WE Communications: PRWeek Global Agency Business Report 2016

Despite another annual revenue decrease, WE remains optimistic about its upward trajectory

Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO and cofounder, WE Communications
Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO and cofounder, WE Communications

Principals: Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO and cofounder; Kass Sells, president, North America; and Pam Edstrom, agency partner and cofounder
Offices: Global: 16; U.S.: 6
Revenue: Global: $99,082,666; U.S.: $80,044,000
Headcount: Global: 666; U.S.: 464

At the time of Waggener Edstrom’s rebrand to WE Communications in September 2015, Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO and cofounder of the firm, said she and cofounder Pam Edstrom always felt "it’s never been just about ourselves. The collective is really what is going to keep us in the independent game."

Waggener Zorkin added to that collective earlier in the year by naming Wunderman’s Kass Sells the agency’s president of North America. The CEO praised Sells’ success "in reaching across the aisles and putting talent together not based on where they sit in a practice or account and instead forming one blended North America team."

Waggener Zorkin emphasized the agency is on the right trajectory with Sells recently beating revenue and profit forecasts in North America for a month in Q1 2016. This would be welcome news after the agency saw revenue in the U.S. decrease by 8.6% and 8.3% in EMEA in 2015 on top of declines in the years prior. News was better abroad, with APAC growing 4.3%, principally due to strong growth in China, 13.4%, as well as in India, and a 33.6% uptick in Singapore, driven largely by healthcare. Total APAC revenue was just under $10 million. South Africa grew 13.8% in 2015.

In terms of practices, consumer, healthcare, and social innovation saw the biggest gains. Sells has also made a difference when it comes to bringing on talent, an area where the agency often lagged, explains Waggener Zorkin. New hires included Alyssa Garnick, formerly with Marina Maher Communications, who joined as MD of the New York office; James Wilson, formerly with Microsoft, was named South Africa GM; and Katie Huang Shin earned EVP and global client lead. Alan VanderMolen, formerly a senior Edelman and DJE Holdings executive, was named president across the agency’s APAC and EMEA operations.

Personnel who left the firm included VP Jennifer McCarthy, who went to Expedia; SVP Greg Chiemingo; and EVP Laurie Smith DeJong, who joined Intel. Along with a dip in global revenue of 7.6%, global staff decreased from 705 in 2014 to 666 this year and U.S. headcount fell from 496 to 464.

In April 2016, WE acquired Australian agency Buchan Consulting — which has offices in Sydney and Melbourne and has partnered with WE since 2008 — and rebranded it WE Buchan. North America client wins included Apptio, VoiceBox, Gilead, Kymeta, Lucid Holdings, and Umpqua Holdings. Travel industry technology provider Amadeus hired WE Communications as its Asia-Pacific AOR.

In North America, client losses included Lithium Technologies and Blue Cross Blue Shield, both after less than a year, and online security company AVG. The agency lost Eli Lilly in EMEA and Duty Free Shop and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts in APAC.

With Sells’ perspective from the advertising world, WE aims to ensure that "creative, digital, and social are blended into 100% of plans that go out the door and all the right metrics are there," explains Waggener Zorkin. She also cites his ability to generate content that can reach across platforms, discard big data when it doesn’t matter, and personalize things to client audiences.

The firm is on the path to more change as the founder looks at how each of the agency’s practices will develop a global play and how local leaders will fit into that paradigm. And, despite a third consecutive yearly U.S. revenue decrease, Waggener Zorkin remains optimistic about the agency’s upward trajectory, citing the fact that WE had already won $4 million in new business in Q1 2016. To remain independent and keep the agency on an upward momentum, WE senior executives will continue to shore up the way they go to market and do business, Waggener Zorkin notes.

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