Cohn & Wolfe: Agency Business Report 2014

Global revenue for Cohn & Wolfe climbed 1.8% last year, while its US revenue was flat.

CEO Donna Imperato
CEO Donna Imperato

Principal: Donna Imperato, CEO
Ownership: WPP
Subsidiary agencies: AxiCom and GCI Health
Offices: Global: 52; US: 13
Revenue: Global: $100 million to $150 million; US: $65 million to $100 million
Headcount: Global: 1,100; US: 550

Global revenue for Cohn & Wolfe climbed 1.8% last year, while its US revenue was flat, compared to 6% in 2012.

"I had higher hopes for a little bit stronger revenue growth, but we had unexpected and large client cuts that contributed to us having to win a lot of new business to get that flat revenue growth," says CEO Donna Imperato. "We added some great new brands, but we were playing catch-up."

Southeast Asia is the firm’s hottest region, as it saw double-digit growth in 2013 and is off to a strong start this year. Key wins in 2013 were 3M, Toyota, and Nestlé, which fill out a client roster that already included Google, Dell, BMW, and Groupon.

The agency had been getting a lot of requests from Asian clients for a presence in the Philippines. This past January, C&W opened a wholly owned office in Manila. The office focuses on technology, consumer, and lifestyle as a platform for local brands and industries looking to leapfrog into the global marketplace through integrated marketing and branding solutions.

"Southeast Asia is a fast-growing part of the world and we are going to be expanding in that region, even beyond the Philippines," adds Imperato. "There’s a good possibility we’ll open in another market this year."

Key hires in Asia
This January, the firm made key hires in the region. Among them was Doug Buemi, who was tapped as vice chairman and regional director for Asia-Pacific. Most recently at Ogilvy, Buemi opened C&W’s Shanghai office in 2006. Marina Leung was brought on as MD and chief branding officer in Greater China.

Practice areas vary across the region with Indonesia doing a lot of corporate work. Digital is integrated across Southeast Asia, but driven mainly out of Singapore. China is handling a lot of consumer, healthcare, travel and leisure, and technology work. 

Healthcare and tech are experiencing the most growth, according to Imperato. The agency works with a number of pharmaceutical companies handling advocacy, public affairs, and product launches.

Client wins in Asia last year included Visa International, Qantas Air, World Wrestling Entertainment, and Takeda. EMEA wins included Mondelez, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, and Bristol-Myers Squibb. About 15% of wins were across three or more countries.

C&W no longer handles Burger King in the UK, nor the Walmart e-commerce business in the US, which went to GolinHarris. The Gulf region is another important area for the firm. Mid-year 2013, it purchased a 40% stake in BPG | pr, which will be renamed BPG | Cohn & Wolfe. Headquartered in Dubai, BPG has additional offices in Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, Doha, Jeddah, and Kuwait, as well as affiliates in Cairo and Muscat. A staff of 34 professionals work with brands including Rolls Royce, Omega, and Visa International. Four former C&W offices in the region now sit with WPP sister firm Grey Group.

Imperato is especially proud of the work the agency did for Nokia around its brand rebuild and Lumia phones, encompassing digital, video, b-to-b, and consumer engagement, as well as corporate work across multiple markets.

"It was very rewarding," she says of the work that won PRWeek’s Consumer Launch Campaign of the Year 2014. "Nokia credited us for helping reinvigorate its brand and driving market share for the product."

Staff departures included Impactasia CEO Susan Field; SVP of digital Jeremy Rosenberg; Germany MD Alfred Jansen; and Los Angeles MD Kazumi Mechling.

Like many CEOs, Imperato notes that finding talented staff is a challenge.

"It’s the bane of my existence," she admits. "We’re all evolving into integrated marketing agencies and need people who understand PESO and how they all work together. There aren’t a lot of people out there who can and there is only so much digital talent out there."

A major focus for Imperato is positioning C&W for a future where integrated offerings will rule the day and win client accounts and envisions a time where the distinction between PR, digital, and marketing will be a thing of the past. She adds that 2014 is looking better and anticipates 4% to 5% global growth.

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