,074 -12 2,490,596 46
All figures relate to the year ended 31 December 1999
Fee income= PR fees + mark-up *Denotes PRCA member Hi-tech income 1999
includes income from dot.com clients
1 Burson-Marsteller cannot break down 1998 hi-tech income
1 Shandwick pounds 8,075,190
Shandwick took first place in the league table this year, with hi-tech
growth of 36 per cent. ’There was a lot of new media business out there,
not just dot.coms but infrastructure players and financial organisations
too,’ says Kristin Syltevik, MD and head of Shandwick’s European
technology practice group.
New economy wins included wcities.com, an internet-based global city
guide, but a significant level of new business came from established
technology companies. A number of existing clients increased their spend,
including Open TV. The most significant account loss was MCA Worldcom, as
a result of its amalgamation into its parent.
Shandwick established its interactive PR offering, providing on-line PR,
marketing, brand management, and measurement. It also started building a
joint investor relations and technology PR offering, which is being rolled
out this year.
’We saw a growing need for new economy companies to have a joint
PR agencies are often stepping in at a very early stage in a company’s
development, and they are targeting investor audiences, which is a new
development for the technology industry,’ says Syltevik.
To help drive new economy activities, management consultant Suzanne
O’Leary was hired as a director, and Garry Lockwood also joined as a
director from Brodeur.
2 Text 100 pounds 7,524,999
The figures show that Text 100’s fee income fell by three per cent last
year, but restructuring at the agency makes it difficult to compare
figures like for like. The picture is complicated by the fact that Text
shared its billings with Joe Public Relations for part of 1998. Text 100
created August.One Communications as a spin-off agency last summer to
target a broader range of clients.
Text 100 won a string of high profile new clients, including internet bank
smile.co.uk. In the telecoms sector the agency picked up WAP technology
’The sexier side of the business for us is companies that sit behind the
shop front,’ says UK managing director, Glen Goldsmith. ’These tend to be
very strong financially and to have developed tried and trusted technology
for many thousands of customers.’ Two new clients in this sector were web
site personalisation company Art Technology Group, and server software
company Zeus Technology.
Text also listed on the London Stock Exchange in December, seeing its
price rocket from 170p to 520p before the market settled down this
The agency also moved to new premises in London.
3 Firefly pounds 5,652,082
Firefly’s hi-tech PR income grew by 41 per cent in 1999 as the agency
restructured itself to embrace the new economy. This meant turning down
business from clients that had no sense of what the digital economy could
do for them.
Firefly won several on-line consumer accounts, including Sporting Life,
and search engine AltaVista appointed the agency to co-ordinate a
pan-European PR programme.
Last summer a new office was set up in Glasgow targeting businesses in
Silicon Glen. Existing client Motorola increased its spend with the agency
and ICL gave Firefly more work as it prepared for flotation later this
This February an office was also opened in Paris following a preparatory
period in which French PR programmes were handled from London. Managing
director Claire Walker says Firefly is now working on setting up other
offices in Europe.
Firefly brought in consumer talent and invested heavily in digital media
training for staff. A third generation internet press centre was launched,
as well as an extranet service for clients.
5 Brodeur Worldwide pounds 5,225,370
Fee income at Brodeur rose a healthy 24 per cent in 1999, as the shift
from the old Brodeur A Plus to Brodeur Worldwide started to deliver global
accounts. ’1999 was a seminal year in building the network and building
the brand,’ explains managing director, Stan Woods.
Much of the growth came from existing clients. Nortel Networks doubled its
spend as it repositioned itself as a provider of internet infrastructure,
products and technologies.
A more structured approach was taken to messaging and positioning; media
training was offered to clients and client extranets were developed. The
agency’s design business was also repositioned as an interactive practice,
offering consultancy and implementation. This has helped Brodeur to
develop relationships with small start-up companies.
Brodeur enjoyed success in the smart card sector, picking up Gemplus, the
world’s largest smart card manufacturer, as well as the global
business-to-business account for smart card software developer Mondex
Richard Delevan, formerly head of media relations for BT in the US, was
hired to strengthen the agency’s telecoms expertise.
Ellen Ferrara was recruited from systems integrator EDS where she was
European corporate communications director to help establish an internal
communications practice, while Andrea Burton was appointed to the board
7 Weber pounds 4,053,654
Weber won 11 new retained clients in 1999 as fee income increased by 54
per cent. Of these, seven were internet and e-commerce related, the others
from the telecoms sector. ’Most new business growth was achieved in the
second half of the year when the dot.com phenomenon really took hold in
Europe, and the UK particularly,’ says Weber Europe MD Cathy Pittham.
In the summer, Weber set up an internet division, headed by deputy MD Zoe
Arden, to serve the accounts in that sector. Rather than investing in
high-risk start ups, Weber decided to concentrate on companies which were
either undergoing second round funding or moving towards an IPO.
It also focused on ’old economy’ clients undergoing e-transformations.
’One of the biggest changes last year was that business generated in
Europe was being successfully sold to the US on the strength of good work
done in this market,’ says Pittham.
This year the agency plans to launch a separately-branded practice called
Red Whistle, which will target consumer technology and internet
’This will cater for specialist brands which require dedicated focus on
business-to-consumer audiences,’ says Pittham.
11 Lewis pounds 2,690,606
Technology specialist Lewis grew by 50 per cent during 1999, and CEO Chris
Lewis says this was because the agency had the resources to cope with such
rapid expansion. ’Many agencies turned down a lot more revenue than they
could have taken. We haven’t cut our investment in training over the years
so we had plenty of people to bring on stream.’
Growth was organic from a broad account base of around 60 clients. But
increasing international work from the US and Europe was a major driver of
growth. Wins included e-buisness developer Informix. The development of
web-based services at the agency also had a major impact on fee
Virtual press rooms were created for many clients, giving journalists
instant access to information, and web monitoring and web clippings
services were also set up.
Clive Booth was recruited from Shandwick to spearhead the client services
division, and help grow existing clients, such as internet service
provider Star Internet.
Lewis acknowledges that 1999 is likely to be the last year the agency sees
such dramatic organic growth. He has stated that he is looking to acquire
a financial PR agency, and also to add public affairs to the core hi-tech
offering. There are also plans for a flotation next year, a move that
Lewis believes will aid staff recruitment and retention.
13 Bite Communications pounds 2,382,844
With sparkling fee income growth of 79 per cent, Bite managing director
Clive Armitage describes 1999 as ’Our best year ever’. Indeed the former
Text spin-off climbs up the table eight places.
The agency maintained relations with its string of blue chip clients which
include Apple Computer and BT, while major wins included Thomson Travel’s
Digital Travel Group and project work from Sony Consumer Electronics.
Bite also picked up its fair share of dot.com accounts, including net
engine Lycos and Soccernet.
’A key feature for 1999 was pushing our consumer technology credentials,’
says Armitage, who is keen to keep his agency’s business broad-based.
But the agency also scored some big hits in the business-to-business
In November, Network Associates, the UK’s second-largest software
supplier, put its brand-building account Bite’s way, which resulted in
some work around the ’Love Bug’ virus earlier this year.
In the autumn, Bite established a separately branded new media division
called Bullet led by James Warren, and opened an office in San Francisco,
headed by Judy Wilks. Bite is planning to launch an Asia Pacific office
within the next 12 months.
14 Beattie Media pounds 2,360,000
In April 1999, Beattie Media hired Amanda Groty from Firefly
Communications to launch and manage a new technology division which agency
founder and CEO Gordon Beattie describes as ’successful beyond my wildest
Over the past 15 months this London-based operation has grown from a staff
of three to 30 and now accounts for around a third of Beattie Media’s
total income. Groty, who became a partner in the business in January,
attributes the success to ’a creative, hard-hitting approach’ and the
expertise of the team. She says: ’We have experience outside IT and are
used to working with journalists on GQ and the Sun, which is what many IT
clients want.’ Last spring, Groty brought in Paula Simmons, formerly with
Hill and Knowlton, to head the business-to-business offering, and Claire
Usher from Attenborough Associates to lead the consumer team. Former Music
Week managing editor Tracey Snell has since joined as director of the new
Last year, within weeks of Groty’s arrival, Hewlett-Packard awarded the
agency the bulk of its UK consumer and commercial business. This
relationship has gone from strength to strength, with Beattie gaining
further pan-European consumer work covering HP’s data storage and printing
solutions this year.
16 Kaizo pounds 2,056,250
At first glance, Kaizo would appear to have had a disappointing 1999 with
a drop in hi-tech fee income of 21 per cent. Deputy chief executive Ken
Deeks describes last year as one of ’making changes and putting systems in
place to move forward’.
In March, the two PR arms of The Argyll Consultancies - Arrow and Abacus -
merged to create the Kaizo identity.
Another big step came in November, when Argyll joined OFEX, the off-share
matching and trading market. This was to secure future growth through
sustainable revenues, profit growth and employee motivation.
Last year was also about building greater customer focus into the Kaizo
offering. In June, the agency launched a new methodology known as the
Kaizo Value Integrator, to provide clients with a logical step-by-step
approach to communications planning and delivery.
In January this year, this initiative was boosted by the acquisition of
London-based consultancy The Practice. Lesley Daley, former managing
director of The Practice, is now responsible for establishing best
practice within Kaizo and rolling it out to the rest of the company.
During the year, divisional director Andrea Burton left after five years
with the agency to join Brodeur Worldwide, while former Abacus MD Sally
Costerton was made director of Hill and Knowlton’s technology
21 Banner Public Relations pounds 1,781,511
A 55 per cent increase in fee income represented another very good year
for Banner. ’We took a clear decision last year to really focus on
business-to-business and specialise in that,’ says director Robert
This focus helped the agency win a number of new clients, including GE
Global Exchange Services, part of General Electric. Of existing clients
one that grew significantly was software tools company Inprise, which
expanded Banner’s remit from UK to pan-European PR. Losses included
storage manufacturer Exabyte, while a number of other accounts were
resigned because they were deemed too small.
Ted Lelekas was hired from Brodeur as a divisional director. And a new
consultancy service called Interstorm, which uses structured workshops to
help established companies reposition themselves in the new economy, was
introduced. Last autumn Banner was acquired by global advertising network
Young and Rubicam, allowing it to work more closely with sister company
Burson-Marsteller’s technology division in San Francisco.
35 Burson-Marsteller pounds 1,102,590
Last October, Burson-Marsteller set up an e-commerce and new media
division to boost its pure IT offering and deliver new services for
existing clients and attract new business.
European e-commerce and new media practice leader Jonathan Hargreaves
says: ’We are not purely responding to the growth in internet companies
and dot.coms but looking at the broader picture of how our clients fit
into the new economy.’ This has involved working with existing B-M clients
including Johnson and Johnson and Unilever.
On the IT side, the B-M team has also been working to reposition many of
its clients, including telecoms specialists Alcatel and Qualcomm, whose
corporate division handed B-M its mobile telecoms technology account QCT
As a full-service agency, B-M’s IT and new media teams work across the
business. For the coming year, the agency is developing a number of new
media products including ’on-line polling’ - a way of integrating on-line
and off-line PR.
38 Square Mile Communcations pounds 927,181
’1999 was a quite extraordinary year in terms of the effect the IT sector
had on our income and profitability, and our client base,’ says Square
Mile Communications chairman Tim Jackaman.
This is reflected in the rocketing hi-tech fee income growth of 231 per
cent. Square Mile currently has around 160 clients, of which almost a
third are technology, media and telecoms related. Much of this expansion
has come from the activity around dot.com stock and start-up companies
looking for funding. However, most of Square Mile’s new work has been in
the business-to-business arena for IT infrastructure clients and financial
organisations with a technology twist.
In July, Square Mile bought Fleet Financial Communications, a specialist
in media relations for listed SMEs, and in January 2000, set up a new
consulting division, MC2. Headed by Paul Philpotts, former president of
Ogilvy PR Worldwide, MC2 aims to bridge the gap between financial and
41 EML pounds 882,000
Now in its 13th year of trading, business-to-business hi-tech specialist
EML experienced a four per cent drop in fee income last year. This was
largely the result of terminating its corporate EMEA work for Lucent
Last autumn, after a partnership spanning seven years, both sides decided
that the relationship had run its natural course and parted company.
EML has now picked up accounts from clients that previously it was unable
to approach because of conflict. Specialising exclusively in the
electronics and communications sector, EML acts as the lead agency across
Europe for a number of its clients and such accounts are serviced either
through EML’s informal network of European affiliates or in conjunction
with clients existing local agencies. Director Geoff Boyes says one of the
primary lessons learnt last year is not to be afraid of life after the big
The agency is now concentrating on start-ups and business employee
This year’s rankings have not been compared with 1998 since hi-tech income
now includes dot.coms for the first time. A comparative ranking will
resume next year on the basis of the new criteria
31 companies out of the top 50 had hi-tech fee income growth of more than
30 per cent
Five of the top 50 hi-tech agencies gained more than 30 per cent of their
income from dot.coms
Firefly won several on-line consumer accounts, including yell.com and dot
music. New media network and internet search company AltaVista appointed
the agency to co-ordinate a pan-European PR programme, and another new
media win was UK internet accelerator company eVentures
Weber wins in the new economy sector included internet infrastructure
company AboveNet, global e-business IT and management consultancy AMS, and
internet consultancy Nvision. New telecoms clients included KPN Qwest UK,
a joint venture between Dutch carrier KPN and US company Qwest, and
Tachyon, a company offering internet services through satellite links
Lewis wins included US financial software house Fiserv, and e-buisness
developer Informix Software. Brokat, a Frankfurt-headquartered company
supplying e-business engines for web sites, appointed Lewis to carry out
all UK work, while customer relationship managmeent software company
eLoyalty handed the agency a pan-European brief
Taiwanese PC manufacturer Acer appointed Banner in the UK, while Swedish
on-line specialist EPO.com asked the agency to launch its service in the
UK, France and Scandinavia
Last year Square Mile attracted sit-up.com, a technology convergence
venture set up by three former directors of ONDigital, on-line health site
Healthmedia and internet portal the Rainbow Network
New clients for EML included PMC-Sierra, embedded systems company ANT, and
telecoms operators Eurotel Telecom and First Telecom.