Golin: PRWeek Global Agency Business Report 2016

On the heels of its 60th anniversary, the firm made key acquisitions, won and retained clients, and, most importantly, grew its revenue.

Fred Cook, CEO, Golin
Fred Cook, CEO, Golin

Principals: Fred Cook, global CEO; Matt Neale, president, international; Bibi Hilton, MD, UK
Ownership: Interpublic Group (part of Constituency Management Group)
Offices: Global 54; US 11; UK 1; APAC 17
Revenue: Global $150 to $200; US $100m to $150m; UK £22 (estimate); APAC $21m (estimate) 
Headcount: Global 1,400; US 680; UK 215; APAC 300


Golin entered its 60th year in excellent health, having grown organically 8% across the board in 2015 on a global basis for the second year in a row.

The firm outperformed parent company IPG’s Constituency Management Group, which houses its PR firms and only grew 3.6% overall.

"We have robust growth and we’re very profitable," explains CEO Fred Cook. "It’s not easy to make that happen year after year."

He adds that Golin’s 2015 growth was fueled by the agency’s best year of new business during his tenure, solid organic expansion, eye-catching acquisitions, joint ventures, and new talent.

"More than half our growth was from new business," explains Cook. "We won two-thirds of our bigger opportunities, including Frito-Lay, Clif Bar, Astellas, FedEx, Canon, Sprint, Hyatt, and Johnson & Johnson brand Tylenol, plus social media work for Adobe in Q1 2016."

Cook states Golin didn’t lose any top 50 clients during the year. It did say goodbye to Virginia Energy Sense, NRG Energy, Navistar, and McGladrey. From existing accounts, Golin expanded work into Asia and Europe for clients including Texas Instruments.

Matt Neale, EMEA president and co-president of Golin New York, relocated from London to Manhattan full time in 2015 and Cook praises his impact: "A lot of the business we’re winning is due to Matt’s move. He’s a great new-business guy and a talent magnet."

Other migrating Brits included New York–based executive creative director Max Wild and San Francisco MD Keith Martin and digital leads in Singapore and Hong Kong.

"It’s a miniature British invasion," jokes Cook. "London is very creative. We’ve got some incredible people here who add a special flavor to our offerings."

After several false starts, Cook believes 2016 is Golin’s year in New York: "I’ve never felt more confident about the people in this office and our growth trajectory."

New York MD Tony Telloni left the firm in 2015 and global staff turnover was between 15% and 18%.

Cultivating talent
Golin continued to invest in staff engagement, with its Life Time program offering unlimited time off and flexible working, and its Unternships scheme extending to China.

In the past few years, Cook notes people have joined Golin from firms where they thought they would end their careers, such as Caroline Dettman and Neal Flieger from Edelman, Deanne Yamamoto from Ketchum, and Dawn Langeland from FleishmanHillard.

"These are high-impact players and they are making a big difference to the creativity and scope of work we do for clients and enabling us to win a lot of new business," divulges Cook.

McDonald’s is always an important bellwether client for Golin and in 2015 it underwent a lot of change, bringing on former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs as EVP and global CCO and Burson-Marsteller executive Jano Cabrera as corporate SVP of U.S. communications, global media, and PR.

Cook sees new CEO Steve Easterbrook as a change agent whose strategy is reflected in the fast-food chain’s first growth quarters in years.

"He’s dynamic and has a strong vision for the company," notes Cook. "Even after 60 years, it’s exciting [for Golin] to be part of that."

Two acquisitions catch the eye: the purchase of 150-strong firm Golin Magic in China in December, which Cook worked on for years.

"It brings us critical mass in a super-important market," he says.

Golin also bought U.K. creative agency The Brooklyn Brothers in February 2016 for a reported $42.8 million. The move expanded its g4 model dramatically and added more than 100 creatives executing content creation and media buying — 40 of whom are based in the U.S. under the leadership of Paul Parton. The firm will retain its separate downtown Manhattan office.

Golin also embarked on joint ventures in Russia, Istanbul, Turkey, and Mexico City in 2015.

"If we buy a company it has to be really important. Magic and Brooklyn Brothers fall into that category," explains Cook. "In other markets, joint ventures are an easier entry point and lower risk."

Noteworthy work in 2015 included real-time marketing around the Pope’s U.S. visit, something Cook calls "one of the most exciting assignments we have ever had," over six days, with 40 people contributing, and over 2,500 pieces of content created.

Client Humana, won from Edelman in Q1 last year, is in the process of being acquired by Aetna.

"Humana’s role will be very distinct and it intends to remain headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky," adds Cook. "It’ll be Aetna’s Medicare experts. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue working with them."

Last year Cook became director of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center and a professor in PR studies, which led to speculation about his future — but he insists he’s in for the long run.

"I will probably transition some of my responsibilities to my regional presidents Matt [Neale], Gary [Rudnick], and Jon [Hughes]," admits Cook. "But I’m not going anywhere. I hope I’m here five years from now — I don’t have any plans not to be."


Golin began 2016 with a bang through its acquisition of creative agency The Brooklyn Brothers, which has offices in the UK, US and Brazil, and a total of 130 staff. With annual revenues exceeding £20m ($28.5m), it boasts an impressive client list including Jaguar Land Rover, Castrol and the Iceland Tourist Board. 

Golin is believed to have paid around £30m ($42.8m) for TBB, with the majority of payment made in a management earn-out. TBB will be run separately but the two agencies will seek to share skills and work jointly on big clients.

Matt Neale, Golin’s New York-based international president, who has joined TBB’s board, says the focus for the coming year will be on growing its newly acquired agency: "It is at the apex of paid and earned media. Through our acquisition we will be able to offer our clients a world class paid content creation service backed up by a team of Hollywood writers."

Neale adds that the acquisition will build on the work that Golin has already been doing for the past five years through ‘The Bridge’ – a network of 20 independent digital centres that create real-time stories for brands.

In April, Golin entered the German market for the first time, opening offices in Munich and Hamburg that focus on technology and brand marketing respectively. Both offices are overseen by recently appointed MD, Germany, Uta Behnke, who joined from Edelman’s Hamburg office.

2015 was a big year of transition for the agency in London following Bibi Hilton’s promotion to MD. Neale says: "She and her leadership team have had a lot of success in the fourth quarter and first few months of 2016. The year has a long way to run but I would be surprised if 2016 wasn’t our most successful year in terms of brave work. Our inbound new business is so strong in London we’re turning down many pitches to focus on the world class clients we have."

It would certainly appear that 2016 has got off to a great start, with recent wins in the UK including Kraft Heinz and Neff. Last year Golin won the PR accounts for First Great Western Trains and Sainsbury’s, following multi-way pitches. Other new business included research company Eli Lilly and contact lens producer Bausch & Lomb.

Meanwhile the agency was appointed by Worldpay across several markets, including the UK, and Oracle Retail across the UK, Germany and France. Texas Instruments and Unilever expanded its work with Golin, with the former covering markets such as the UK and Asia. In total, 25 per cent of Golin’s clients are on a retainer.

In terms of revenue, across EMEA Golin grew in line with its global growth of mid- to high single-digit organic growth. Revenues are most concentrated in London, which Neale describes as the agency’s "engine room".

Elsewhere Golin’s teams in the Middle East and Russia have had very strong double-digit growth years.

In the UK total staff headcount stands at 215. Key hires that took place over the past year include Kate Miller, who joined from client William Hill to head up social media, based in London. At the beginning of the year Golin hired Laura Weston from its 2015 Back2Businesship programme for mothers returning to work, as marketing director. Other new hires were made in the agency’s corporate practice with Chris McCrudden, former head of technology at Midas PR, and former national newspaper journalist Hilary Douglas, joining as directors. Meanwhile head of consumer Lucy Hart left Golin to join Mischief. 

A number of initiatives have got under way this year in the UK, including the launch of Golin’s ‘Unternship’ programme, following its US launch in 2015. The programme aims to combat the predominance of middle class and more privileged entrants into the PR sector, and offers candidates two months' pay and travel during which they can embark on a creative adventure, after which they will work a three-month paid internship.

Similarly the ‘Returnship’ programme – a scheme to help women with families overcome the challenges of returning to the working world after years of staying home – has been rolled out in London. Neale says: "It is the first of its kind in the media and comms industry and is part of a strategy to be the most progressive agency in the country."

Talking about the agency’s greatest achievement in the past year, Neale says: "Without a doubt, being named PRWeek’s Consultancy of the Year and Large Agency of the Year. It’s the ninth time we’ve been recognised in a similar way in London since 2012."

On a work level, Neale says that the agency is most proud of its national PR campaign for Cadbury to bring back The Milk Tray Man. The campaign resulted in a 40 per cent uplift in sales for Cadbury as well as recruiting a new generation of fans. 

On Neale’s agenda for the coming months include the hiring of a heavy-hitting paid media strategist and continued investment in senior creative talent for the agency’s 45-strong London digital team.


2015 was the year that clients really began to throw their weight behind a truly integrated approach to communications, spanning paid, earned and shared media, according to Golin president International Jonathan Hughes.

The firm, which has 300 staff and 17 offices in the region, picked up new work from Nespresso in Singapore for media and social. In India it secured briefs from Turkish Airlines and Starbucks, while in China the agency is part of an integrated team for shoe and apparel brand Vans. It also continues to work with Galaxy Entertainment Group to drive visitors to their range of properties in Macau.

"We have extended our work with Texas Instruments across Greater China and in Hong Kong we will be bringing the innovative Formula E race to town later this year. Regionally we’re supporting Johnson & Johnson with content for their Beauty business," adds Hughes.

"Unilever remains an important client for us across several categories and on the B2B side we’re helping LinkedIn with content marketing."

Golin lost work with the Enterprise Development Board in Singapore and did not take part in the Health Promotion Board’s retender.

"In India we decoupled from the Times Television Network and Sodexo Food Solutions and in China we said goodbye to kids gear brand Joie and the Bahamas Tourism Board," concedes Hughes.

The key trend being seen across the board, according to Hughes, is the increasingly "channel agnostic" approach being adopted by brands.

"We are seeing demand for a lot more integrated, content marketing work across multiple channels," he says.

"More often than not clients are looking for a channel agnostic approach and therefore they are willing to look at fresh new ideas from a range of firms not just their historic ‘creative’ agency of record.

While this integrated marketing approach is not necessarily a new trend, Hughes says it was last year when it began to get some real traction among clients.

"This also translates itself into a trend around the new competitive set.  A few years back it would be pretty easy to figure out who your likely competitors are. Now it’s anyone’s guess and is changing all the time," he says.

In terms of acquisitions, last year saw Golin finally conclude its takeover of Chinese PR firm Magic Group to form a new venture, GolinMagic.

The new agency operates from offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and saw Golin's China staff swell from 50 to 150.

It also rebranded its joint venture with Mullen Lowe in India to GolinOpinion, while Hughes also believes the global acquisition of The Brooklyn Brothers (TBB) will have significant implications for the agency in Asia.

While TBB does not have an Asia office, Hughes said plans are in place for TBB staff to be on the ground in Asia within the next 12 months, based initially at Golin in China.

"The Brooklyn Brothers’ team will remain a separate entity, but we hope to have TBB people in our offices to support the work we’re doing already, firstly in China and then across Asia," Hughes explained.

"This kind of work is going to be in huge demand: world-class branded content generation and gives you a pretty good indication of our direction of travel.  We’re determined to be at the forefront of social and digital content and at the apex of paid and earned media."

In addition to the perennial problem of identifying and retaining talent, Hughes also points to the economic uncertainties that abound in the region.

The firm performed well in China, India and Taiwan last year, but experienced "some softness" in both Hong Kong and Singapore towards the end of 2015.

Looking ahead, Hughes says the economic climate is the most uncertain it’s been since he arrived in Asia in 2013.

"Commercially, I think the uncertain outlook will be a challenge and we’ll have to see if that uncertainty affects marketing spends," he says.

"Within marketing spend then, the challenge is growing our share of the spend by proving to CMOs that we have the insight and creative muscle to make their brands relevant to deliver great campaigns that deliver real change."

A key part of the plan to achieve this, says Hughes, is the continual refinement of its g4 strategy that it started back in 2011.

"A natural extension of our g4 strategy has been our focus on relevance. We’re increasingly focused on helping brands become and stay relevant. If a brand is not relevant then it doesn’t matter if you trust it or not," he says.

"We have new intellectual property around the Relevance Fingerprint, a study into the key elements that make a brand relevant, and a refined strategic planning tool called the Relevance Roadmap.  

"We also continued to expand our network of ‘Bridges’. The Bridge is the world’s largest relevance engine that is helping over 250 brands in nearly 30 parts of the world stay relevant and part of everyday conversations."

As the agency approaches its 60th year, Hughes says it will continue to be driven by Al Golin’s ‘fix it before it breaks’ mantra.

"As a result we’re constantly changing and looking for new skills and expertise to bring into the business.  So finding the right talent and partners is always a challenge, but when you get it right there’s nothing more rewarding," he adds.

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