PR Week Global Report Card: Cohn & Wolfe Q&A

What were your agency’s three highlights of the past year?

It’s hard to narrow it down, but I’d have to say that our three biggest highlights were exceeding our budget with double digit growth, advances on the digital front and being ranked as one of Advertising Age’s Best Places to Work

* With regards to our strong business growth, we not only added more than 50 new accounts to our roster, but several of these were million-Euro-plus wins. We now have the pleasure of working with corporate giants such as Sam’s Club, LG Electronics, Kia Motors, Hennessy, Warburtons, North America Properties, Warner Bros Entertainment and

In addition to welcoming these fantastic new clients and more, we also strengthened our partnerships with existing clients, seeing significant organic growth with Smucker, Valvoline, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, 3M, and Solta Medical. Wins were across all practices, but our Consumer and Corporate Affairs were particularly strong in 2011.

* As far as our current focus on digital, one could say that we are currently experiencing a "digital explosion" at Cohn & Wolfe. We’ve always prided ourselves on our digital capabilities, but this year we took our agency’s expertise to a new level and can now say that digital is built into the fabric of Cohn & Wolfe.Digital programming factored into nearly 100% of all our business opportunities this year, and we experienced significant, digitally driven revenue growth in each market.

* In addition to incorporating digital into all campaigns, we also made significant investments in our employees, making over 20-plus hires in senior digital talent.Of course, the highlight I’m truly proud of is our inclusion in Advertising Age’s 2011 Best Places to Work list.

I’ve always known that Cohn & Wolfe is special and we’ve worked hard over the past few years to bring our "Dig Deeper. Imagine More." mantra to life across all our offices. Our efforts definitely paid off, since we had one of the lowest turnover rates in the history of Cohn & Wolfe this year at 16%. And we continue to attract the best talent in the industry due to our strong reputation for powerful client work in the areas of branding, creativity and digital. These new leaders not only solidify our vibrant and creative culture, but also represent an important investment in the short and long-term growth of our agency.

Of which work in the last 12 months were you most proud?

Like proud parents, we are pleased with all the campaigns our talented teams produce, but these three were some of this year’s superstars.

* Our London office put together a fantastic campaign for the DVD launch of the hit film Bridesmaids for Universal Pictures. Our team partnered with artist Alison Jackson to do a royal spoof celebrating the ultimate bridesmaid, Pippa Middleton.  We created a series of three vignettes with stills celebrating Pippa’s role and imagining the behind-the-scenes events at Kate & Will’s wedding. The photos were picked up across UK newspapers, spread like wildfire across the blogosphere and immediately became the most read story on many websites, such as the Daily Star. Besides making significant impressions online and in the press, our efforts contributed to the DVD’s success at the counter, with Bridesmaids finishing with total week 1 sales of 280,665, and a strong week 1 conversion of 1.22%.  Our client, Universal Pictures, is extremely pleased with these results and has high hopes to further deliver strong OTC sales up to Christmas, with lots of marketing activity still to run.  

* Our C&W Sweden team worked on an exciting, and very digitally-focused, campaign for Unibet, one of the largest online gambling operators in the European market.  The client wanted to become a leading player in ‘Soccer Sweden’ and increase betting turnover overall on soccer matches, specifically focusing on increasing Unibet’s gaming revenue in the final of the Champions League by 50 percent compared to 2010.  We teamed up with soccer personality Glenn Hysén to create the "Match Summary in 140 Characters" Twitter campaign. Users submitted the summaries of each match in just 140 characters and the winning tweet got to comment on a live match with Glenn Hysén.  The campaign recently won the prestigious 2011 SPINN Award for ‘Best Social Media Campaign of the Year’.

* Finally, our New York team’s campaign for Buick, the Regal Remix, flipped the script on traditional automotive marketing – and for a very simple reason. It was time.  In 2010, the average age of the Buick owner was 72. While respected for durability and dependability, the brand needed an injection of youthfulness.

Our team created an anti-car show and took the Remix on the road for six exclusive events hosted at trendy venues across the country over a seven-month span, which ensured a continuous buzz throughout the Regal’s rookie season. We also launched Tweet to Drive, where users could set up test drives through Twitter.  The concept was simple. Simply tweet to drive and ambassadors picked you up – anywhere within a 20-mile radius of city center – for a cruise down the highway, a drive home from the airport or an afternoon taco run.

The results of the campaign were momentous. We reached more than 25,000 online customers, and generated hundreds of Tweets and nearly 160 million impressions over the course of the Regal’s launch. More tellingly, Buick is now the fastest-growing major U.S. automotive brand with sales up 57% in 2010. And since January, the average age of the Buick consumer has dropped from 72 to 61.

How has your agency been improving its digital offering in the last 12 months?

Our advances in embedding digital across the agency means we won’t even need a standalone Digital practice in two to three years.  

In 2011, we unveiled major initiatives to grow our C&W digital footprint, starting with the launch of our agency-wide Digital Intelligence Series (DIS). DIS boasts a mandatory 30 course curriculum to train all of our global employees (including "Train the Trainers" sessions) and includes a dedicated portal for 24/7 on-demand access to the digital team for questions.  We introduced new digital tools to the agency, such as procuring the Global Web Index to help our teams dig deeper on global digital and social media trends and behavioral perspectives on brands.

Client demand pushed us to formalise and roll-out 10 new digital services in 2011, including online reputation management and Facebook and Brand Fan Acquisition Strategy. We continue to invest in making sure all of our employees, and clients, have access to cutting-edge digital tools and insights now and in the future.

What are the most effective ways of encouraging more collaborative working across a global network of offices?

One of the biggest misconceptions at companies is that collaboration can be fostered in the form of "lunch ‘n learns" or happy hours. At Cohn & Wolfe, we recognise that this is definitely not the case. Culture and collaboration matters when your alarm goes off and you don’t hit snooze seventeen times. People join Cohn & Wolfe – and stay here – because of our agency’s creative energy, drive to push boundaries and an entrepreneurial spirit that fosters innovation.
We’ve worked hard to ensure that we have multiple ways of offering our employees a way to think and create collaboratively.

For example, all employees participate in Emergenetics, a work-style program that provides clues into how people think and behave. It celebrates all forms of thinking, from structural and analytical to conceptual and social. The program enables our employees to play to their strengths, make better business decisions, communicate more effectively, and helps the agency build stronger, more creative and more productive teams. This past year we also hosted a worldwide Dig Deeper. Imagine More. Day in all our offices – a concentrated global think-session and team-building experience designed to celebrate, reinvigorate and coalesce the research-driven creative firepower of Cohn & Wolfe employees.

Which three offices have been experiencing the greatest growth over the 12 months to July 31 2011 and why?

Although all of our offices have had a great year, the three that stand out the most are our New York, London and Shanghai offices.

Our New York office, which is home to Cohn & Wolfe Group’s world headquarters and our largest office in terms of employees and revenue, has experienced an impressive year in terms of new business growth. Some of the year’s major new client wins were Hennessy, HSBC and Sam’s Club. The New York team saw remarkable organic growth with multiple clients, including Smucker, Valvoline, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, 3M and Solta Medical.

Under Scott Wilson’s leadership (Managing Director, UK), the London office has achieved a remarkable turnaround in 2011. Under Scott’s tremendous direction and vision, employee and client satisfaction survey have increased significantly.  A new business streak landed several major brands in the past year, most notably, an on-line diet and weight loss service from one of the world’s largest retailers.

Other significant wins include being named UK AOR for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, AOR for Drinkaware, the UK’s leading charity for raising awareness about alcohol consumption,  and sizeable project work for leading bread maker Warburton’s.  In addition to new clients and leadership, our London office also gained the prestige of passing the PRCA CMA audit with one of the highest awarded scores this year, an honor that will surely lead to more growth in 2012.

As growth in the Asia-Pacific market continues to be a top priority for our company as a whole, we have been thrilled to see extraordinary growth in our Shanghai office. In both Beijing and Shanghai, Cohn & Wolfe China welcomed multiple new clients this year, including the China International Boat Show, Pfizer, Merck and Quaker Oats.

In November, Cohn & Wolfe acquired impactasia, a mid-sized independent public relations agency with an impressive client list and an established network of offices, including Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. By joining forces, our newly merged organization will triple in size, with a team of more than 80 PR professionals and greater regional and international expertise in consumer, digital, corporate and healthcare.

Donna Imperato is CEO of Cohn & Wolfe Group

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