PRWeek Top 150: Bumpy year as pandemic places spotlight on public sector

The Information

Four Communications continued its dominance and retained poll position, opening an even wider lead against its nearest rivals in PRWeek's public sector rankings.

Four Communications cemented its position but others in the top five narrowed their rivals' lead
Four Communications cemented its position but others in the top five narrowed their rivals' lead

The Big Partnership and Lansons kept their positions in the top three, but the latter narrowed the gap between second and third place.

PRWeek UK Top 150 2021: Public Sector comms rankings

Meanwhile, Kindred, which appears in this table for the first time, leaped into fourth, nudging Liquid into fifth - despite that agency recording a revenue uplift of nearly 50 per cent.

2020 was a year in which the public sector took centre stage as institutions scrambled to respond to the pandemic, with some choosing to work in partnership with agencies.

Trading was bumpy at best for some - coming in fits and starts - but there was increased demand for reputation management and digital services.

The full Top 150 UK PR consultancies table can be viewed here

Four agency chiefs with a specialism in the public sector tell PRWeek about trading and trends in 2020.

Anne Clarke, chief executive of social purpose at Four Communications

Anne Clarke

2020 was a year when we, as citizens all relied on the public sector to get us through the pandemic. For us as an agency, the first half of 2020 was strong, despite lockdown. As across the private sector, we saw some public sector clients pausing campaigns; while others ramped up. We did have an uneven trajectory over the summer as the traditionally quieter public sector period in the summer was even softer than usual as clients took stock. Yet, come August, briefs started to land and we had some significant awards in Wales and England during the autumn.

We focused on diversification and innovation in 2020; applying our skills in behaviour change, matched with our proprietary social media and digital insight methodology, Mapper360®, matched with our sector expertise to win and deliver important campaigns for Coventry City of Culture, HIV Prevention, Qualifications Wales, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales, Innovate UK and T Levels for the Department for Education.

Allan Barr, chief executive of BIG Partnership

Allan Barr

One of the positive outcomes we’ve seen is the way that agencies and public bodies have worked together in a one-team approach to tackle COVID issues.

Our work in the public sector has given us the chance to pioneer a variety of virtual consultations and other tactics to work around lockdown restrictions. Even once the pandemic has eased we think demand for these approaches will remain strong because of how flexible, accessible and cost-effective they are.

This work was a natural fit with the growth of our wider digital services, which we forecast last year would see an increase due to the virus. We saw a rise in requests for video and animation as forward-thinking public bodies look for different ways to engage with their audiences.

We’ve also found that clients are increasingly looking for digital insight and reporting to demonstrate impact and therefore value for money.

Tony Langham, chief executive of Lansons

Tony Langham

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, Lansons public sector work grew by 44 per cent in 2020 to over £1.2million.

We’ve built on our core strength of handling complex reputational issues for organisations that are at arms-length from the Government, but also report ultimately to the relevant Secretaries of State.

We were appointed by the British Business Bank as reputation management advisers on its delivery of the Government’s schemes to assist business including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme and Bounce Back Loans. We advised Dame Elizabeth Gloster during intense public scrutiny of her Independent Investigation into the FCA’s regulation of collapsed London Capital & Finance. Other clients included Tech Nation, Royal Mint and Banking Competition Remedies.

We’ve specialised in advising the UK’s Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories for over 15 years. Last year we advised the Isle of Man Government on its Health and Care Transformation Programme and we are developing a new “nation brand” with the Cayman Islands Government.

Sharon Bange, joint-managing director at Kindred

Sharon Bange

2020 kept us on our toes. Our work in the public sector focuses on behaviour change and the pandemic ripped up the rule book on how people think, feel and act. We collaborated even more closely with client teams and other agency partners to gather the new insights we needed to build effective campaigns.

Established plans for longstanding clients were transformed at pace to respond to the pressures of the pandemic and a fast-changing media agenda. I can’t remember ever saying the word ‘pivot’ before last year, now it’s part of my everyday vocabulary. Our ability to be agile has been a key driver of our success in the public sector.

We’ve seen fewer, bigger contracts that have brought with them an opportunity to form strong partnerships with clients. Love Food Hate Waste for WRAP was a fantastic win for us last year and we’ve extended our relationship with clients such as the Financial Conduct Authority.

More from the Top 150 UK Consultancies Report:

Top 150 analysis: Revenue slides, but optimism reigns for 2021

PRWeek reveals the Top 150 UK PR consultancies in 2021

PRWeek UK Top 150 2021: Independent PR agency rankings

New name tops PRWeek UK Top 150 table as Edelman falls to second

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