Deciding PRWeek’s PR Agency of the Decade was an almost impossible task. There are literally hundreds of outstanding PR agencies in the UK, and there is a huge range of sizes – from creative boutiques to multi-national networks – and specialisms – from a specialist arts and culture consultancy to large political-corporate advisory firms, which have more in common with a management consultancy.
Indeed we were tempted to break it down into Best Generalist, Best Pharma, Best Creative Shop etc etc but that would have been a mammoth task, and would have diluted what was supposed be a simple tribute to an excellent decade for the British PR community.
Even shortlisting seven agencies from the multitude of world-leading consultancies on these shores created heated debate among the PRWeek team.
We were forced to leave out agencies – such as Freuds, Portland, Golin and Teneo - that have flourished for decades; and specialists in tech, pharma and public affairs - such as Brands2Life, 90Ten, Pegasus and Cicero - that are leading and reshaping their fields.
But the key criteria for us were business growth of the decade, outstanding work, company culture and stability, and – perhaps above all – industry leadership and innovation; the agencies that have helped define ‘PR’ from 2010 to 2019.
So deciding the Agency of the Decade was equally difficult.
However, Edelman is really the defining success of the 2010s, not least because it has been the UK’s clear number one for most of this decade. To use a football analogy, it feels like the Liverpool FC of the 1980s or the Manchester United of the 1990s.
As a recap, at the start of this decade – for the year 2010 – Edelman’s UK fee income was £28.8m, which made it the fifth biggest agency in the country. But this year (2019) the firm’s UK fee income will likely top £65m and it will once again lead the table of British consultancies. Although it used to sit behind the ill-fated Bell Pottinger in the PRWeek Top 150 list, Edelman has in recent years also overtaken other PR behemoths such as Weber Shandwick and Brunswick.
Edelman is a genuinely broad-based modern communications consultancy, very good at almost every discipline.
Former BBC and Reuters comms director Ed Williams – now EMEA chief – has led Edelman’s UK and Ireland business since October 2011, during which time he has pushed by business into new areas like corporate advisory, research and polling and risk management.
At the same time the agency’s brand and campaigning work has continued to be a strength – in recent years under the supervision of directors Ruth Warder and Jackie Cooper – in line with Richard Edelman’s global ‘communications marketing’ approach.
With long-term client relationships such as Shell and Unilever being augmented with some innovative work, from Asics to Novartis, Edelman is now the quintessential modern, multi-disciplinary comms consultancy; equally adept in consumer campaigning as it is in healthcare, tech and financial (thanks to the acquisition of agency Smithfield in 2015).
More recently Edelman UK has been adapting to the increasingly diverse needs of corporate affairs directors by combining its public affairs, financial and corporate relations team into a 120-person integrated corporate affairs team led by general manager Hugh Taggart.
Like being Premier League Champions, it is not easy to stay at number one; all the competition wants to take you down, to find your Achilles heel. So congratulations to Edelman for being there and staying there, for being PRWeek’s UK PR Agency of the Decade.
Who else was on the shortlist?