One of the anomalies of the Top 150 is that some of the strongest
brand names in PR do not appear in the league tables in their own
Their lights are hidden, not through modesty, but the more prosaic need
for PR groups to provide consolidated figures that allow for rankings
based on all their PR activities. In some cases, the brands, such as
Shandwick, are much better known to clients than the parent companies in
whose figures they are included, and would significantly change the
shape of the top 50 if they were split out.
So this year, for the first time, PR Week has also looked at the growth
of some of those brands which have ’disappeared’ from the Top 150 as a
result of this consolidation. The Bell Pottinger and Good Relations
brands do not appear in the table below since, under Chime’s structure
last year, all its PR interests were under the Bell Pottinger
The company has now restructured, however, with more defined brands
(family tree, opposite page). The strength of the Good Relations name is
considered to be a huge asset, since it was the first PR consultancy to
be floated on the Stock Exchange, and other Chime businesses have been
clustered around it. It is expected that some of the businesses that do
not already bear the Good Relations tag will eventually be
Some agencies have such clear brand propositions that when they are
acquired by other agencies there is little question of them losing their
Such is the case with Aurelia PR, owned by Freud Communications.
’Our name carries a reputation for promoting premium brands across all
sectors,’ says Aurelia PR managing director Aurelia Cecil. ’There would
have been less point in buying us if Freud had lost the brand name.’
Shandwick UK CEO Philip Dewhurst is another staunch believer in the
value of having separate PR brands within the same group. Shandwick’s
parent group International Public Relations also owns technology
specialist Weber PR Worldwide and Golin/Harris.
’Having competitive brands keeps us on our toes and offers clients a
range of discreet options,’ says Dewhurst. ’If you get too big you get
unwieldy and it leads to complacency.’
Weber, meanwhile, is planning to launch a new internet brand, Red
Whistle, in the second half of this year. Weber Europe MD Cathy Pittham
says IPR believes in the value of strong PR brands. At a local level,
however, she feels that brand strength can be even more important in
attracting staff than clients.
Yet some agencies feel that stretching a brand name to cover new
services is not necessarily appropriate. That was certainly the view
taken by healthcare specialist Shire Hall Group five years ago when it
set up Oxford-based 4D Communications.
A new name was required, explains Shire Hall Group CEO Margot James, to
highlight to clients that Shire Hall had growing expertise in the
medical education sector. This differs from broad-based healthcare PR in
that it entails targeting medical opinion leaders with the aim of
changing practice and generally requires PR practitioners with a strong
medical background. Five years after its creation, 4D Communications
accounts for almost a fifth of Shire Hall’s revenue.
Westminster Strategy is the public affairs arm of Grayling, and chairman
Michael Burrell agrees there is merit in having a separate brand. ’A lot
of potential clients are looking for specialists and it helps them see
you as a specialist if you have a separate brand name.’
Several new PR brands emerged last year, one of which was Text 100’s
spin off, August.One Communications. This income appears as part of Text
100’s in the main table. Text has rolled out new brands before, such as
Joe Public Relations and Bite Communications, which have their own
entries in the Top 150, but what makes August.One interesting is that it
handles twice the amount of UK business as that left under the Text 100
There is a compelling reason as to why the offspring was designed to be
immediately mightier than the progenitor. The digital revolution has
meant that technology now impacts on all areas of commerce and all kinds
of businesses, but many companies that need help dealing with issues
related to the new digital world might consider a pure hi-tech agency to
have too narrow a focus for their interests. The decision was taken to
keep traditional technology clients within the Text brand and create a
new, more broadly focused brand for the communications needs of a wider
array of clients. ’Brands can have enormous power and strength, but they
can also have limitations,’ says August.One MD Tariq Khwaja.
’The classic mistake is to think of your brand as your logo,’ he says.
’It’s much more than that. It’s what you are and what you do.’
But while some groups are building new PR brands, others are culling
them. Euro RSCG-owned Biss Lancaster launched a second-string agency
called Sandpiper four years ago. Recently it was announced that this was
to be brought back into its parent as the Biss Lancaster Health and
WellBeing practice group. Regional PR networks GTPR and Leedex, the
latter of which was acquired in July 1999, have also been merged and
rebranded as Leedex GTPR. Isabel Greenwood, MD of Biss Lancaster and CEO
of Leedex GTPR, says it made sense to rationalise the brand structure
because the market has changed. In the mid-1990s, she argues, clients
were far more concerned about possible conflicts of interest. Today it
is much more important to them to find the ’right flexible environment’
that will offer them the best results.
Understandably, the bigger the agency the greater the opportunity it has
for generating name recognition among clients. This is borne out by PR
Week’s most recent In-House Survey (20 August, 1999) which found that
Shandwick, Hill and Knowlton and Countrywide Porter Novelli were the
three most well-known agency brands. Other agencies to receive a number
of mentions were Citigate, Brunswick, The Red Consultancy, Text 100,
Burson-Marsteller, Fishburn Hedges, Biss Lancaster, Key Communications
and Freud Communications.
’By definition, a PR company is in the business of brand stand-out,’
says Red Consultancy MD Lesley Brend. ’If you can’t make your own brand
stand out then clients should question whether you can do it for
Many in the industry are aware that few agencies have a defined brand
that is recognised in the same way as advertising agencies and
GCI CEO Adrian Wheeler says: ’We’re probably among the most anonymous
sectors in professional business services.’
And Nick DeLuca, MD of GCI’s sister public affairs agency APCO agrees,
arguing that advisers of the ilk of ’Goldman Sachs,
PricewaterhouseCoopers, and McKinsey’ are much more front of mind with
clients than consultancies from the communications and reputation
Wheeler is also chairman of the PRCA, which, at the end of February,
published the Image of PR report, sponsored by evaluation specialist
Echo Research and cuttings company Romeike and Curtice. The report
analysed over 2,500 cuttings about PR from the UK national press last
year and found that leading agency figures such as Matthew Freud, Tim
Bell and Sophie Wessex achieved a high profile, although a lot of the
coverage centred on their private lives.
Matthew Freud is, to some extent, the victim of his own success.
Entrepreneurial acumen has led him to investments outside of PR, such as
stakes in trendy Notting Hill restaurant Pharmacy and e-commerce
start-up Toyzone. It has also propelled him into the Sunday Times Rich
’High profile names give you awareness and profile,’ says QBO MD Trevor
Morris. ’But the danger is that you may get defined in the wrong
Success of this order triggers envy as much as approbation. There was
evident glee in the alacrity with which certain newspapers slammed
Brunswick for over-hyping the credentials of the Millennium Dome’s
putative saviour Pierre-Yves Gerbeau when he was parachuted in as chief
A new wave of PR agencies is mirroring the trend in the advertising and
marketing world, where start-ups like Circus, Farm and the Foundation
have thought more carefully about their branding than the old generation
of companies which bore their founders’ names.
The increasingly global nature of communications is raising questions of
brand consistency for those consultancies that have a presence in more
than one market. Issues such as staff training and development have to
be addressed to ensure that agency culture does not vary markedly from
one office to the next.
’Brands are the encapsulation of a certain set of values and procedures
and should be a guarantee of quality. The common name is simply the
cherry on the cake. You’ve got to get the cake right and the icing on
top of it first,’ says Brodeur Worldwide director of corporate
development EMEA Jonathan Simnett.
It’s a point that the two biggest PR companies in the UK, Bell Pottinger
Communications and International Public Relations, must be keeping in
mind as they continue to streamline the branding within their groups of
THE HIDDEN BRANDS
Company/Location Fee income (pounds) Turnover 99 Staff Clients
99 98 (pounds) 99 98 99 98
Shandwick Intl/ 26,049,000 23,342,000 35,539,000 359 321 435 415
Weber PR W’wide/ 9,886,961 10,786,202 11,979,608 129 140 143 185
GCI UK/London 9,271,400 7,421,700 14,561,500 130 128 144 130
CGI London/London 2,665,000 2,391,217 5,148,000 34 33 20 29
APCO/London 2,200,200 1,750,700 3,138,992 37 29 32 28
Relations/London 1,673,819 1,342,306 2,163,461 31 25 24 25
As the consolidation in the PR industry has continued apace over the
past couple of years, the top end of the Top 150 has increasingly been
dominated by groups of companies rather than individual consultancies.
For example, Shandwick and Weber, now both part of International Public
Relations, the PR arm of marketing services giant Interpublic, have not
appeared in the league tables in their own right for a couple of
This non-ranked - and not comprehensive - table shows the fee income of
some of the agencies which are strong brands in their own right, and
whose parent companies were prepared to show the performance of their
progeny. All of the consultancies would have achieved respectable
positions if they were split out in the main table.
It is no surprise that Shandwick - in itself a cluster of specialist
service groups - is at the top of the table by some distance. Its fee
income of more than pounds 26 million for 1999 was 12 per cent up on
Shandwick’s sister agency Weber - another mini-group within IPR - came
second, although fee income was down by nine per cent on 1998. Although
the company grew in most of its divisions, the fee income was hit by a
restructuring of its financial business.
The UK offices of GCI and APCO, which appear together in the main table,
both had a good year. GCI’s income went up by a healthy 25 per cent to
pounds 9.3 million, and public affairs arm APCO was up 26 per cent to
pounds 2.2 million.
CGI London, part of Biss Lancaster, came in with pounds 2.7 million of
fee income in its own right during 1999, up 11 per cent. This left the
fee income brought in by Biss Lancaster and its regional network Leedex
GTPR as just over pounds 7 million.
Aurelia Public Relations, the subsidiary of Freud Communications, had
growth of 25 per cent in 1999, taking fee income to pounds 1.7 million.
Fee income for Freud Communications alone was just over pounds 5