Agency Business Report 2022: Ketchum

Bouncing back after a tough 2020, the Omnicom agency hit their new business goal by the end of Q2 and saw strong revenue growth across the board.

We achieved our entire 2021 new business goal by the end of Q2. We’ve never done that before in the history of the agency.

- Mike Doyle, partner, president and CEO

In his first full year leading Ketchum, CEO Mike Doyle had an uphill battle.

While 2020 saw neither top- nor bottom-line growth and temporary pay and schedule reductions to limit job losses, 2021 was a turning point. Doyle reports double-digit top and bottom line growth that was greater than any in the past decade of the agency's performance.

"We achieved our entire 2021 new business goal by the end of Q2," Doyle says. "We've never done that before in the history of the agency."

The Omnicom agency retained 90% of business from its top 50 clients, two-thirds of which expanded their scopes into new specialty areas and 40% expanded into new markets around the world.

The growth translated into expansion, with Ketchum broadening its Canadian operations to Montreal, led by VP Bernard Cote. The firm's operations grew in Belgium as well with the merger of Ketchum and Porter Novelli in Brussels under the Ketchum brand, scaling Ketchum to market leadership in the country.

Ketchum found its footing by focusing on concretely defining what set it apart from its competitors and making sure potential clients knew it, according to Doyle.

"No one can claim culture as a differentiator anymore, but we’ve really worked hard on marrying empathy and intelligence to deliver measurable communications and business results," he says.

Industry categories that grew the most were finance and professional services, CPG, energy, manufacturing and travel, hospitality and leisure.

Ketchum’s key accounts include UpHealth, Fidelity, Frito-Lay and Johnson & Johnson and it won back top clients such as Michelin North America.

The firm drew on holding company Omnicom's omnicearnedID analytics platform to inject intelligence into its campaigns. The proprietary technology uses sales and brand health to prove the impact of earned media, quantify the impact of influencer campaigns and assess the reach of potentially damaging articles or blog posts.

"[OmniearnedID] is fueling our creativity and strategic recommendations, so we're able to attribute business results to the work we do in communications," Doyle says.

One such instance was the agency's work with the American Egg Board for Easter 2021, which delivered a 7% sales increase and a 233% increase in ROI for eggs by predicting the sales impact and validating the influencers Ketchum used by connecting it to real results.

But even within these industries, Ketchum's communications work centered around corporate reputation, CSR, purpose and employee engagement, with the latter specialty growing 300% year over year.

One particular campaign that married purpose and data was Mastercard's Strivers Initiative, which aimed to close the racial wealth and opportunity gap for Black communities and businesses, particularly those run by Black women.

Ketchum brought on award-winning singer and actress Jennifer Hudson to be the face of Mastercard’s Strivers Initiative, which aimed to close the racial wealth and opportunity gap for Black communities and businesses.

In addition to hiring about 300 new people, several senior appointments bolstered Ketchum's work during 2021, including bringing on Neera Chaudhary from Golin as president of North America.

Doyle believes that, when he was named CEO, he owed the agency someone who would bring a different perspective to Ketchum to fill his previous role leading North America.

"Neera is a healthcare powerhouse, and it's her partnership with the exceptional healthcare leaders at OPRG [Omnicom Public Relations Group] that has been one of the most important drivers of our growth," he says, adding that she actively recruited "brilliant" talent from her contacts in the industry.

Ketchum bolstered its healthcare practices by hiring Samantha Schwarz as EVP and MD of health and Jen Fuhrman-Kestler as EVP and MD of health services.

But the biggest personnel change was the announcement of Ketchum chairman Rob Flaherty's retirement after 32 years at the agency.

Doyle attributes much of Ketchum's current success to Flaherty's mentorship.

"There are few weeks that I don't channel some of the wisdom Rob imparted while he was here at the agency," Doyle says. "One of the greatest contributions he left as part of his legacy to Ketchum was in identifying and training the future senior counselors.”

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