Principals: Robin Grant, global MD; Nathan McDonald, global managing partner
Ownership: BlueFocus Communication Group (majority stake)
Offices: Global 9; UK 1
Revenues: Global $49m (£32.5m); UK $19.7m (£13m)
Headcount: Global 500; UK 155
It has been a good year for We Are Social, with global revenue up by 26 per cent. The double-digit growth comes after co-founder and global MD Robin Grant concluded his two-year search in December 2013 to find a buyer for the agency after Chinese network and Huntsworth partner BlueFocus bought an 82.8 per cent stake in the business.
Grant says the agency, which started in the midst of an economic crash in 2008, has been growing steadily in its seven years: "There’s been no tightening of our clients’ purse strings and I think that’s a reflection of social media’s growing importance in the marketing mix."
Grant is quick to differentiate We Are Social as a social media agency. He says: "Within the marcoms industry, RIO measurement is becoming increasingly important and that’s how they allocate their budgets. That leaves PR out in the cold because PR, quite understandably, is a very hard thing to measure in terms of direct return investment."
Over the past few years, Grant says the agency has made key hires and restructured its teams to include more traditional above-the-line agency structures. "You can expect us to continue to invest in that because clients are increasingly demanding that we are able to play at the same table and produce the same quality of work as the above-the-line advertising agencies," he says.
However, Grant again differentiates the agency from an ad firm: "We want to be getting bang for our clients’ buck by making sure we’re building earned and owned media components to the work we do and not just relying on paid media as traditional advertising agencies would."
When it comes to recruitment, Grant says it can be hard to find the right people to bring on board as the company grows. "It’s challenging to find the right people to offer those services at scale but maintain the quality level. Recruitment has been and continues to be our number one priority and biggest challenge." Despite the challenges of recruitment, the agency’s global staff count has increased from 400 in 2013, up to 500 in 2014.
Key senior hires for 2014 included global chief operating officer Chris Adamson, chief strategy officer Mobbie Nazir and Singapore managing director Don Anderson, who replaced Simon Kemp as he was promoted to regional managing partner in Asia.
The firm opened an office in San Francisco in January 2015, its second US office, after establishing a New York presence in 2012. And We Are Social shows no sign of slowing down in its expansion. Grant says: "I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another office later in the year." He confirms that he has a location in mind but is reluctant to give any clues as to where it might be.
In terms of business wins, the agency won the social media account for Google in May 2014, a relationship that has since extended to the French market. The company also strengthened its existing relationship with Heineken, as it won the Strongbow account in the UK in March 2014, as well as further expansion with the US Heineken account in January 2015. In Italy, the agency won the Pirelli account in June 2014 and in France it secured the Hello Bank account in August 2014. Grant claims the agency did not lose any of its clients in 2014.
The agency reported that 60 per cent of its growth came from existing business and 40 per cent came from new business wins.
When it comes to social and digital marketing, Grant says the agency is in a "constant state of evolution" and trying to stay on the "cutting edge". As digital becomes increasingly important to clients, Grant says the agency has been offering a broader range of services. He cites real-time content production as a key area, with the agency providing more emphasis of that than ever before.
Alongside this, Grant says the company has strengthened its strategic skills to work with clients on how to put social media at the centre of its strategy, rather than on the sidelines
Looking to the year ahead, Grant says the biggest challenge for the business is competition, as clients dedicate larger budgets to social media. As that happens, Grant says that "larger agencies with weightier resources than us are trying to apply their talents, so the competition in the space is really heating up".
But, he adds, this is nothing new for the business: "We’ve always had to survive on being better and faster than our competitors and we remain confident that we’ll continue doing so."