Waggener Edstrom: Agency Business Report 2013

CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin says she was "satisfied and pleased with where 2012 took us," despite the fact her firm "came up short on financial metrics."

Principal: Melissa Waggener Zorkin, president and CEO
Ownership: Independent
Subsidiary agency: Patzer PR, Germany
Offices: Global: 20 wholly owned; US: 8
Revenue: Global: $118,462,000; US: $101,352,000
Headcount: Global: 939; US: 682

CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin says she was “satisfied and pleased with where 2012 took us,” despite the fact her firm “came up short on financial metrics.”

Global growth in 2012 was 2.3%, down from 3.5% the prior year – with 58% organic growth and 42% via new business from sources such as lynchpin client Microsoft, the newly divided pharmaceutical companies Abbott and AbbVie, and project work for L'Oréal Paris.

Waggener Edstrom's top three regions for organic growth were India, Hong Kong, and South Africa. Asia-Pacific revenue grew 29%. Similar to 2011, year-over-year growth in the US was just 0.8%, although it remained the agency's highest-performing region in terms of revenue and profit margin.

In 2012, the agency acquired healthcare specialist Patzer PR in Germany, spearheading growth in EMEA of 6%. The firm also formalized investment in Seoul-based integrated marcomms unit Shout Communications Korea.

“We've found capable partners who fit well with us and share our vision,” says Zorkin, adding that the agency can now work in 88 markets through its Global Alliance Network. “As an independent firm, we can be nimble and we've made a few investments in integrated marketing,” she says. “People are being asked to know so much about integration that the agency has to develop them in that way.”

One unexpected development in late 2012 was the departure of WE subsidiary Maloney & Fox cofounders and co-CEOs Brian Maloney and Margie Fox. Both went to Ogilvy PR to become MDs of the WPP agency's US consumer marketing practice. Maloney & Fox had lost its Tupperware global AOR account in March last year. It also lost Brooks Sports, while WE no longer works with the agency's LinkedIn or William Grant clients.

WE subsequently folded the Maloney & Fox brand, which it acquired in 2003, into the main agency. “We regrouped, took a lot of their talent, and brought it into Waggener Edstrom,” explains Zorkin.

Other senior staff to leave in 2012 included Jennifer Houston, president of the firm's Studio D digital group, and SVPs Kent Hollenbeck, Jean-Louis Robadey, Hannah Coan, Joe Farren, and Alison Schwartz.

The agency hired 225 new people in 2012 across diverse skill sets, ranging from advertising to anthropology, including SVPs Ben Finzel and Alexa Rudin.

Zorkin says young talent want to make a difference and the agency's policy of donating 1% of revenue to give people a chance to volunteer is attractive from a recruitment point of view. “We will continue with this despite the financial impact,” she adds.

Q1 2013 has been good for new business and further acquisition is on the horizon, says Zorkin: “We will see a higher growth percentage in 2013-14, but we never do it for growth's sake. We always invest to grow.”

She insists the agency fiercely cherishes its independence and will not be acquired. “I never say never,” adds Zorkin, “but I'm saying never on this one.”

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