Ogilvy PR US: Agency Business Report 2015

Revenue at Ogilvy Public Relations was almost flat in 2014, but new leadership and a restructure of its offerings prompted global CEO Stuart Smith to promise 2015 could see a revitalization of fortunes.

Ogilvy PR global CEO Stuart Smith
Ogilvy PR global CEO Stuart Smith

Principals: Stuart Smith, global CEO; Christopher Graves, global chairman; Rob Mathias, regional CEO, North America
Ownership: WPP (part of Ogilvy & Mather)
Subsidiaries: Feinstein Kean Healthcare
Offices: Global: 88; US: 9
Revenue: Global: $275 million to $325 million; US: $100 million to $125 million
Headcount: Global: about 2,500; US: 475

Revenue at Ogilvy Public Relations was almost flat in 2014, but new leadership and a restructure of its offerings prompted incoming global CEO Stuart Smith to promise 2015 could see a revitalization of fortunes, especially in North America.

Turnaround specialist Smith, who undertook similar tasks at Edelman UK, Hill & Knowlton EMEA, and Ogilvy EMEA, says describing 2014 as "low-single-digit global growth" would be an "overestimation."

Parent company WPP’s PR and public affairs group reported a 2.5% like-for-like increase in revenue in 2014.

Asia continues to be Ogilvy’s biggest region and did "really well" last year, adds Smith, who transformed EMEA in the past four years and is now tasked with doing the same in the US.

He says North America CEO Rob Mathias has already done an "amazing job" fixing the region: "He had a really tough year in DC, but that was government sequestration. He has resized our DC office [including layoffs in 2013] and retooled it."

Washington office wins included tech company Abengoa, the US Agency for International Development, and the UN Foundation. Work around the American Recovery Act and Affordable Care Act ended.

Slowdown in DC
Prior to the slowdown, Ogilvy’s Washington office experienced a 10-year rise in double-digit or high-single-digit growth year on year, largely driven by the government market.

"Washington simply came to a standstill," adds Mathias. "No one thought Congress or the administration was going to do anything, so corporations didn’t see the need to spend dollars in the region because there was no risk or upside."

This put tremendous pressure on Ogilvy’s DC office, but Mathias sees the tide turning and envisions a "strong" 2015. "The anchor weighing us down has been lifted," he says.

It won a seven-figure account with a major financial services group and picked up a big risk communications account for FEMA.

In 2014, Ogilvy restructured the way it approaches business and clients, elevating four executives to lead social, earned, content, and insight and strategy.

DC-based Michael Briggs became director of insight and strategy; Rachel Caggiano was made director of content, also in DC; the North American leader for Social@Ogilvy is Peter Fasano, dividing his time between Atlanta and New York; and the national director of media is Jennifer Risi in New York.

President of global brand marketing Mitch Markson left the agency; MD for content and social at Ogilvy West Luca Penati moved to Weber Shandwick; Tom Smith went to Allison+Partners; and Brian Maloney and Margie Fox, who previously founded and ran their own eponymous agency, moved on.

Melissa Smith came on from MSLGroup as EVP and New York brand marketing practice director; Michele Anderson joined to become MD in Chicago; and Suresh Raj followed Smith over from London to become MD of global business development.

In October, Brand USA renewed its contract with Ogilvy as global media relations partner; the agency also won the Energy Upgrade California account.

"The bad years are behind us and the wind is now at our back," says Mathias. "It’s taken a while to get the pieces in place, but we finally have the right people in the right seats, great office heads, strong practice leads, and a good, aggressive team."

Smith, who still directly oversees EMEA, intends to cultivate those green shoots in the next two to three years.

"New York is the beating heart of Ogilvy globally," he says. "This is where all our disciplines are and it’s where I need to be."

Smith says the agency’s new top-level structure was driven by the departure of CFO and COO Andy Kochar to a group role in Asia.

"[My arrival] was about making sure there was a CFO/COO partner for Chris [Graves, formerly global CEO, now global chairman at Ogilvy PR]," says Smith. "If you look at the major disciplines at Ogilvy & Mather, the finance teams sit in the geographies. Ogilvy PR was the only unit with its own CFO – it was a matrix anomaly."

Smith sees his role as "operationalizing stuff," whereas Graves oversees social and content globally across the disciplines, produces thought leadership, and is still a "major client guy."

 "He can do things I can’t," says Smith. "It’s a really productive partnership."

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