Boosted by hefty government contracts, new blue-chip clients, a global footprint, and a thriving social media practice, Ogilvy PR Worldwide has placed itself in a good position to succeed in 2009. At the beginning of 2008, PR agencies were still optimistic – perhaps overly so – that the still burgeoning economic crisis wouldn't affect their business. Yet, at some point during the third quarter, it became clear that optimism would not be enough to counter the financial crisis and stalling or dwindling marketing budgets.
In spite of this climate, Ogilvy PR Worldwide managed a strong 2008 – both domestically and abroad – a feat that has garnered it praise among industry peers and earned it recognition as PRWeek's Editors' Choice for 2009.
While Ogilvy can be proud of its work this year, it is the firm's inter-national network that will likely make its upcoming years also successful. More and more, multinational clients seek a global presence and a “campaign” mentality found in political operations. Ogilvy's DC headquarters, key strength in Asia, and presence across the globe will make it an attractive choice for existing and potential clients.
One such example of Ogilvy's opportunity occurred when MolsonCoors awarded the agency its corporate AOR business in 2008 because the firm has a “global PR presence adequate for the brewer's plans to expand its market outside of its traditional strongholds,” as PRWeek reported in May.
The firm's incredibly productive year was due in part to retaining key government business, no small feat since it required that the agency participate in competitive pitches.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was one such repeat client, renewing two cancer awareness contracts with the firm that will bring in nearly $6 million for the first year alone.
Ogilvy also won when the National Cancer Institute consolidated to one firm, garnering a five-year contract, with the first year worth nearly $3 million. These accounts are as recession-proof as any can be, given the important nature of healthcare initiatives and President-elect Barack Obama's likely dedication to science and medical research.
Ogilvy was also able to take corporate communications business from competitors, such as Virgin America and SunPower. Additionally, the agency won the marketing communications task for Chevron's “downstream” business, which includes refining, manufacturing, supply, trading, transportation, and lubricants. It is a mid-six-figure account, Gustavo Santoyo, global PR manager for Chevron's downstream business, told PRWeek. The firm also won the global account for ProChile, the trade commission of Chile, this year, and recently expanded work for long-term clients Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Nestlé, Ford, Motorola, and DuPont.
In PRWeek's 2008 Agency Business Report, Ogilvy reported global 2007 revenue between $200 million and $300 million, and its US revenue totaled between $100 million and $200 million, both up about 15%. Its global profit margin was between 20% and 25%, while US profit margin was between 25% and 30%.
One industry expert says Ogilvy has made great strides in recent years to provide a wider range of services.
“Ten years ago, I would have thought of them mostly [for] technology,” the source notes. “[Now] they have a pretty balanced offering and can do almost anything.”
Marcia Silverman continues to lead the firm, which is the largest global PR agency with a woman CEO (although holding company firms have refused to disclose revenues since 2002, citing Sarbanes-Oxley). Silverman has been at Ogilvy for the past 27 years, ascending to the top spot in 2002. She remains influential within the marketing communications industry, having served as Council of PR Firms chair in 2007. She is on the board of directors of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
With offices in nearly 80 cities, Ogilvy is also well prepared for any economic uncertainty by being strong in numerous markets. One industry exec calls it among the best in Asia.
The firm has also earned industry respect and recognition as one of the most forward-thinking agencies in terms of social media and digital communications. Much credit goes to John Bell, MD of Ogilvy's Global 360° Digital Influence Practice, who is also president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. He is considered a thought leader in the space and a prolific speaker on social media trends.
As is the case with many social media devotees, Bell is known for his blog, the Digital Influence Mapping Project. Other influential bloggers at Ogilvy include Rohit Bhargava, Ogilvy 360° SVP, digital strategy and marketing, who blogs at Influential Marketing Blog; and Kaitlyn Wilkins, who writes at the Catch Up Lady blog. Members of the Digital 360° team are also active on Twitter.
Ogilvy also has a deep bench of executive talent: Americas CEO Paul Hicks has been with the firm for many years; New York MD Kate Cronin has helped build out the global healthcare practice; and global tech practice MD Luca Penati is a thought leader on the West Coast.
One industry insider points to its full-service offering, and says that Ogilvy has perfectly married creativity and execution.
The agency is also showing leadership by making its Web site a dynamic destination instead of the traditional static site that firms have historically used. Ogilvy realizes that clients are increasingly judging their potential partners' ability to navigate the digital landscape in part through how the agency presents its own information online.
The newsroom features Ogilvy-themed Flickr, YouTube, and Del.icio.us feeds, and the homepage highlights a list of questions that have clear target audiences: potential clients and potential employees. Questions include “How can you help me strengthen my brand reputation?”, “How do I raise awareness of a new drug therapy?”, and “What is it like to work at Ogilvy?”
As integration continues to be the buzzword in the marketing industry, Ogilvy is well suited to become a true leader in this space, given its relationship with sister agency Ogilvy & Mather. Its consumer practice in particular promotes a “channel-agnostic” approach to its clients' marketing plans.
In praising Ogilvy for having the full package, one industry source says, “It has great service; strong leadership; and a hard-working, straightforward, and diligent culture.”
Though Ketchum is not believed to be Omnicom's largest PR firm, it might be one of the best positioned to survive the economic downturn. While other agencies saw several senior-level exits in 2008, Ketchum's leadership remained consistent and strong, with CEO Ray Kotcher not only at the helm of the agency, but also serving as chairman of The Council of PR Firms. The agency also named senior partner and corporate practice MD Rob Flaherty as president, a position that had been vacant since 2000.
While strong leadership is key, the firm's client list is what makes its outlook for 2009 a positive one, amid a global and industry slowdown. The agency is not weighed down by many clients in the struggling auto and financial sectors. The fact that it works with Chase Card Services, a division of JPMorgan Chase, one of the few banks still thriving in this economy, is a good sign.
Additionally, its long-term client relationships with companies such as Dow Chemical, FedEx, Nokia, Wendy's, and Absolut give an indication of its commitment to client service, an attribute that will be even more vital as companies are faced with the realities of having to cut budgets and perhaps conduct agency reviews.
Ketchum has also paid close attention to growth. In October, it acquired Access Communications, a strategic move that will help the firm achieve a much more significant tech presence on the West Coast. Ketchum's growth has been in the more figurative sense as well — developing a unique media strategy into an official Disruptive PR unit, one that managed to stir lots of buzz and media coverage – albeit with some controversy – for client Dr Pepper in 2008. In the constantly changing media environment, such a strategy will be especially useful to clients, especially those who are under even more pressure to prove ROI amid cuts in marketing spend.
News that Omnicom had plans to cut up to 3,500 jobs overall reportedly haven't affected the firm yet. Though its holding-company status will provide challenges in 2009, its commitment to growth, senior leadership, and innovation leave Ketchum well-poised to take them head on.
Last year's picks
Da Vinci Project (Enfatico)
Reason: Dell's super agency would be closely watched to see if it could succeed where others have failed
What happened: Delayed its March 1 start date. Firm has been tight-lipped so far
Reason: US expansion and Olympic involvement would lead to a groundbreaking year
What happened: Has been quiet as far as big client wins