Top 150 - 2005: Ones to watch

PRWeek picks out three of the most enterprising agencies from the financial, healthcare and consumer sectors. These agencies are tipped to shine in 2005.

GAINSBOROUGH COMMUNICATIONS

Set up in 2003 by former Citigate Dewe Rogerson (CDR) directors Andy Cornelius, Duncan Murray and Julian Walker, Gainsborough Communications is already making its presence felt. In its first full year of operation, the financial and corporate specialist built a quality client base, including Debenhams, Balfour Beatty, the Vaillant Group and Bank Austria, and it advised on 22 deals worth more than £4bn.

Working from serviced offices in High Holborn, London, the company has a simple ethos: to offer senior, bespoke advice. 'There is a tendency to downwardly delegate in larger agencies and take a one-size-fits-all approach,' says Cornelius. 'But what clients want is to meet and deal with senior executives who have a wealth of experience.'

The latter is something the trio have in abundance. Cornelius worked as a financial journalist for more than 20 years before rising to MD Europe at CDR, Murray's 15 years in the industry includes an in-house stint with Taylor Woodrow, while Walker is a former European comms head for Chase Manhattan Bank.

This wide-ranging expertise has enabled the agency to call on some long-standing relationships to build its business. Cornelius has a history of working with Debenhams chief executive Rob Tempelman and finance director Chris Woodhouse, facilitating a corporate and financial PR brief from the high street retailer last April.

Meanwhile, the three directors have made good use of their CDR contacts, and now name engineering and construction giant Balfour Beatty, The Clapham House Group - owner of restaurant chain, the Bombay Bicycle Club - and retailer Halfords among their clients.

The company has also won its fair share of new clients through competitive pitches, including chilled-food supplier Uniq, which hired Gainsborough in a two-way shoot out with Gavin Anderson.

Major deals that have been handled in 2004 include the sale of private equity firm Doughty Hanson's portfolio company ATU, Urban Dining's acquisition of UK restaurant group Tootsies and Debenhams' bond issue in May.

Having shrugged off the shackles of working for a network to become sole investors in the business, the three directors are relishing their independence and freedom.

'It's so refreshing making the decisions of whom we work with and how,' says Cornelius. 'It takes out the unnecessary layers of bureaucratic hassle that doesn't help us and certainly doesn't help clients.'

Expansion is likely to remain organic as the firm looks to maintain its position as a PR boutique, although there are plans to take on more 'like-minded' senior consultants.

Balfour Beatty head of corporate communications Tim Sharp, who renewed his working relationship with the trio last July, says: 'Over the years, I have learnt to trust them as individuals in terms of their advice and knowledge of the media specifically, and of my own business and industry.' Tonic Life has found a niche in the market between healthcare and consumer

TONIC LIFE COMMUNICATIONS

For those who wondered what happened to Scott Clark and Oliver Parsons, who quit in apparent dramatic fashion as respective MDs of Fleishman-Hillard UK and its healthcare subsidiary CPR Worldwide last spring, Tonic Life Communications (TLC) is the answer.

In fact, the duo who gave notice within a week of each other, set up new venture TLC last autumn with Moira Gitsham, with whom Clark and Steve Carroll co-founded CPR before the firm sold out in 1999.

With the trio's collective experience heavily weighted towards the healthcare arena, the new firm is aimed at life science and lifestyle. 'The world doesn't need yet another healthcare or consumer agency, but where we are genuinely unique is in hitting the spot between the two,' says Clark.

In practice, this means that clients range from Europe's largest biotech company Serono and French pharma firm Servier to Procter & Gamble and Cadbury Schweppes, for whom the company does corporate work on a global basis.

As a result, most of the London-based agency's work divides into either putting a consumer face to an ethical pharma offering or giving medical weight to a FMCG brand.

In the seven months since its inception, projects have included launching the inaugural World Psoriasis Day last October, aimed at fighting the myth that psoriasis is contagious. It is funded by a range of drugs firms, including client Serono.

Meanwhile, the agency is currently running an ongoing push to flag up the cardiovascular benefits of consuming Welch's purple grape juice to the women's and trade press.

Other key healthcare and consumer clients include Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, frozen-food giant Findus, which the agency picked up last November, and the Federation of European Cancer Societies.

The trio has been diplomatic about working their previous contacts, choosing to explore former relationships in new areas. Nevertheless, Clark predicts fee billing in excess of £1.2m in 2005.

Having started with a team of five, head count has grown to 12, with further hires expected later this year. All staff benefit from a profit share scheme and the company is flexible about accommodating childcare responsibilities. In addition, this January, the agency paid for the whole firm to go on a long skiing weekend in France.

'We're lean, but not mean,' says Clark. 'And if you spend up to ten hours in the office every day, then you've got to be passionate about it. But it should also be fun.'

Serono director of marketing Jon Bastow, who has worked with Parsons in particular for more than three years, describes the firm as 'a nice bunch who, even though they're expanding their business, still have a big focus on the quality of work and advice they offer existing clients. They also take a very creative approach and are flexible about sudden changes of plan.'

Aware that the US holds 40 per cent of the world's pharma market, TLC aims to establish an American office by the end of the year.

MISSION MEDIA

It takes a certain type of 25-year-old to leave a well-respected public relations agency such as Freud Communications and set up their own agency.

Brave certainly, foolhardy even, but this is what former Freuds senior account manager Nicola Quayle did in May 2003. And she is the first to admit that there was an element of naivety about it all.

'If only I'd known then what I know now about all the pitfalls,' she says. 'But Matthew Freud made it all look so easy and I wanted a challenge and was very ambitious at the time.'

It is a testament to the skills and determination of Quayle and her team of now 15 that it all turned out so well, with the new firm hitting a turnover of £560,000 in 2004.

Within six weeks of setting up, Quayle was joined by Freuds colleague Thomas Bunn, and following a chance meeting with the infamous Rocky Mazzilli, co-owner of fashion brand Voyage, the pair found themselves with just weeks to promote Voyage's new flagship store on Conduit Street.

'We hit the ground running, and our wider circle of friends and contacts were extremely generous in giving us recommendations,' says Quayle.

To date, the agency has worked on a diverse portfolio of clients ranging from Premier Model Management and Mac Cosmetics, to Furlong Hotels, designer watch brand Fossil and O2. Meanwhile, last September, the firm picked up a £250,000 brand awareness account from Gumball 3000, the operation behind the six-day Gumball Rally car race across France, Spain and the Sahara.

Recent projects include snaring UK fashion designer Matthew Williamson to design a new line for high street jeweller Goldsmiths, backing Hackney florist McQueens' expansion into candles and organising a model search with O2. Earlier this year, the agency also hooked David Hockney to curate an exhibition of portraits by US photographer Robert Mapplethorpe for the Alison Jacques Gallery.

'Our company philosophy is about delivering beyond expectations for all our clients. We are trying to open doors and develop relationships for brands in areas they've not been in before,' says Quayle.

And this outlook seems to be endorsed by clients and journalists alike. Premier Model Management chairman Chris Owen describes the agency as 'forward thinking, strategic and highly motivated'.

Meanwhile, The Times news editor Adam Fresco says: 'Mission sees the line the journalist needs very quickly - it's a very professional company with great contacts, making life easier.'

The company boasts that it has a powerful address book and that most new business is still derived from recommendations and being in the right place at the right time. Quayle, for example, initially met the chairman of Goldsmiths in the bar of The Berkeley Hotel.

Currently based in South Kensington, the company is looking to double its office space within the next two months and plans to relocate to Mayfair.

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