London calling from a creative world

This week's PRWeek UK Awards provided a refreshing insight into a world that is certainly not dominated by the big global PR firms and that places a premium on creativity and punching above your weight.

I write from London this week, where I have been in town for the PRWeek UK Awards, which were handed out at a gala ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Tuesday evening.

The event provided an interesting insight into the UK market, which on the basis of this year’s results is less dominated by the top 10 holding company networked firms (and Edelman) than the U.S. and other markets.

Names that might be less familiar to American PR pros dominated the evening, with creative consumer PR boutiques such as Unity, The Romans, Mischief and Kaper all scoring well.

Unity bagged seven wins from 10 nominations across eight categories, including the coveted Consultancy of the Year Gold Award. The agency seems to have benefited from its decision to focus on fewer, bigger clients, such as Direct Line insurance, Butlins holiday camps, and iconic retailer Marks & Spencer.

It also won in the Financial Services, Integrated, Content, and Internal Communications categories, showing its range.

Founded in 2005, its integrated offer is clearly resonating with British clients, but it’s worth noting that Unity only has 30 staff and ranked 75 in PRWeek UK’s list of Top 150 agencies in terms of 2015 revenue – 20% up on the year prior. It’s hard to envision a firm of this size annexing awards in the U.S. in the same way Unity did in the U.K. this time around.

Another young upstart performing well was The Romans, which opened for business in April last year backed by ad agency Mother and helmed by Misha Dhanak and Joe Sinclair. Its team of 14 has excelled for clients such as Spotify, Samsung Europe, Brew Dog, Innocent Drinks, and Itsu. Dhanak has openly challenged the industry to up its game and "grow a pair."

"Stop feeling worried about what other agencies, what other industries are doing, and focus on what you yourself can be doing," she told PRWeek UK earlier this year, which seems a pretty good manifesto to me.

The main name U.S. readers will recognize was Golin, which defeated its Interpublic Group sibling Weber Shandwick and four other agencies to win Large Consultancy of the Year, on the back of eye-catching double-digit revenue growth and margins of 26%, adding new clients including Adobe, Heinz, and Siemens.

Golin also completed the statement-making acquisition of multi-award-winning creative shop The Brooklyn Brothers during the year, a big step toward true integration and the creation of a new type of agency for the modern client.

So, no wins for Edelman, Weber, FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, Ogilvy, Burson-Marsteller, Hill + Knowlton, or MSLGroup. There is a fair amount of post-Brexit angst in the air and, as a consequence, global agency leaders have to make their numbers in a thoroughly less positive currency exchange environment than six months ago.

But the work honored comprises a thoroughly creative, effective, and impactful bunch of case studies that are well worth studying to get a flavor of the second-biggest PR market in the world.

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