Cohn & Wolfe EMEA: Agency Business Report 2015

The WPP agency is chasing double-digit growth after a "phenomenal" year

Scott Wilson: UK CEO and EMEA MD, Cohn & Wolfe
Scott Wilson: UK CEO and EMEA MD, Cohn & Wolfe

Principal: Scott Wilson, UK CEO and EMEA MD
Ownership: WPP
Offices: Global 52; UK 1
Revenues: Global £117.3m; UK £16m (estimate)
Headcount: Global 1,200; UK 150

Cohn & Wolfe’s managing director, EMEA, Scott Wilson describes the performance of its London business as a highlight that is nothing short of "phenomenal", with a fourth successive year of double-digit growth.

Wilson is keen to underline that this is organic growth rather than the result of acquisitions and adds that overall, the London office, of which he is also the CEO, has grown by around 70 per cent in the past four years.

Wilson says it will only get harder to replicate the double-digit growth in London as time goes on and he freely admits that the UK and US are "the engines of global growth" at the moment, while the picture across Europe is more mixed: "We’ve underperformed in Germany but we are strong in places like Sweden and Paris."

Spain has also been a surprise success in the past financial year, given the broader economic climate across parts of Europe, with the country celebrating its biggest year in Cohn & Wolfe’s history.

The growth the agency has seen will allow it, Wilson says, to move more quickly towards its aspiration to be an integrated company and make the investments that will make this possible, which would be more difficult if growth was either low or non-existent.

But one of the biggest problems the agency has at the moment is talent acquisition. He says: "I spend more of my life talking about the challenges of recruitment than anything else at the moment. Some say it’s a nice problem to have but it’s a problem and it’s crippling healthcare."

One would be forgiven for thinking London is brimming with potential talent to recruit to the agency but Wilson says this is a false assumption and that, particularly in the highly regulated world of healthcare, the agency needs people who can combine a life sciences degree with creativity and digital expertise. Demand for these people quite simply outstrips supply and the agency has recently been hiring from Sweden to its London office to fill the gap in suitable applicants.

Among the senior hires the agency has made recently is the promotion of Andrew Escott, its former UK corporate managing director, to head Cohn & Wolfe’s global corporate practice.

As for clients lost and won, Cohn & Wolfe has also had an eventful year. Its relationship with Burger King ended in January last year but it has added to the client roster with wins including Danone’s corporate and consumer work and extending its existing global relationship with Nokia into Microsoft, for which it is providing marketing comms.

It is also working with Pfizer and, although Wilson is cagey about which part of the pharma giant’s business, he says it is a "good relationship".

Add Intercontinental Hotels Group and Treasury Wines Estates to the mix and there are definitely reasons to be cheerful about the current client roster.

Integrated work
Key trends Wilson identifies over the previous year as having an impact on the business include integrating marcoms by bringing together content with agile, real-time digital, which is "beyond social" so that it is able to offer seamless "promotion and protection" for its clients.

Wilson clarifies: "It’s very difficult to work in the food space, for instance, without now thinking about reputation and stakeholders because of sugar, salt etc."

Another trend is the requirement for new skills and talent, including in the all-important digital space, where people are required to have creativity and specific digital skills such as film-making.

The agency is poised to launch a strategic consulting business, to be headed up by Geoff Beattie, bringing together strategy and corporate comms in recognition of the fact that its clients increasingly require counsel on issues that go beyond marketing and corporate comms.

Looking ahead, Wilson says he wants to formalise the agency’s corporate healthcare offer and launch it as a "standalone proposition" this year, as well as developing better tools to measure the value of what the agency does.

Wilson hints that another goal for 2015 is to strengthen its existing presence in Poland and Turkey, given the increasing interest from clients in those regions.

The aspiration for this year is not only to replicate its UK growth but to develop its European strategy so that the region keeps pace.

Wilson concludes: "Can we do double-digit growth in 2015? I don’t know but it would be a great accolade for the team if we could."

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