Instinctif Partners: Agency Business Report 2015

A new name and new strategies have marked the independent's landmark year

Richard Nichols: Global CEO, Instinctif
Richard Nichols: Global CEO, Instinctif

Principals: Richard Nichols, global CEO; Nic Pearce, US CEO; Uhi Hui, Asia-Pacific CEO
Ownership: Independent
Offices: Global 22; UK 6
Revenues: Global £33.8m; UK £25.3m
Headcount: Global 372; UK 256

Instinctif saw global revenue grow about £1m (3.1 per cent) to £33.8m in 2014. Of this, the UK business accounted for £25.3m (up from £24.3m in the previous year).

"We’ve grown for eight successive years and in 2014 we grew again," says CEO Richard Nichols (pictured). He says 2014 "wasn’t one sustained year of growth", however. The strong start, aided by several IPO-primed clients wins, was followed by a ‘softer’ summer before business picked up.

For Nichols, 2014 was "a landmark year" for the agency as it shed the College Group name assoc­iated with the group since it was founded in 1990 as financial PR firm College Hill. The London HQ also moved from the Royal Mint Court to Gresham Street in the City last February.

The aim of the rebrand was to unite the business under one banner, to go head-to-head with global corporate PR giants such as Brunswick and FTI Consulting. Nichols says the name has been "extremely well received" and is already having benefits for Instinctif, which combines long-established capital markets and corporate affairs specialisms with public policy and content and creative functions.

He gives the example of Inmarsat, the global satellite operator that recently swapped Brunswick for Instinctif as its retained global PR agency. Inmarsat chose Instinctif "not just bec­ause of a single practice offering, but recognised what we have across the business", Nichols says.

"Increasingly the mandates we are winning are not ones that are solely in a single practice area."

The same is true for other account win highlights in the year, he says. Revolution Bars, for example, which underwent an IPO at the start of 2015, employed the agency to help reposition the bar brand among analysts and stakeholders using film produced in-house. Instinctif added a film and motion function to the UK content and creative practice in 2014.

Video was also an important part of the offer for Shawbrook Bank, a new client that issued an int­ention to float in March this year. "They are using our skills across the piece," says Nichols. "We’re moving way beyond what ten years ago a traditional financial PR agency would have done."

Nichols declines to reveal which accounts it lost in 2014. "I’m sure there were one or two along the way but no material ones spring to mind," he says.

Instinctif’s biggest transaction in the year was the acquisition of London-based financial services PR agency Wriglesworth. This added a further 25 employees to its capital markets and corporate affairs practice.

Wriglesworth’s John Wriglesworth and Laura O’Connell joined Instinctif as managing partners, under MD Tim Fallon. The move is part of the agency’s wider strategy to build an international network; last year it also acquired German public affairs specialist Brand Associates, giving it greater presence in Germany where it now has offices in Berlin. An office also opened in Zurich in the past year.

Nichols says the former Wriglesworth employees are now a "key and integrated part of our team". Another managing partner joined the team in 2014: Ben Curson, previously group MD at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

Employee engagement
Nichols says a key trend in 2014 was the move towards clients wanting to increase internal comms and engagement with employees. This formed a key part of Instinctif’s work with eBay during the year, for example.

Nichols says the firm "brought on board some great young talent across the business" in 2014. The fact Instinctif was named as a finalist at PRWeek UK’s Best Places to Work Awards in February points to the "momentum" in recruitment, he adds.

Recent developments have included the launch of a programme called Connect that allows new starters to work for a few weeks at its offices across the world. Nichols says the agency is finding it "relatively straightforward" to recruit.

Asked about his priorities for 2015, he says: "The key is less about developing practice areas and more about developing globally. But at the heart of it will be capitalising on the sense of momentum that we have as a business at the moment.

"We’re still a relatively small business and we think there’s a great sense of opportunity ahead of us in terms of really establishing ourselves among the leaders in our spaces."

He is "sure" there will be further acquisitions: "We’ve got capital, we have very little debt as a business, so we’re financially very strong. I’m sure... we’ll be doing something internationally in terms of developing our presence."

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