FleishmanHillard: PRWeek Global Agency Business Report 2016

Despite suffering a revenue decrease in 2015, Fleishman's new CEO anticipates a buoyant 12 months for the 70-year-old firm.

John Saunders became president and CEO of FleishmanHillard in November, 2015.
John Saunders became president and CEO of FleishmanHillard in November, 2015.

Principals: John Saunders, president and CEO; Olivier Beheydt, COO, EMEA; Jim Donaldson, CEO, FleishmanHillard Fishburn; Lynne Anne Davis, president and senior partner, Asia-Pacific
Ownership: Omnicom Group, part of the Diversified Agency Services division
Subsidiaries: BlueCurrent, CCW, DDC Advocacy, GMMB, High Road Communications, Lois Paul & Partners, TogoRun, VegaRun, and Vox Global
Offices: Global 84; US 22; UK 2; APAC 17
Revenue: Global $550 million to $600 million; US more than $400m; UK £28m (estimate); APAC $50m (estimate) (FleishmanHillard Fishburn) 
Headcount: Global about 2,750; US about 1,750; UK about 200; APAC about 500


FleishmanHillard entered its 70th year in business with a new leader following EMEA regional president John Saunders’ elevation last November as only the fourth CEO since the Omnicom firm’s 1946 founding.

Saunders succeeded 32-year agency veteran Dave Senay after a yearlong evaluation process. Senay said he wished to "rediscover a life that is not just built around the 24/7 demands of being in an agency, but also running one." He remains at Fleishman as a consultant and to support the CEO transition process.

"I’m hugely honored," adds Saunders. "I never had any sense of entitlement and it’s not a job you apply for. Dave Senay put structural changes in place that made it easier for me. We’d become a little too top-heavy, but we’re in a better place now and only need to change by 1% to 2% to be absolutely brilliant."

The agency’s numbers suffered in 2015 due to the impact of currency fluctuations, down 5% organically to around $570 million.

"We started the year strong, had a dip in the middle, and finished really well," Saunders says.

Fleishman parent company Omnicom’s Diversified Agency Services unit, which houses its PR firms, shrank 1.4% year on year on an organic basis in 2015.

In February 2016 former Porter Novelli global CEO Karen van Bergen moved up from the FleishmanHillard sibling agency to a newly created role as CEO of Omnicom Public Relations Group, overseeing all the holding company’s PR operations. Saunders now reports to her.

"I’ve known Karen a long time," says Saunders. "There’s been a clear voice for advertising within Omnicom — that’s where its roots are. But there have been fewer voices articulating the PR story. She is uniquely skilled and will do an excellent job."

J. J. Carter continued his rise up the organization and in January 2016 was elevated from president of the U.S. East and West regions, Canada, and Mexico to become Fleishman’s first COO, as well as president of the Americas. At the same time, former Americas president Jack Modzelewski transitioned to the newly created role of global president, business development and partnerships.

Former Fleishman global vice chairman of operations Guillaume Herbette left in August to take a dual role as MSLGroup CEO and EVP of Publicis Worldwide. Robert Dowling, former U.S. East region president and GM of New York, left in May.

"We had some ups and downs in New York in recent years," says Saunders. "We need New York to be a big voice in the whole game, for Fleishman and Omnicom, and we weren’t doing that well enough."

Ephraim Cohen was promoted from New York digital lead to SVP and senior partner, GM, New York, while Mitch Germann, digital and social lead, U.S. West, became SVP and senior partner, GM, Los Angeles.

New-business wins in 2015 included Ascension, Bacardi’s Grey Goose, Crocs, a global assignment for Fitbit, JetBlue after a very competitive pitch, La-Z-Boy, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue — in partnership with sister Omnicom firm Marina Maher — and global AOR duties for Listerine, plus corporate work. In January this year the firm was appointed the first AOR for chocolate and candymaker Russell Stover.

Work with SAP, which Fleishman won from Burson-Marsteller in 2014, grew to include corporate affairs, employee communication, social and digital, product communication, and sponsorship in more than 20 countries across the Americas, EMEA, and APAC.

GM relationship still in a ‘good place’
The agency lost four of its top 100 clients in 2015. In April it also lost PR AOR duties for Cadillac in the first of a series of RFPs in 2016 that will encompass all of automaker GM’s brands.

"There are all kinds of components to the GM business, and we have all sorts of relationships around the place [across marketing as well as communications]," says Saunders. "We have other streams of work that are expanding and opening up for us. It will ebb and flow, but we’re a trusted and valued supplier and our relationship is in a good place."

Fleishman is AOR for GM brand Chevrolet’s sponsorship of iconic global soccer club Manchester United.

Noteworthy hires during the year included former CNBC investigative reporter Jeffrey Pohlman, who came on as SVP of reputation management; TBWA’s Arthur Richer, who joined as digital strategy director; and BlackBerry’s former head of enterprise integrated marketing, Nick Masterman, who was hired as direc­tor and partner of creative strategy at Fleishman.

Fleishman usually gets a revenue bump in election years through advocacy advertising and PR subsidiary GMMB, which was a lead agency on the two Obama victories and is leading on work for the Hillary Clinton campaign, which has already kicked in.

Fleishman did eight client activations at the Super Bowl in San Francisco this year and will be busy supporting the Olympics in Rio in August, including work with the 2016 host committee, U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams, USA Swimming, and BMW.

"We are 70 years old in 2016," says Saunders. "The values in this company are represented by its culture, sense of fair play, and its hardworking, decent people. The signs are we are in for a good year."


Jim Donaldson, CEO of FleishmanHillard Fishburn, describes 2015 as a "massive year of change", with no exaggeration. The UK arm of FleishmanHillard merged with Omnicom stablemate Fishburn in November, a move that caused eyebrows to rise amid talk of difficult trading at both agencies.

But Donaldson has a different take: "I get annoyed by the assumption that mergers come from a bad place. This was a decision that Ali [Gee, ex-Fishburn CEO, now FleishmanHillard Fishburn deputy CEO] took for her team because she thought it was a good thing, and so far it’s proved to be a good thing."

Redundancies were fewer than expected – under 10, says Donaldson, who points to wins under the new entity including the non-profit Global Innovation Fund and gardening equipment firm Gardena.

In terms of revenue performance, Donaldson says FleishmanHillard UK was flat in 2015. The agency lost accounts including a six-figure brief for its UK work with Emirates, as well as TK MaxxExpedia and Addison Lee. However, Donaldson claims the shortfall was filled by new briefs from shoe brand Crocs and the World Health Organization, while new pan-EMEA clients included the fitness app QuikFit.

Account losses at Fishburn, meanwhile, included Nintendo and Mind Candy, although these were mitigated by wins from G4S and the Qatar National Bank.

Accounts with Thomson Reuters and the World Steel Association were among those won jointly with Specialist Group, the 50-strong Bristol-based content marketing agency acquired in 2015. Donaldson is upbeat about Specialist’s impact: "It had another really good year and is definitely now a fully integrated part of not just Fleishman UK, but also Fleishman EMEA."

The merger and Specialist acquisition were not the only major changes in 2015. The year saw both FleishmanHillard and Fishburn relocate to the new Omnicom HQ at London’s Bankside, while FleishmanHillard EMEA president John Saunders moved to the global CEO role.

"I think everyone would agree that things are very, very different to where they were this time last year," says Donaldson, who only joined himself in January 2015.

Last year also saw several senior appointments at both Fleishman and Fishburn who have stayed post-merger. At FleishmanHillard, this included Steph Bailey (head of corporate); Michelle Di Leo (head of public affairs); and Lauren Winter, who co-leads the brand marketing team. Appointments at Fishburn included head of news Pete Meikle.

What of EMEA overall? Olivier Beheydt, COO of FleishmanHillard in EMEA, says revenue growth across the region was "north of five per cent", with the performance "back on track" after a "pause" in 2014. Percentage growth was in the "high teens and into the 20s" in some countries, and Beheydt points to Germany, Italy and Russia among the best performers. "In 2015 we didn’t have what I’d call a problem child in the family," he adds.

Some significant appointments were also made in continental Europe, including Brett Kobie, head of digital, social and creative in Brussels; Matt Hinde, former head of EU strategy at the Department of Energy and Climate Change – labelled a "heavy hitter" by Beheydt – now a director in the energy arm in Brussels; and Arthur Richervice-president, strategy, digital, content & new business, in Paris.

Overall there were 37 net additions to the workforce in the region over the year.

Beheydt points out that Saunders stays as EMEA regional president after his elevation to global CEO, although the amount of time he can spend in the region has naturally reduced. Saunders has assembled a ‘chef de cabinet’ for Europe, comprising Beheydt, Donaldson and the MDs of the Brussels, Germany and Dublin offices.

"Our role is to make sure there’s a continuous management of the culture, the connection, the collaboration between the offices. And we do that under John’s watch," he says.

"The approach taken has been to streamline the regional management and refocus on the good work for the clients."

Elsewhere, Donaldson says the Middle East (which falls in his remit) had a "terrific" year, albeit from a small base. It grew to around five per cent of EMEA revenue. Revenue at the Dubai office rose 60 per cent, he says (the agency operates a much smaller business in Saudi Arabia, with about five people): "It was the best ever year financially, the best ever year in terms of profile, awards so on – and the best ever year of the region feeding business to the rest of FleishmanHillard."

Asked about their priorities for 2016, Donaldson and Beheydt both stress the need to focus on client demands, and to continue the process of integration at FHF as it adjusts to life as a bigger operation.

"We are now in there with the big boys – we are in there with the Webers, with the Ogilvys, with the MSLs. Maybe we’re not at the Edelman size yet, but we have ambition."


Growth across FleishmanHillard Asia-Pacific was steady in 2015, according to Lynne Anne Davis, APAC president and senior partner. She points out, however, that the majority of offices in the region grew revenues, several at double digits and that all are profitable.           

Particular highlights include Japan, which increased revenues by 12 percent; Hong Kong, Indonesia and subsidiary BlueCurrent Hong Kong increased by 13 percent while offices in the Philippines and India grew revenues by 27 percent.

Thailand recorded the biggest growth in revenues, at 69 percent. Business in Korea, meanwhile, grew by 8 percent and headcount by 18 percent in 2015, driven by major assignments in public affairs and issues management for clients including Johnson & Johnson. Fleishman also added Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power to its client list.

"All of our offices in 2015 excelled, growing top and bottom line – it was pretty consistent across the region," maintains Davis.

In addition, 58 existing clients enlisted additional Fleishman offices in APAC and 74 existing clients doubled business in the region. New business wins included Alibaba, led from Hong Kong, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Hasbro and Marriott. The region marked one closure in 2015, when subsidiary BlueCurrent Group’s operations in Beijing were folded into the core business.

Healthcare has been earmarked as one sector with strong growth potential, and Fleishman is looking to establish itself significantly in this sector. Every APAC office actively serves healthcare clients, including Pfizer, Bayer and Novartis. Public affairs too, has been one of the agency’s fastest-growing sectors in the last year, increasing, says Davis, by 18 percent.

"Some of this has been the result of the trend towards private/public partnerships, with significant assignments from MNCs and multiple ministries in the South Korean and Hong Kong governments," she says. "These are focusing on health, gender equality, family, national heritage, energy and global branding."

Demand for cross-border transactions by Asian companies continues to prove lucrative for the agency, a trend it has been mapping for some time.

"It is no longer about diversification of business and revenue from abroad; it is also about bringing Western business concepts, models and franchises to meet the growing domestic consumption needs of home markets and ‘exporting’ these success models to the West," explains Davis.

Initiatives launched in 2015 include FH ContentWorks, an offering of integrated studios throughout the world that provide content marketing services, including planning and strategy; listening and analytics; production across social, editorial, graphical and video platforms; amplification; influencer outreach; and measurement. In Asia-Pacific, these studios are located in Singapore, Beijing, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

The agency continues to pour resources into what would seem less traditional service sectors for PR – last year its APAC network built a specialised offering around risk management in the supply chain, driven by the fact that clients want insight into the biggest trends in the region. "It’s a very important business for us going forward," says Davis.

This year FleishmanHillard has increased investment in cyber security – because, as Davis puts it, "everyone needs to worry about it". The FH Global Practice on Privacy and Cyber Risk, launched in May, provides a range of services to help clients cope with data security and privacy challenges.

Key hires in the last year also reflect the agency’s investment in the region in priorities such as digital, creative, healthcare and strategic consulting. Michel Mommejat joined as partner & regional head of digital engagement for Asia-Pacific, in January 2015, while David Cho came on board as creative director for the Korean office in January this year.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, the agency is keen to exploit opportunities in Japan. It appointed Kuniyoshi Mabuchi as partner, head of digital in Japan in January while Satoshi Nakazai joined as vice president of FleishmanHillard Japan in December.

Megumi Hayakawa, meanwhile, joined BlueCurrent Japan as vice president in September, while its founding managing director, Tetsuya Honda, was also named PR Professional of the Year – Agency in PR Week Asia’s 2015 Awards. FleishmanHillard’s three agencies in Japan – including Vox Global Japan – drive 26 percent of APAC revenue, representing in total the largest non-Japanese owned PR conglomerate in Japan.

"This has positioned us well in a market poised for the next robust wave of outbound expansion by domestic enterprises and in the run up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games," says Davis.

With a new Omnicom PR structure announced in February, aimed at integrating the capabilities of subsidiary agencies including Fleishman, Davis believes this will provide a "collaborative spirit" to underpin the agency’s success in Asia-Pacific.

"The new structure plays to our strengths and track record for collaboration across a well-established, expansive regional network.  We are already working in close partnership with our sister agencies on our top 10 clients such as P&G, SAP, HP and Philips, to name a few," she says.

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