PRWeek Top 150: Pandemic triggers client demand for public affairs while agility is rewarded

The Information

The acquisition of Cavendish and a strong performance overall propelled BECG from third place last year into pole position in the PRWeek Top 150 public affairs agency ranking.

The pandemic forced public affairs agencies to adapt their approach
The pandemic forced public affairs agencies to adapt their approach

Despite a double-figure dip in public affairs revenues for Cicero/AMO, in second place, there was still clear blue water between the agency and Hanover, which moved up into the top three this year.

PRWeek UK Top 150 2021: Public Affairs comms rankings

Portland, which also showed a double-digit decline in public affairs revenue, slipped from second place to fourth, while Interel – which announced new leadership yesterday - rounded out the top five.

As the pandemic took hold, public affairs professionals had to work hard and fast – and in ways they had never previously imagined – to engage with decision-makers in the Fovernment and beyond on behalf of their clients.

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

Meanwhile, the ramifications of Brexit loomed larger than ever as formal withdrawal from the EU took place and clients sought counsel to help navigate the unpredictable waters ahead.

Four public affairs agency chiefs tell PRWeek about trading and trends in 2020.

Stephen Pomeroy, chief executive of BECG

Stephen Pomeroy

Teams across the BECG group have been outstanding with their resilience, creativity, commitment to clients and support for each other.

The pandemic accelerated our clients’ needs for digital and social media solutions and our investment in talent and technology ensured that we have been able to deliver transformational campaigns. Social media monitoring, insight and analysis are crucial, and we now own a social media management platform to support clients with this.

Clients are looking for all nations to be covered and with our acquisition of a true Scottish consultancy, Liberty One, we can deliver on this. Importantly, too, our regional offices completely understand their geographies, and this has been crucial in providing real insight for clients on the Government’s 'levelling up' agenda.

International relations, tariffs and trade deals have presented opportunities and issues for clients and we have responded by appointing advisers and by strengthening our US agency partnerships.

Iain Anderson, executive chairman of Cicero/AMO

Iain Anderson

2020 began as 2019 had ended: focused on Brexit. Within weeks, the pandemic forged an entirely new way of delivering amid the most challenging economic backdrop in our working lives.

It was also a year of opportunity, supporting clients as they navigated this new landscape. Policymakers and media needed rapid engagement. While the pandemic was the dominant theme, Brexit continued to loom large while regulatory risk, climate change, sustainability and the wider ESG agenda became rapidly expanding themes. As we ended 2020, the very future of the UK once again came into sharp focus.

For Cicero/AMO the power of being part of a global network has started to bring major mandates towards us. Key client wins over the year included Dell, BT Pension Scheme, rapid growth fintechs Onfido and Laybuy, Legal & General, OASIS, AECOM and Bombardier. There is an exciting job ahead to help fire up the future.

Charles Lewington, chief executive and founder of Hanover

Charles Lewington

Intensity and speed of engagement at the highest level of government was the overwhelming public affairs trend in 2020 as ministers made policy on the hoof in response to the unfolding pandemic.

Many clients were forced to shut down at short notice, definitions of what businesses could remain open repeatedly changed, and access to Government financial support became priority questions. At one point, we calculated that Hanover was working with hospitality, sport, travel and manufacturing customers to protect 500,000 jobs – the social purpose of good public affairs if ever there was one.

Campaigns that previously would have required weeks of planning were launched overnight, with key messages taken straight to the media. Co-ordination of industry groups was complicated as distressed individual businesses felt the need to shout loudest. Many companies improved their relationships with government by offering innovative solutions such as the production of ventilators, potential COVID-19 treatment solutions or smart technology.

Dominic Church, managing director of WA Communications

Dominic Church

Despite the challenges of 2020, WA continued to go from strength to strength. The economic and social turbulence of the past year has left the Government with an unusually supersized role, thrusting many organisations into uncharted territory and creating unprecedented business communications challenges that required robust and creative responses, which WA was well-placed to meet.

Our team responded magnificently and we achieved double-digit growth across the agency, while generating huge wins for clients across sectors as diverse as pharmaceuticals, property and those critical infrastructure businesses that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

As we come out of the other side of the pandemic there will be a huge role for business to come forward with ideas and solutions to help drive economic recovery. We’re expecting big things from 2021 and beyond.

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

PRWeek UK Top 150 2021: Public Affairs comms rankings

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

PRWeek UK Top 150 2021: Public Sector comms rankings

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

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