Edelman UK: how 'constructive paranoia' helped lift FY revenue seven per cent

Edelman's UK revenue grew seven per cent to £67m in 2019, a year in which the operation moved to a single P&L and integration "really came together", according to EMEA chief Ed Williams.

Ed Williams: agency has had a 'much more focused campaigns mindset'
Ed Williams: agency has had a 'much more focused campaigns mindset'

The UK outpeformed EMEA (+2.4 per cent to $183.7m) and Edelman as a whole (+2.1 per cent to $892m).

The tech business led the agency's UK growth, with revenue up 19 per cent. Growth was seven per cent in corporate, six per cent in brand, and five per cent in public affairs.

Smithfield, the financial shop Edelman acquired in 2015, recorded "double-digit" growth in the year; revenue is set to top £6m this year.

Big client wins in the year included Fedex, Ikea, HSBC and Mars.

PRWeek spoke to Williams and his senior London/EMEA colleagues to discuss trading in 2019 and so far this year.

Single P&L move

On 1 July 2019 Edelman UK restructured into a single P&L across the different practices. Previously it had multiple P&Ls across disciplines.

"That has meant that any of the obstacles to working together have been moved," said Williams.

"The strategy is around really integrating specialist services – whether it's around experts in purpose, or crisis, or in employee engagement, or whether it's influencer(s) – and putting them in these mixed, multidisciplinary teams with great client management alongside strategy, planning, creative and so on.

"And that has been made all the easier because we've moved to a very simple way of oganising clients and cost."

Justin Westcott, chief operating officer of Edelman UK and EMEA technology chair, said: "We really have removed any friction so right now we can always ensure we're picking the right person in front of the right client at the right time, and as a result I think the second half of the year has seen a real uptick."

In recent months Edelman UK has evolved its central services teams that work across the various sectors and practice areas. These include 12 planners, plus specialists in creative, data analytics, SEO, and research under the EI group.

Ruth Warder, chief client officer at Edelman UK and EMEA brand chair, said the planning team became more formalised in 2019, in terms of methodology and process, under head of planning Jay Gallagher. In addition, Jo Tatchell, formerly Edelman’s strategy partner, returned to the agency after a brief stint at Ketchum.

Hugh Taggart, Edelman UK head of corporate affairs and global crisis chair, pointed to corporate as one area where the planning team has had a big impact. Corporate affairs was traditionally seen as three disciplines: public affairs, financial comms and corporate reputation.

"Functions like the planning function can help bind those disciplines," said Taggart. "Much more of our work now is cross-discipline, bringing perspectives from the political audiences and investor audiences in corporate communcations programmes.

"The planning departments certainly help us tease out the sort of things we should be focusing on from a campaigning perspective. It's elevated the quality of work we're doing, making the programmes more sophisticated."

Campaigns

Williams said there's a "much more focused campaigns mindset" at the agency alongside the more integrated approach.

He gave the example of a campaign for the Irish Banking Culture Board about rebuilding trust in banks, which also had a strong brand/consumer component.

Taggart said: "We became the architects of what that task force actually looked like, from the brand identity to the… people on it, to the outcomes that society was expecting of them, the pledge they were making to the communities they served and customers they served – and the reputation they want banks to have across Irish society.

"That was a huge piece of work."

There has also been "more emphasis" on multi-practice client 'teams'. Warder said: "We've always had a client team structure, but historically it's been more about scale and now it's about skill and the client business ask and the need. We're much more open to setting up these client teams and making those teams agile and flexible to the client need at any point."

Williams said: "There's never any complacency here. There's a kind of constructive paranoia and restlessness that means we're constantly thinking about how we need to improve what we do for our clients.

"That constructive paranoia delivers pretty good results. We try to keep any sense of hubris to a minimum because, frankly, we're only as good as the work we put out today, and I think that really does drive us forward."

UK trading climate

Regarding trading in 2019, Warder said there was a "loss of pace" for a period amid the political uncertainty surrounding Brexit, although it was "nothing significant".

Taggart said: "The formation of the [new] Government helped, to some extent; some deal flow came back. There was probably some reluctance previously with brand campaigns, or product launches that maybe had been delayed that got green-lit. There's certainly been, post that formation, more work."

On the impact of the coronavirus, Williams said: “Like all businesses, we are following the situation closely. At this stage it is unclear what the long-term impact will be for the marketing and communications sector. Our focus is our employees and supporting our clients during this period.”

Significant appointments in 2019 included Ogilvy corporate affairs chief Jeremy Lucas to lead the corporate reputation team, and MHP's corporate MD Andy Bloxham to lead the corporate positioning and narrative development work for some major clients.

In the Brand practice, Miranda Mitchell from Brooklyn Brothers joined as MD.

Last month PRWeek reported the departure of London-based global digital chair Thomas Crampton and public affairs MD James Morris.

Former UK chief Williams took the EMEA president and CEO role late last year, replacing Carol Potter. Edelman did not have news on his replacement.

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