TOP 50 TECH PR PROFILES

Firefly has felt the brunt of the tech sector slump, seeing its income drop by more than £2m.

August.One Communications 6 £3,010,421 G

With August.One at number six in the table, senior consultant James Tutt says 2002 was generally a static year for the company. 'A lot of tech companies are prioritising spend to other marketing areas, where they can more easily demonstrate ROI,' he explains.

Nevertheless, the consultancy's core tech client, Microsoft, topped up its retainer work with a stream of projects. Few clients departed, although recruit-ment website Monster.co.uk rolled its UK account with August.One back to its European PR coordinator, Miller/ Shandwick Technologies, last May.

Set up in 1999 out of sister agency Text 100, with the intention of creating a generalist PR shop, the Next Fifteen-owned agency took the majority of its tech income from software and services, but also pushed its credentials beyond the classic IT sector into vertical markets. This involved working with companies such as Galileo, a provider of bookings systems software to the travel industry, while this year, the agency picked up online bank Egg.

The consultancy has also taken its thinking beyond basic media relations, establishing centres of excellence around an editorial bureau, influencer relations and a speakers' bureau.

'The pressure is now on agencies to deliver value for their clients, so we're taking a holistic approach to communications,' Tutt says.

Last month, in conjunction with parent Next Fifteen, August.One set up a new firm, Inferno, solely to handle Microsoft's Business Solutions account.

Staff numbers have remained stable. However, according to Tutt, the agency is continuing to hire more people, although 'it will not be on the same scale of 18 months ago,' he says.

Bite Communications 3 £3,704,016 G

Bite Communications recorded tech fee income growth of only one per cent, so CEO Clive Armitage can be forgiven for describing 2002 as 'the toughest year I've ever known in the tech PR business'.

In 2001, his agency achieved fee income growth of 65 per cent and boasted 68 staff, which dropped to 57 in 2002.

However, any positive growth demonstrates that Bite's endeavours to focus on its key long-standing clients, including Apple, Toshiba and BT, have paid off.

Not only did the agency not lose a single client throughout the year, it also extended its remit for some, in particular breaking into Toshiba's projectors business on the back of a six-year relationship with the hi-tech giant's personal computing division.

The agency also attracted some big-name new clients, including global top ten software firm Veritas, which handed Bite its UK PR business last spring, and Sun Microsystems, which joined the agency's fold last April.

With an eye on tech developments in Scandinavia, Bite extended its international reach, adding to its presence in London and San Francisco with the launch of an office in Sweden last spring.

In November, the agency sought to spread the risk of the current tech and telecoms slump by hiring Susana de Santos to head up its consumer division. This move resulted in wider PR remits for clients including Duracell, Carphone Warehouse and London Underground.

To avoid potential client conflicts, parent company Next Fifteen poached three Bite staff to set-up Inferno this April.

Brodeur Worldwide

Fee income figures not available

While unable to reveal financial figures, MD of Omnicom-owned Brodeur Worldwide Simon Ward says: 'Things have been quite flat here, with big gains countered by lots of little losses.'

How this statement translates in terms of tech income is less clear, as Brodeur's most recent big win, in March, was Argos Business Solutions, a provider of employee reward schemes to companies.

Nevertheless, the B2B tech specialist still has strong relationships with its two core tech clients, IBM and Cable & Wireless.

Since Ward joined the agency last May, Brodeur has been through a significant restructure, cutting six full-time director roles to three. And, as of 2003, chairman Mike Copland reduced his role to two days a week, while former vice-chairman Jonathan Simnett became a part-time consultant.

This streamlining has realigned the management structure to realistic proportions as staff numbers have essentially halved over the past two to three years. 'We were over-managed, so this has made us less top-heavy,' says Ward. 'But it also means we've kept the expertise of the individuals.'

Developments in 2003 include a broadening of the tech PR offering to embrace a more holistic approach to communications. Following the appointment of Tania Lewis to a newly created marcoms division, the agency now provides advertising, direct marketing, events, creative, online and marketing planning services to clients, alongside its long-standing PR add-ons of analyst relations and a speakers' bureau.

Chameleon PR 41 £511,519 New entry

A new entrant in the tech league table, Chameleon PR was set up in 1998 by former Insight Marketing and Communications consultant Helen Holland, who was joined in 1999 by fellow Insight staffer Rob Skinner.

'I created an environment where people could get on with the business of doing PR, rather than worrying about things like hierarchy,' says MD Holland. As a result, the agency, which now boasts nine staff, has a fairly flat structure, and Holland spends at least 80 per cent of her time advising clients.

The firm has retained founding client enterprise software specialist PeopleSoft. Vitria, an ebusiness integration software expert, has been with Chameleon for three years.

Over the past six months, the agency, which provides media relations, industry analyst relations, issues management, media training and conference speaking services for clients, has attracted some new names.

Last December, Civica, a provider of software and services to the public sector, appointed the firm to replace its incumbent agency Herald Communications.

Chameleon also picked up Cedar Knowledge Solutions this February, a provider of business intelligence, and CRM solutions to the financial services sector.

Furthermore, the agency hasn't lost any clients over the past year. 'We weren't distracted by dotcoms, and we've remained focused on the hi-tech area, particularly B2B. I think that specialism has paid off,' Holland says.

Firefly 2 £4,789,196 H

With tech fee income nose-diving from over £7m in 2001 to just under £5m last year, Firefly has felt the brunt of the telecoms and tech sector slump.

'A lot of people cut budgets, while others stopped spending altogether and took their PR in-house,' says MD Claire Walker.

Over the past year, small players, such as Indigovision, parted company with Firefly and the agency experienced the departure of some big blue-chip clients. Last November, a one-year project for third-generation mobile phone firm Hutchison 3G ended.

In March, the agency was one of the big losers in Hewlett-Packard's decision to consolidate its PR into one agency. This was a particularly hard blow, as Firefly had previously worked with Compaq for some seven years, prior to last year's £13bn merger between the two computer giants.

But if such challenges were not hard enough, last August, Firefly lost four of its six directors. Following a failed boardroom coup and a founder-led MBO, deputy MD David Hargreaves, director of ten years Kieran Moore and directors Annabel Abbs and Ricky Merry all departed.

However, Walker says: 'The impact on the business was negligible. That's not to say the people who left weren't excellent directors, but the client relationships were with the account directors.'

There was a silver lining. Former Weber Shandwick tech CEO Cathy Pittham joined the firm as a director. Meanwhile, last month, the FT ranked Firefly at number 46 in its 50 Best Workplaces in the UK.

Harvard Communications 7 £2,932,000 New entry

Listed last year within the cluster of agencies that made up the former Chime Online, at the end of 2002 the Lord Bell-owned group became Harvard Communications, incorporating Harvard Health and Harvard PR.

Harvard Communications recorded a shocking drop of 38 per cent from its total fee income over 2001, but the tech end of the business, Harvard PR, which accounts for 69 per cent of the group's PR income, began 2002 by winning Vodafone's UK B2B account. However, this success was countered by the loss of six smaller clients due to evaporating budgets, liquidation or receivership. Further difficulties followed when Siemens business and network operations, internet security firm Symantec and software firm Computer Associates took their PR business elsewhere.

'In revenue terms, it was a very difficult year,' admits Harvard PR MD Gareth Zundel. The agency was forced to make 13 redundancies over the past 18 months, while board director Fraser Butters quit last July. He is now MD at Spreckley Partners.

Yet, Harvard undertook work for Pentax as it moved into the digital photography arena and, last April, one intrepid Harvard consultant went to Kabul, to launch the Afghan Wireless Communications Company.

Business remains stable in 2003, with Fujitsu appointing the agency to boost the profile of its Plasmavision screens and Bill Gates-owned image library Corbis awarding Harvard its UK media relations brief last month.

Hotwire PR 20 £1,385,564 New entry

Established in September 2000 by former Shandwick employees Kristin Syltevik and Anthony Wilson, Hotwire PR achieved revenue growth of 48 per cent and enjoyed a 35 per cent growth in profits on 2001, says Syltevik.

'When we launched, there were many burnt companies unhappy with the service levels of big PR brands, and, with the pressures on funding and performance, they liked our more focused PR offering,' she explains.

Hotwire runs its business on a practice-based structure, earning £333,000 from telecoms clients, £402,000 from the hardware sector and £651,000 from software and services providers in 2002.

The firm has now established offices in France and Germany and won a number of new clients.

Last April, Hotwire won the European remit for corporate portal vendor Plumtree Software, wireless applications service provider iTouch, domain name registration and hosting company NetBenefit, US computer peripherals firm Gyration, and UK telecoms provider THUS, owner of the Demon brand.

PRWeek's New Consultancy of the Year 2002 has also helped software-developer Palmtop launch a new range of consumer-branded TomTom products, and worked on the launch of PC and Mac products for digital media software specialist Roxio, This March, former director of Weber Shandwick's European technology practice Peter Ross joined Hotwire. He has been given responsibility for developing the agency's electronics and enterprise computing practices.

Lewis Communications 1 £5,486,466 G

At the top of the table, Lewis secured fee income growth in 2002, albeit a modest five per cent.

Agency CEO Chris Lewis attributes this performance to luck, hard work and sheer determination: 'We've consistently invested 75 per cent of our profits back into the business, so we've got rainy-day money. It keeps our people committed as they know we have cash reserves.' Despite the tech slump, Lewis has refrained from laying off staff and has no plans to do so in the near future.

Last February, the agency set up a dedicated consumer tech arm, Octane, headed by Lewis V-P of operations Ilona Hitel. This has attracted clients including BT Openworld, which appointed Octane to handle its corporate, B2B and consumer PR last spring. Yet, despite placing rival clients in different divisions, the new venture has thrown up tensions. It is believed rumblings about conflict of interest from BT's internet arm led Lewis to resign its corporate PR account with ISP Tiscali last month.

However, the agency scored a major coup in August, netting Computer Associates.

The firm also created the Lewis Media Centre, a venue for conferences and press briefings in New Labour's former PR HQ at Millbank.

The remainder of 2003 is likely to see the agency shopping around for acquisitions, both in the UK and the US. 'We'll be targeting companies who need our help, in terms of our international reach and our technology expertise,' says Lewis.

Midnight Communications 24 £1,209,597 H

Midnight Communications began 2003 with a management reshuffle. Founder Caraline Brown became chief executive and took over the reins at AIM-listed parent company BV Group, while Antony Mayfield was promoted from associate director to become Midnight's MD.

The past 12 months have been relatively kind to the agency, with overall fee income growth holding steady at one per cent. 'It's been a case of running as hard as we can to stay still, because at the moment, standing still is winning,' says Mayfield.

However, perhaps unsurprisingly for an agency that, when it started up in 1995, sold itself as a major force to the dotcom market, tech income slid by 11 per cent in 2002.

Over the past few years, Midnight has taken its dotcom skills and repositioned them to the traditional IT and telecoms market. VNU is a case in point.

Three years ago, the agency helped launch vnu.com and, in February 2003, was re-appointed by the business publisher to handle PR for its computing titles, including Computing, IT Week and Computeractive.

Yet, the past nine months have seen Midnight begin to attract blue-chip names to its portfolio. Last September, mobile services firm O2 hired the consultancy on a trade, technical and B2B PR brief - although last month, O2 put this account up for review - while this March, Fujifilm awarded Midnight a consumer PR brief for its digital cameras and accessories.

The only significant client loss in the past 12 months was Adobe, which, following the arrival of a new marketing director, switched to Lewis Communications.

Ogilvy Public Relations

Fee income figures not available

Figures for WPP-owned Ogilvy PR are not available for 2002, but it seems reasonable to assume that, like others, the UK tech division experienced its share of ups and downs.

Head of corporate practice and technology Barbara McCall reports that the beginning of the year was characterised by some US clients looking to run their European operations from the comparative safety of their home turf.

Furthermore, in 2002, the tech team was tasked with more project-based than retainer work for clients.

However, the agency suffered no major client upsets, holding on to all its big players, including Dell and Sony. In addition, last July, Ogilvy won a competitive pitch for telecoms giant Nortel Networks' PR brief across the UK and EMEA, replacing agency-of-record Fleishman-Hillard.

Last autumn brought about structural changes within the company. While there were no significant changes in staff numbers, the agency merged its corporate and tech practices, following the departure of corporate head Howard de Souza.

'This was probably significant in terms of winning new business,' says McCall. 'As the interest in technology per se has receded, so the market has become more focused on whether tech vendors have the product base and leadership to survive.'

The merger also makes sense in terms of servicing clients such as Nortel, for which the agency has a wide-ranging brief, covering corporate communications, trade and technical PR, plus media and analyst relations.

Rainier PR 28 £1,073,612 G

Last November, B2B tech specialist Rainier PR bucked the market trend with an MBO from US parent Rainier Corporation. While joint MD Steve Waddington and joint founder Steve Earl remain major shareholders, this deal was a means of giving ownership of the agency to all members of staff and ensuring their personal interest in growing the business.

Waddington also views the transaction as validation of the firm's practice model, which, since it was set up in 1998, has seen the most senior people in the agency representing clients, rather than taking a back seat.

Over the past 16 months, Rainier has attracted large tech clients, including Toshiba, and small entrepreneurial start-ups.

With particular expertise in IT infrastructure and security, electronics and early development firms, Rainier secured healthy tech fee income growth of 17 per cent in 2002. But the agency did suffer in the software and services sector: three US-based clients pulled out of Europe, while Swedish telecoms company Dynarc retreated to Scandinavia.

Following the MBO, Rainier is investing heavily in marketing and staff development, while keeping an eye out for possible investment or acquisition targets. 'We have no plans to be aggressive, but if we found the right opportunity we have access to the funds,' says Waddington.

Stewart-Muir Communications 44 £468,170 New entry

As a small, specialised B2B tech PR firm, Stewart-Muir endured the rigours of the sector downturn along with the bigger players in 2002.

At the beginning of the year, US client SoftAd ceased trading in Europe, two further clients disappeared due to marketing cutbacks post-September 11, while another simply went belly-up.

'With the demise of the hi-tech industry leading to this B2B economic downturn, specialist tech agencies such as ourselves have naturally been affected,' says consultancy managing director Louise Stewart-Muir.

However, it has not all been doom and gloom. Some clients, most notably digital stock photographer Alamy, increased their business with the agency.

Work done in 2001 for Discreet, a producer of software tools for the film, TV and games industry, won Stewart-Muir a brief last March to handle PR for its brands across the UK, North Europe and Africa.

Other business wins this year include co-location company Redbus Interhouse, and internal comms briefs for publisher VNU and memory distributor Simms International.

Last month, the agency branched out beyond the tech market, appointing Diane Davidson, founder of the PR Exchange, to lead a consumer division, to run alongside the tech team under the PR Exchange brand.

Write Image 5

£3,213,276 New entry

Set up in 1988 by Steve Ellis, Clare Walsh and Paul Burcher, Write Image, which has entered the tech league table for the first time, provides a range of marketing services.

These include editorial, press relations, analyst relations, brand, events, web and creative services, and are tailored according to each client.

CEO Ellis claims his firm has never been proactive in attracting new clients, preferring to invest attention in existing customers. Nevertheless, this has not prevented the agency hooking a raft of big names.

Long-standing clients of more than seven years include Hewlett- Packard, Reuters, Microsoft and BT's systems integration business arm, Syntegra.

In addition, in 2002, the firm picked up Misys, a global supplier of software to the banking industry.

Current areas of growth for the agency include CSR, internal comms and change management programmes, while the software and services sector is Write Image's biggest earner.

In addition to an established presence in London and a small operation in New York, the consultancy opened a Seattle bureau in February 2002.

Key:

X Top 50 ranking

G income growth

H negative income growth

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in