Golin EMEA: Agency Business Report 2015

The thoroughbred agency reports its biggest growth since the recession and is now flying hurdles as its business spreads across the globe

Matt Neale: UK CEO, Golin
Matt Neale: UK CEO, Golin

Principals: Fred Cook, global CEO; Matt Neale, UK CEO
Ownership: Interpublic Group
Offices: Global 53; UK 1
Revenue: Global $100m-$150m (£68m-£102m); UK $25m-$50m (£17m-£34m)
Headcount: Global 1,200; UK 180

Golin’s revenue increased 18 per cent in the UK in 2014, making it the agency’s highest growth year since the recession.

The impressive figures were driven by a combination of new client wins, expanded work with major companies such as Diageo and Unilever, and a particularly strong performance from the agency’s Middle East and Romanian outlets.

Led out of London, Unilever’s global baking, cooking and spreading business was a strong source of revenue alongside new accounts Stella Artois, Leffe and World Pay.

Elsewhere, Golin expanded its remit with Diageo, taking on the digital and social brief for its Smirnoff Vodka brand, in addition to winning the UK and Western Europe consumer PR and social account for Johnnie Walker whisky. "This was a significant engagement. Clients are looking for a more sophisticated response team," says UK CEO Matt Neale.

Another big win for digital came from Persil in the final quarter of 2013 and contributed significantly to last year’s growth. Golin built 25 global websites for Persil’s ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign. The agency’s biggest loss last year was technology company Infosys, a UK account Golin had held for several years that wanted a global model.

Strong performing offices last year were the Middle East (run out of Dubai), France, London and Romania. New offices are set to be launched in Moscow and Istanbul in 2016.

"Eastern Europe had a killer year," says Neale – Golin was named agency of the year in the region twice. Hortensia Nastase, managing partner of Golin Romania, has taken global products such as real-time marketing and applied them to clients in the region. "It’s had a massive impact on the market, it’s very entrepreneurial," says Neale.

Golin became the first PR agency to open the Cannes Lions Festival last year. To coincide with the agency’s rebrand, Golin created the #HofforNot game – a live social media experiment using David Hasselhoff. The game reached more than 180 million people through social media, making Golin the festival’s fourth most talked about brand.

The agency has continued to thrive despite budgets being squeezed since the recession. "If you have a modern agency with digital at its heart you should be fine," says Neale. "We are out of recession now so it had no effect on us last year; we had the best margin performance in our history."

The three top performing practice areas were digital, consumer and healthcare. Golin also introduced a new leadership structure as part of its ‘g4’ model. Its four communities include Explorers, Creators, Connectors and Catalysts.

Chairs have been appointed to head up each community, with Charlie Coney, head of creative for EMEA, leading the Creators (a team focused on generating ideas and engaging storytellers). As part of g4, Golin developed ‘The Bridge’ – a network of 20 independent digital centres that create real-time stories for brands. The network is now one of the agency’s most used services by clients.

To forge the next generation of agency talent, last year Golin launched its ‘Unternship’. The ‘untern’ designs his or her own unique three-month programme before becoming a full-time, paid employee at the agency.

Key management changes include the promotion of Bibi Hilton to MD London. Also in the London office, Neil Kleiner joined from Havas as head of social. In Stockholm Jesper Kling, former global comms director for Acne, was brought in as MD.

Meanwhile, Neale believes the day of the social specialist agency has gone. "Things are swinging back to content creation agencies and understanding of how paid works," he says. "Clients are coming towards agencies that understand brand and content and those that are first and foremost a creative shop, not a niche specialist."

Broader horizons
Going into 2015 Golin’s focus will be investing in its digital business, both through new hires and acquisition partnerships.

The agency wants to create films and print campaigns that can be streamed across digital channels. "We want to continue to go in front of the likes of Unilever and Diageo and broaden the remit of what is considered from a comms agency," says Neale.

According to Neale the challenge will be persuading people that do not work at an agency or have an earned media background to come onboard. "Getting clients to realise that despite having 58 years of media heritage we are now able to do the things we do is another challenge – building our reputation will be a big area for us," Neale concludes.

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