Cohn & Wolfe US: Agency Business Report 2015

Cohn & Wolfe posted double-digit revenue growth last year, bouncing back big from a sluggish 2013.

Cohn & Wolfe CEO Donna Imperato
Cohn & Wolfe CEO Donna Imperato

Principal: Donna Imperato, CEO
Ownership: WPP
Subsidiaries: AxiCom and GCI Health
Offices: Global: 52; US: 13
Revenue: Global: $150 million to $200 million; US: $65 million to $100 million
Headcount: Global: more than 1,200; US: 575*
*PRWeek estimate

Cohn & Wolfe posted double-digit revenue growth last year, bouncing back big from a sluggish 2013.

CEO Donna Imperato credits the WPP firm’s 16% year-over-year revenue gains in the US and 11.5% globally to a strong new business pipeline and an expansion of existing accounts into integrated marketing.

"We had an outstanding year. It went way beyond my expectations," she explains. "What really drove it is the integrated marketing work we’re doing. Clients are demanding more of it. We set out quite a few years ago to evolve into an integrated marcomms agency and it’s paying off now."

The agency deployed integrated campaigns for a number of clients in 2014 including JM Smucker’s Folgers brand, Tom’s of Maine, Panasonic, and Colgate-Palmolive. The latter also turned to the agency’s new ME-24 mobile engagement unit to help introduce its Irish Spring Signature for Men line.

C&W launched the 100-person unit with sister WPP agency Joule last July, offering clients mobile strategy and product development in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Imperato says the number of pharmaceutical clients, a typically more conservative industry, interested in the firm’s integrated capabilities, surprised her.

"We started presenting different kinds of campaigns to them and they are just loving it," she explains.

Cohn & Wolfe recently carved out a new role for North America president Jim Joseph to build on the firm’s integrated offering as chief integrated marketing officer. Imperato expects to appoint a new North America chief soon so that Joseph can devote his full attention to building the firm’s integrated prowess.

"It’s important that we do it right around the globe," she continues.

The agency continues to excel in the healthcare and consumer sectors, the two practices that demonstrated the most growth last year. Key account wins in the US included United Airlines, Margaritaville, Nissan, jewelry chain Pandora, and Alcon.

The firm’s integrated work for Alcon contact lenses, which will expand from seven to 17 markets this year, was named a finalist for consumer launch campaign of the year at the 2015 Global PRWeek Awards.

Elsewhere, the agency added Twinings Tea in the UK, Tourism Fiji in China, and Johnson & Johnson named it Nordic AOR.

Imperato wants to push further into corporate and technology accounts in the coming year, and she’s making some personnel changes to do so. Julian Tanner, the former chief and founder of subsidiary tech powerhouse AxiCom, moved over to C&W as global technology leader earlier this year. Helen Ridgway was elevated from MD in his place. And agency veteran Geoff Beattie is helping to kick off its new strategic consulting practice aimed at the C-suite.

"I see corporate as a huge opportunity for Cohn & Wolfe," Imperato adds. "It’s probably what we’re least known for."

The agency didn’t lose any significant clients in the last year, but "there were certainly budget cuts" in some areas, particularly China, she says. Regionally, the US and UK drove the firm’s top line higher, but Asia also performed well overall with a 5% year-over-year revenue gain. The firm closed an office in Frankfurt and opened a small one in Thailand where it is servicing two existing clients in the consumer and tech spaces.

Focus on Asia in 2015
Imperato aims to capture double-digit growth in Asia this year with continued restructuring of leadership in China and elsewhere in the region. In March, Angelina Ong was named as the region’s new president. Previously, she was regional MD at Burson-Marsteller.

Asia-Pacific Jeff Chan, MD of Hong Kong, and Astin Wu, director of China, left the firm last year. C&W also appointed a new MD of mainland China, Harriet Gaywood, earlier this year.

 "I am focused on expanding and strengthening our Asia offering and, as such, I’m doing some restructuring," she says.

Imperato is also eyeing India and Brazil for acquisitions. Hiring could not keep pace with the firm’s growth last year and is another area of focus for Cohn & Wolfe in 2015. Imperato believes getting the right people in place will propel the agency to posting a global revenue gain of 6% in the coming year, but is "hoping for another year of double digits."

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