Finsbury PRWeek Global Agency Business Report 2016

WPP-owned Finsbury is consistently secretive about its business performance but sources suggest the financial-to-corporate consultancy is now pulling in annual fee income exceeding $100m globally. This indicates annualised revenue growth of more than ten per cent.

Principals: Roland Rudd, chair; Michael Gross, global CEO
Ownership: WPP
Offices: Global 12; UK 1
Revenues: Global $110m (£72m) (estimate); UK £28.5m (estimate) 
Headcount: Global 220; UK 85 (estimate)

Official figures reveal staff numbers increased to 220 in 2015, from 206 in 2014; just under 10 per cent. The continued growth in the agency – set up by Roland Rudd in London 30 years ago – comes from a combination of big merger and acquisition work; increased revenue from new clients; and major strides forward in the US. In 2015 Finsbury also made significant headway in the Middle East and China regions. The consultancy now has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore. It also retains offices in strategic hubs such as Brussels, Moscow and Los Angeles.

Big corporate wins last year included SABMiller, Royal Dutch Shell and Barclays in the UK; Charles Schwab in the US; and IE across the US, UK and Singapore. One source inside Finsbury confides to PRWeek: "We are both winning more business and growing existing business."

In September Volkswagen – the car firm hit by the year’s biggest corporate crisis when it was caught fixing vehicle emissions tests – hired Finsbury in the UK (although it signed up Publicis-owned Kekst & Partners in the US).

About 40 per cent of revenues still derive from the UK, but the US now contributes one third, and Asia around ten per cent.

Merger and acquisition activity, where Finsbury is an established leader in the UK, has in recent years been driven by ‘portfolio change’ in many industry sectors, particularly energy and big pharma. Two years ago Finsbury successfully defended British drugs firm AstraZeneca against takeover by US giant Pfizer.

Lucrative M&A work is also boosted by consolidation in the retail sector globally, and in the UK, where the traditional dominance by the ‘big four’ supermarkets appears to be coming to an end.

"There is still a great deal of corporate mergers around," says one Finsbury insider. "There are also enough opportunistic takeovers to keep us busy. I would say this is the last round – probably another 18 months – of exchange consolidation."

But Finsbury has been adapting itself to the growing influence of digital and social media on corporate reputation and crisis management. The firm has recognised the need to help clients monitor what is being said about them on social media – and whether/how they should react to such shifts in sentiment. 

"We are learning how to prioritise which issues are actually important to clients’ reputations," says one Finsbury insider. "We are increasing the number of employees specialising in digital-social while making sure that all senior staff are exposed to the latest thinking."

In recent times Finsbury has added sports and entertainment, labour and employment and litigation support practices to its traditional offer of financial, corporate and crisis consultancy. And in 2015 the firm introduced ‘CEO communications’ as a specific practice.

Although the agency’s senior leadership remains stable – with Rudd as chairman and UK CEO, Michael Gross as global and US CEO – it recruited many high profile consultants in 2015.

Peter Land, comms chief at AOL and formerly at PepsiCo, joined Finsbury as a partner in the US. New principals in America included Bloomberg legal columnist Sherri Toub, veteran Wall St Journal executive Deborah Solomon, in-house investor relations specialist Lisa Kampf and White & Case associate Philippe Danielides. Mallory Weinberg and Michael Mittelman were recruited as vice-presidents in 2015.

In the UK, James Leviton returned as a partner after two-and-a-half years at rival Teneo Strategy, where he was managing partner (he had previously spent 15 years at Finsbury). Joining as associate partners in the UK last year were Powerscourt TMT specialist Andy Parnis, energy sector expert Benita Barretto, and James Fearnley, who rejoined Finsbury from a spell at Haggie Partners. 

Rudd tends to see himself as most effective when he is in the heartland of the UK but does visit the US once a quarter, or more often when he is involved in a major takeover such as Walgreens’ purchase of Boots the Chemist, which completed in early 2015.

In the Middle East, acquisitive sovereign wealth fund the Qatar Investment Authority has become a major client. 

One of Finsbury’s strategic priorities for 2016 will be to consolidate its position in Europe. Presently it is positioned as one of the top two financial consultancies in Europe but Rudd is keen for Finsbury consistently to be number one across the continent.  

Its presence in Europe was boosted in April with news of a close alliance with Hering Schuppener, its WPP stablemate based in Germany. 

One of the benefits of growing is to help recruit better people in the US, where Finsbury is a top five consultancy and perhaps better known for its crisis management work. So another priority is to continue building the consultancy as a coast-to-coast financial player with more sway in Silicon Valley.

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