As reported this week, GCI Financial CEO Rupert Ashe has stepped
down following the division's integration last week into the wider GCI
From the outside, both events at New Bridge Street House signal an
organisation in flux: Ashe is the second senior PRO to move, following
European MD Alex Mackey's departure last autumn after just eight months
in the post. He left under a cloud - 'by mutual consent' in legalese -
as a prelude to both sides staying quiet on the matter.
And consolidating GCI's finance arm into the main group contrasts
markedly with the company's promise at the end of 2000 to 'rapidly
expand organically through major hires and strategic acquisitions'. As
with other firms in a contracting sector, there have been
Keeping GCI Financial separate from the UK agency - and allowing it to
be seen as distinct through the retention of the GCI Focus name after
that acquisition - can be seen as an attempt to compete on a specialist
basis with market leaders such as Brunswick or Financial Dynamics. The
integration of financial into the wider agency suggests a recognition
that this strategy hasn't worked out as planned - and that competing
with the full-service giants is likely to prove more fruitful.
GCI insists the changes amount to nothing more than sensible management
of assets in difficult conditions; its detractors see it as proof that
GCI, globally or in the UK, has no stomach for creating a presence in
GCI Financial's newly appointed CEO Philip Robinson - he was MD until
Ashe's move - insists 'less than a handful' of fee-earners have been
axed 'on performance or economic grounds. Others who went were support
staff who are effectively replaced by the support staff of GCI UK.'
But some former employees suggested this week that the move was at odds
with the original business plan. 'It was always intended to be
It could just continue this way as a small niche player becoming more
integrated into GCI UK - GCI Financial will effectively cease to exist,'
Robinson says this is nonsense. From an accounting point of view GCI
Financial will remain 'autonomous'. It will retain profit and loss
responsibility and the name will continue. Although he 'would prefer not
to talk about' fee income for the financial team in particular, the
company is, he claims, comfortable with its position.
Before critics dismiss the integration as a well-spun office move, it
should be noted that Robinson stresses the increase in referrals to
follow a closer embedding of the financial PR unit in the UK business.
If this is true now, it was just as true three years ago.
And despite insisting that the new operation will push for
across-the-board financial work, there is an admission ambitions have
been scaled back. 'At the end of 2000, there was a different market,' he
Ashe, who founded what was then Focus Communications in 1991, is not
leaving the company, but will instead work with clients, chase new
business and develop new products. He denies GCI Financial has turned
its back on plc work to concentrate on property and corporate financial
services, although he admits that there was a falling-off in business
'The stock market was dire last year. We did two (IPOs) compared to a
normal six or seven. We shed jobs to maintain the margin.' The client
list, including Advent, Schroders, Prudential and Mitsubishi, is strong,
he claimed. And the agency won a fresh deal with AT&T towards the end of
But one financial PR industry insider says GCI Financial appeared to be
stuck at a headcount of 30 or so: 'One didn't have the impression of a
snowball gathering pace.' Ashe was 'well-rated and charismatic', the
source added, but 'there is the perception that while the front-end was
compelling there wasn't support around him.'
If the agency's UK financial arm has gone through complex change
recently - senior staff moves are surely evidence of this - the wider UK
agency is in apparently rude and growing health.
In the most recent PRWeek Top 150 table, the agency slipped one place to
eighth, but this can largely be attributed to the acquisitiveness of
BSMG that led to it doubling in size. With just two acquisitions -
accounting for less than ten per cent of its overall fee income - GCI
put on 39 per cent in fees. Its overall income, at more than £16m,
puts it within spitting distance of industry giants such as
The global numbers back this up: Combined with PA network APCO, GCI
recorded a 34 per cent jump in global fees to over £100m in the
most recent PRWeek global rankings, keeping it at 11th. Despite being
owned and run by a US-quoted firm, GCI remains in a stronger market
position in the UK than in its home market.
But group CEO Bob Feldman remains upbeat for the global prospects. He
said this week: 'We are optimistic about 2002. We retained 24 of 25 top
worldwide clients in 2001.' He cites new work with Dell and a deal with
General Motors to handle its worldwide internal comms as flagship wins
over the past year. GCI staff will be hoping he's right.