US agency NJI opens UK office headed by former Boris Johnson press secretary

NJI, the public policy-focused US creative agency, has opened a London office led by Matthew Houlsby, a former UK diplomat and press secretary to then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

US agency NJI opens UK office headed by former Boris Johnson press secretary

As NJI's UK managing director, Matthew Houlsby (pictured) will lead the UK team from the agency's new Chancery Lane office.

NJI was founded in 2007 by Nathan Imperiale, former digital director for the US House Republican Party, who worked in the office for the press secretary of President Bush, and Josh Shultz, former digital director at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The agency specialises in strategic comms, brand development and web design, often with public policy or commerce objectives. NJI also has an office in Singapore and a client list that includes Facebook, Intuit, the World Wildlife Fund and Citibank.

“Our new London office is a signal of NJI’s intent in the British market – and beyond,” said Imperiale, the firm's chief executive. "There are huge opportunities here for our business as the UK economy bounces back from the pandemic."

Shultz, NJI president, said: “Creative work needs to be smart and beautiful, and that's where we succeed. As an agency, we specialise in mobilising people around a common purpose.

“We understand the unique intersection between policy communications and creative ideas. We bring a US-style mentality to servicing our clients’ needs, as well as a truly international perspective based on our diverse team’s wide-ranging experience and skills. I am absolutely confident that London is the place to be to build our international business in the long term.”

Houlsby was at the Foreign Office for 12 years. As a diplomat, he undertook postings to Baghdad and Beijing before becoming head of media and press secretary to three consecutive Foreign Secretaries, including Johnson.

Houlsby left the Foreign Office at the end of 2019, after which he provided comms consultancy for major corporations and national and regional governments across Europe and the Middle East before joining NJI.

Houlsby said: "I’m delighted to join NJI as head of the UK team. NJI’s strategic, digital and creative skillset is second to none, and there is a huge market here for high-quality, data-led, public policy-focused communications. There is massive potential to grow in the British market, but I am confident that we can use our new office here as a platform to win business across Europe and the MENA region too. We are hiring a number of roles in the weeks and months to come as our team in London grows.”

'Prime opportunity'

The agency employs around 50 globally, with the UK team already at eight. Imperiale told PRWeek he hoped the UK office would be as big as or bigger than its US counterpart within five years.

The plan is to make the UK office the "international hub", Imperiale said. Work across Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific would mostly be led from London, alongside the Singapore office.

Asked about the impact of the UK's exit from the EU, he said: "We are fairly certain that London is the right place for us to lead our global portfolio of clients, and despite Brexit and the challenges that it's created, we see lots of opportunities arising to bring our American style of laser-focused policy communications and top creative and customer service into this new market. We see this as a prime opportunity for us."

On the agency's client offer, Imperiale (pictured right, with Shultz) stated: "We have made a niche for ourselves in the US market being a creative-focused policy communication operation.

"Every part of a campaign that might be supportive of an initiative, or a creative marketing campaign that might have a public policy angle to it, needs to be just as creative as a traditional consumer marketing campaign. Gone are the days you can launch a policy communications campaign that is strictly traditional media and doesn't involve a creative brand of some sort and a visual identity that resonates."

This article was updated on Monday afternoon with extra comments

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