THE TOP 150 PR CONSULTANCIES 2000: Ones to watch - Every sector has its big name stars, but each sector also has its rising stars. Here are PR Week’s tips for tomorrow’s big names, agencies with the potential to make them ..

FULL SERVICE - Fleishman-Hillard (UK)

FULL SERVICE - Fleishman-Hillard (UK)



Fleishman-Hillard has long been a major player in the US market, but its

performance in the UK has been somewhat lacklustre - lurking around the

40s mark in the PR Week Top 150 for some time and not increasing fee

income by a significant amount.



In fact, in September last year, Jack Modzelewski, European president

and chief operating officer admitted to PR Week: ’The management of F-H

is not happy with us in London. We have underperformed compared to the

competition.’



But this year could be the turning point for the Omnicom-owned agency,

with a new MD on board. Paul Blackburn joined this month from Ketchum

and, although it will be his first time managing his own agency, his

past history bodes well. At Ketchum he helped build the healthcare

practice to a pounds 2.5 million-fees-a-year concern from scratch in

only four years.



A raft of senior appointments have been made by F-H in Europe over the

past few months. These include Modzelewski himself, who joined in

January 1999 from F-H’s Chicago office; Matt Fearnley, formerly a

director of Larkspur, who was lured away from an internet venture to

join as a director last year and Grazia Immediato, who came in this year

as a director from hi-tech specialist Copithorne and Bellows (now known

as the Porter Novelli Convergence Group), where she was MD of the French

operation.



Then there is the increase in F-H’s blue-chip client base. Already this

year, F-H has added Nortel and Procter and Gamble to its European client

roster. Finally, there are the planned acquisitions. Money for

acquisitions isn’t what is limiting F-H - it’s finding the companies to

buy. This may be a common problem in the UK PR industry, but don’t

forget that much of Modzelewski’s time since his appointment has been

taken up with looking after the London office while it sought a

replacement for Deborah Saw, who left as managing director in September

last year.



Now that Blackburn has taken the job, Modzelewski can focus on his real

purpose, which is to build F-H in Europe. He has already overseen the

acquisition of healthcare specialist CPR last year, and now has his

sights set on the financial and hi-tech sectors.



Blackburn also has plenty of ideas about the structure of the

business.



With his philosophy that people are the key to success, he plans to

implement a ’participative design’ structure. ’We’re about achieving

objectives and developing the right team to achieve these objectives,’

says Blackburn.



With a new, object-oriented structure, and a fresh young team in place,

Fleishman-Hillman (UK)-watching could prove to be an interesting sport

in 2000.





HI-TECH - Lewis



The working culture at hi-tech specialist Lewis demands an early start

and a late finish from employees. As Chris Lewis, president, CEO and

founder of the agency says, ’If you’re going to have credibility as far

as clients are concerned then you need to work very hard.’



Financially, Lewis says the agency is looking closely at following the

Text 100 route and floating on the stock exchange. The company’s

expansion thus far has been achieved without any form of borrowing.



Lewis believes that the agency’s financial strength is in its lack of

bureaucracy. He also believes that ’whoever’s got the staff can get the

business’, and so to retain people, especially in what he reiterates is

a hard-working environment, it is important to offer them stock options

and other benefit packages.



With offices in London, Munich, Paris and San Diego, Lewis has

positioned itself as an international media relations and marketing

consultancy that specialises in technology companies. Vice-president and

chief financial director Simon Hill has a financial background and is

heavily involved in leading the agency’s overall corporate strategy.

Vice-president of operations Ilona Hitel studied PR and concentrates on

client servicing and looking at international strategy and

expansion.



In terms of technological innovation Lewis is at the forefront. A new

service currently being piloted is the agency’s digital press room. It

will eventually enable journalists, clients and agency employees to

access information - in the form of press cuttings, case studies and

white papers - on a particular client.



Another digital service the agency will be fully launching in the coming

months is Lewis’ virtual press room. When employees come into work every

morning they can download a five minute Realplay video, which briefs

employees on the agency’s client press coverage. Clients will also be

able to access the service.



Lewis also believes that the agency has strong prospects

internationally.



Having offices in Europe and the US ’pays dividends,’ Lewis says, and

offers potential clients a ’centralised service.’ The agency intends to

establish a ’seamless culture across the globe.’ This will enable it to

attract more international business - especially by maintaining the

hi-tech culture as it grows internationally.





CONSUMER - Joe Public Relations



With Joe Public Relations starting the new millennium by winning PR

accounts for Umbro, Ask Jeeves UK, AOL UK, and a number of other dot.com

ventures, the agency is looking likely to have another productive

year.



JPR was set up in August 1998, hived off from the Text 100 group. It is

primarily a consumer PR agency but it also has a number of

business-to-business clients.



Managing director Matthew Wood, and eight others from Text 100 came from

a consumer technology background to set up the agency. ’It is a good mix

of people well versed in consumer PR, married with experience of

dot.coms,’ says Wood. In the short time since its launch the agency has

grown from nine to 35 staff. It entered the Top 150 in its own right

this year, coming straight in at 78, with fee income of pounds

1,178,256.



There are plans to move to new premises in September to accommodate

further expansion. There are also plans to expand internationally and by

setting up branded specialist divisions. Wood says that in the spirit of

Text 100 the agency foresees international expansion, not only through

forming partnerships with overseas affiliates, but also by opening new

offices abroad. A New York office is planned for October and Wood

believes it will go down well. ’There is an ethos of cool in New York

which fits in well with Joe Public Relations,’ says Wood. If the first

international office proves successful then the agency will look at

further expansion in the US over the next five years or so.



Since its launch the agency has acquired a fair share of dot.com

business, not least Amazon’s 1998 launch in the UK. Unlike some other

agencies, Joe Public Relations has no intention of hiving off its

dot.com business into a separate division, because it counts dot.coms

essentially as consumer brands.



The agency has three business-to-business accounts at the moment and, as

it is an area it sees itself as being strong in, there are discussions

underway about creating a separate business-to-business division later

in the year.



One of the strengths of Joe Public Relations is that it is a brand that

has quickly gained a name for itself by word of mouth. In the past it

has been approached by global companies which have heard of the agency

through the grapevine and invited it to pitch.



Schemes in place to keep staff loyal and productive include taking

employees to Barcelona this May. There are also share-option schemes in

place for some staff and rewards for good performance. Wood says it is a

’fun and relaxed place to work that gives people the freedom to play to

their own strengths’.



The agency has displayed a creative edge in an increasingly stunt

fuelled market place with ideas such as its Cristo-style launch of

Orange’s new call centre in Darlington - JPR draped the building with a

200-foot high curtain, which was drawn to unveil the call centre to the

media.



JPR’s consumer work has earned it the accolade of being an innovative

user of PR. It is hoped that this reputation will continue to pull in

new business.





NEW MEDIA - Gnash Communications



The boom in e-commerce clients has lead to the creation of dot.com as a

specialist PR discipline in itself.Of the specialist new media agencies

coming to prominence Gnash Communications stands out as a dynamic

communic-ations agency mixing specialist knowledge and traditional PR

tech-niques.



The agency lists among its clients several major dot.com ventures -

lastminute.com, internet portal Excite UK and First Tuesday the monthly

gathering for e-ntrepreneurs.



Since becoming a limited company in April 1998 Gnash has grown its total

fees to pounds 1 million from 20 clients. Over the next 12 months,

founder Nada Shirley predicts further growth to come from a ’mixture of

organic growth in the UK and through acquisitions abroad.’



At present the agency carries out a mixture of corporate, business to

business and consumer PR, although not financial. This is one key area,

however, where Gnash is looking for growth. ’The speed with which

dot.com ventures can move from funding to IPO make a financial offering

the next logical step,’ says Shirley.



Gnash uses both traditional media relations and, increasingly, viral

internet PR direct to the wired consumer. It is also one of a handful of

UK early adopters accepting shares as part payment from clients,

although the unsettled nature of these shares means the agency has as

much chance as making a loss as a profit off some clients.



The other major growth area for Gnash over the next 12 months will be in

Europe. ’We are currently formalising arrangements with our French

affiliate Eurotandem,’ says Shirley. Clients such as First Tuesday and

LetsBuyIt.com have already handed Gnash the brief to manage their agency

networks on a pan-European basis.



Gnash was set up by founder Shirley together with Nancy Prendergast, a

former freelance FT.com PR manager.



Shirley’s previous professional life in sales at IT Gartner Group gave

her an early insight into the potential of the internet. After a short

spell at a small generalist agency she decided to setup a specialist

agency which would allow her vision of media and technology to collide.

To date, all of the clients on Gnash’s books have come via personal

recommendation.



’At this moment in time we don’t pitch. It is my belief that the

creativity used up on pitches should be kept for clients,’ says

Shirley.



The relationship with First Tuesday, the networking event for new media,

highlights the kind of foresight and opportunism that is keeping Gnash

ahead of the pack. ’It started by me attending meetings and I asked if

they needed someone to help out with the PR,’ says Shirley.



A lot of generalist PR agencies are quickly building their own dot.com

offering, but Gnash has shown enough innovation and determination to

suggest that it will stay ahead of the pack.





LOBBYING - PoliticsDirect.com



There is no shortage of ambition in the offices of PoliticsDirect.com.

’We want to be judged this time next year according to how far we have

delivered services which change the way public affairs is done,’ says

founding director David Beamer.



The former head of home affairs at the Conservative Party research

department has spent the six months since his agency was founded

thinking of ways to change his industry. He has been indulged in this by

the fee-earning mainstream consultancy work of his co-founder John

Arnold, an ex-head of Scottish Labour students whom Beamer met when

working at The Communication Group. Both left last summer to launch what

they consider to be the first dedicated dot.com lobbying shop.



The agency’s foundation was a risk, as both principals were

contractually prevented from bringing clients with them. A respectable

client list has, however, been built up in the intervening six months.

With freelance help when needed, Arnold has serviced accounts for drinks

company Allied Domecq, the Society of Black Lawyers and, unsurprisingly,

a raft of dot.coms.



Plans for the coming year fall into three categories. First, since fees

for the 1999-2000 year are projected to be in the region of pounds

100,000, more off-line consultancy clients will need to be won. This is

certainly the case if the pair are to avoid, as they hope, the need for

external investors to subsidise the technology work.



Second, and as a sign of the forward-thinking which has come to

characterise much of what they do, Arnold and Beamer hope to profit from

owning more than 30 internet domain names. Some, such as hotbook.com or

letsconsult.com just seemed a good investment last autumn and are now

being auctioned off to generate further cash. Others, including the

priceless e-politics.co.uk or e-lobbying.co.uk are earmarked for

specific new business ideas. E-politics is pencilled in for WAP content,

a project Beamer is in the process of putting together.



The content on PoliticsDirect’s web site is free to use. This remains

true even of labour-intensive consultations. Money is expected to come

from a combination of banner advertising, retail sales opportunities on

the site from which they will then get a cut, and ’opening up new

markets which simply do not exist yet’. It is yet to be seen whether

they have misjudged their ability to turn a profit from selling things

they began giving away free. ’As well as offering regular consultancy

and monitoring on-line like most public affairs consultancies, we also

want to prise open new markets for products which only we will be

offering’.



It is too early to align them with the Amazons and Yahoos of the modern

marketplace, but if the market capitalisation tops pounds 1 billion by

April 2001 and commentators praise their vision and skill, remember

where you heard it first.





FINANCIAL - Cubitt Consulting



Cubitt Consulting is an agency that could not have existed even a couple

of years ago. The hybrid of financial and new media PR is a perfect

reflection of the new economy, where the lifecycle of a dot.com from

conception to flotation is a matter of months, rather than years.



The agency has a convincing financial pedigree. It was set up in

December 1998 by Simon Brocklebank-Fowler, who was previously group MD

of Citigate.



His partners are Noga Villalon, formerly director of European investor

relations at Citigate Dewe Rogerson, and Fergus Wylie, who headed

Citigate’s South African operation. Martin Forrest, former director of

hi-tech specialist Banner PR, was brought on board last year to head the

new media arm and Andy Berry joined as a director from Brunswick in

February this year to manage hi-tech IPOs.



The agency’s aims for the coming year are threefold: to continue to

establish a branded position in financial communications to the new

media sector; to crystallise the international network, and to continue

to build its service to ’old economy’ stocks which are in need of new

media communications effectiveness. The agency had fee income of pounds

890,00 in its first year, and the forecast is for pounds 2.1 million for

this year. Internationally, the agency will be hosting a new media

conference for its international partners in the autumn, and

Brocklebank-Fowler says he is looking at a ’joint venture international

office investment in at least one major market’ in the next 12

months.



Brocklebank-Fowler says there are a number of things which are ’slightly

odd’ about Cubitt, but says clients seem to like these oddities.

Firstly, ’we are the only company in the financial PR community which

was set up with the requirements of the new media sector in mind, which

makes us fundamentally different from the old school of financial

agencies.’



In addition, from the day the agency opened for business, it had a fully

functioning global network of 22 affiliates, which had signed up in

advance so Cubitt could hit the ground running. Even as a start-up, a

third of the company’s revenue came from outside the UK.



Clients are a mix of new internet companies, such as incubator

antfactory, and quoted e-businesses like Ci4net.com, as well as more

traditional companies, such as Somerfield and cigarette manufacturer

Gallaher, which are looking at the effect the internet is having on

their business. The agency has also had considerable success in

representing financial institutions across Europe, such as UniCredito

Italiano and Merrill Lynch, and and has undertaken strategic positioning

projects for FTSE 100 companies like internet company Energis.



Cubitt is extremely choosy about who it takes on - Brocklebank-Fowler

even says ’elitist’ - and graduates tend to come from Oxbridge and

Sheffield’s highly-rated multi-media communications course. ’We promise

intellectual and professional stimulation - we want people we can take

to Merrill Lynch and say, ’these are people you might have taken on’,’

he says. The agency now has 20 staff, with an average age of 27, and is

budgeted to have 40 on board by the end of this year.



Cubitt has already been a finalist in the 1999 PR Week Best New

Consultancy awards, and looks set for further gongs as the new economy

establishes itself.



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