Weber Shandwick EMEA: Agency Business Report 2015

Weber Shandwick won the World Cup in a year of growth and investment

Colin Byrne: EMEA CEO, Weber Shandwick
Colin Byrne: EMEA CEO, Weber Shandwick

Principals: Andy Polansky, global CEO; Colin Byrne, EMEA CEO
Ownership: Interpublic Group
Office: Global 76; UK 7
Revenue: Global undisclosed; UK undisclosed
Headcount: Global 4,000 (estimated); UK 350 (estimated)

Weber Shandwick does not provide its figures to PRWeek, citing restrictions imposed by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This means there is an element of guesswork involved, but PRWeek, the PRCA and accountants Kingston Smith W1 estimate the agency experienced growth of around five per cent in the UK in 2014.

WS’ EMEA CEO Colin Byrne confirms: "2014 as a whole was good both in London, where around 80 per cent of our UK revenue sits, and in the regions [Manchester, Scotland and Northern Ireland]. The regions in fact grew faster, which reflects the vibrancy of the PR business in those locations."

Byrne says with the exception of pharma marketing, all practice areas saw revenues increase. Big wins for the agency included FIFA, which has taken the agency on to manage comms around the 2018 Russia World Cup. The brief also includes work on the controversial Qatar tournament in 2022. WS picked up work for Bang & Olufsen, Guide Dogs for the Blind and Wickes.

Organic growth was strong in 2014. Byrne says 35 of WS’  top 40 clients in London now use more than one of the agency’s practice areas. "We saw big growth from GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association), which runs Mobile World Congress. It had been a small client but extended its work last year," he says. "Aldi was our biggest client in terms of org­anic growth and we’re now its digital and social agency on top of the work we’ve done in core media."

Internally 2014 saw huge investment in the agency’s digital and social media resources, inc­luding a sizeable sum poured into the content studio Byrne set up in London at the end of 2013.

"In December 2013 the studio had two people working in it. By December 2014 it had 20," says Byrne. "The demand for content is extremely high, particularly for high quality video. The demand is coming from all sectors – consumer, healthcare, tech, corporate and public affairs." Byrne also hired Adam Clyne from the Economist Group’s digital comms business TVC to lead WS’ overall digital and social operations across EMEA, and describes the appointment as "key".

The agency’s digital offering was also boosted with the hire of Danny Whatmough from Ketchum. Whatmough chairs the PRCA’s digital group and now handles WS’ consumer digital operations across EMEA.

Big agencies still differ over their approach to digital, with some setting up separate digital practices and others embedding it into brand teams. Byrne favours the latter approach, and says: "We’ve always refused to separate digital out. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not a separate P&L. Digital is fully integrated into each practice, then we have a central group that looks at analytics, creative strategy and planning." Then there is the content studio, headed up by Tabitha Winter who was brought in from ad agency Karmarama at the end of 2013.

But traditional, or "core" media as Byrne calls it, also remains a priority and in 2014 WS appoin­ted former Clarence House press secretary Patrick Harrison to run the agency’s media strategy group. Byrne says the appointment makes Harrison the most senior media relations strategist at the agency since Michael Prescott, the former Sunday Times political editor who joined BT from WS in 2009 in what Byrne at the time described as "one of the best transitions from journalism to commercial PR that I know of".

Focus on London
2014 also saw the appointment of WS’ first dedic­ated London MD with Rachel Friend being promoted from her role of head of consumer marketing. "I felt we needed somebody who woke up in the morning and thought ‘Weber Shandwick London’," Byrne says. "We are biggest in London with around 280 staff across the groups and practices and I wanted someone to really focus on integrating and driving collaboration across the office.

"In the past two years we have really focused on collaboration and looking at where business meets, for example in consumer and tech, consumer and healthcare, or healthcare and public affairs. We have seen a lot of growth in these margins."

Unusually however, for WS not all of 2014’s growth was organic. Early in the year Byrne closed a deal that had been some two years in the offing; the acquisition of Swedish PR agency Prime. Byrne told PRWeek the agency’s reputation for creative digital innovation was the crucial factor in deviating from his preferred approach of organic growth.

The deal was the biggest since WS’ formation 13 years ago and Byrne says: "This wasn’t just the acquisition of a Swedish PR agency. This was the acquisition of the PR agency that has won the most Cannes Lions of any in the world."

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