News Analysis: Freuds - forever in the spotlight

Matthew Freud's right-hand man, Kris Thykier, has quit to become a film producer. Hannah Marriott asks what the future holds for the agency he is leaving.

It has been a long time since Freud Communications – whose former clients include Geri Halliwell and hit C4 show The Big Breakfast – was primarily seen as a glitzy entertainment boutique.

Today it boasts almost 150 staff, is owned by Paris-headquartered Publicis Groupe, and most of its profits (thought to be in the region of £6m last year), do come from big-name consumer and corporate clients (see below).

The fact that some of Freuds’ clients are believed to pay around £2m to £3m in fees each year proves the consultancy has become a serious corporate force. In 2005, fee income was esti­mated by PRWeek to be circa £12.7m (Top 150 Consultancies Report, PRWeek, 21 April 2006), making it the UK’s tenth-largest agency.

High-level advocates, such as Labour peer Lord Philip Gould – who has just become a non-executive director of the agency (see Related Stories) – praise its creativity and strategic nous: ‘Matthew [Freud] is a brilliant strategist at CEO level, and has turned Freuds into a strategic comms consultancy – there has been a change to its character and what it does.’

Celebrity links
But the agency still oversees star-studded campaigns – from film premieres (such as Borat) to Product Red and the Baftas – which maintain the glamorous reputation that some rivals would kill for.

And it was somehow apt that when vice-chair Kris Thykier announced last week that he was to leave, it was to become a producer at Matthew Vaughn’s MARV Films (PRWeek, 12 January). Many ex-Freudians praise Thykier – Matthew Freud’s right-hand man for 15 years – for his charm and creativity. Former associate director Lisa Jedan, now MD of PR at The Lounge, says: ‘Kris would say something in a meeting and I would think, God, I wish I could have said that.’

So, will he be missed? The Independent editor-in-chief Simon Kelner thinks so: ‘Kris is very well liked within his own organisation, and out in the wider world – he can pick up the phone to any national newspaper editor.’

Tellingly, Thykier and Matthew Freud are the two contacts with whom Kelner most often deals at the agency. When Thykier leaves, then, who other than Matthew will have such high-level access? ‘Someone else will emerge to do that job,’ predicts Kelner. Indeed, Thykier’s departure next month appears to open a fantastic opportunity for the agency’s existing senior staff.

Thykier’s exit will certainly not derail the agency. Julian Henry, chairman of Henry’s House, says: ‘Freuds is a powerful juggernaut – even the departure of a man of Kris’s undoubted qualities won’t distract from that’.

Thykier himself believes his departure will have ‘very little long-term impact’ on the agency, pointing out that the appointment of former ITV director of corporate affairs Nicola Howson a year ago (PRWeek, 25 Jan 2006) placed an additional and experienced pair of hands at the helm.

Matthew Freud is, of course, Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law, and is chummy with The Sun editor Rebekah Wade. Last year, he threw a party attracting guests ranging from Tony Blair to 50 Cent. But his dealings with his contacts have caused controversy, too: last year he caused a stir by hosting client and Millennium Dome-owner Philip Anschutz, and government minister Tessa Jowell, at a dinner.

Freuds continues to be renowned as being a tough place to work and some former Freud juniors speak of a ‘them-and-us’ culture that separates the rank-and-file from directors. This surely cannot be helped by the fact that junior staff work in a separate office to the Mayfair-based top brass.

On the other hand, Freuds does have its perks. Staff celebrated Christmas last month with their in-house version of ITV’s X-Factor – with none other than Wade, Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan as judges.

People moves
Henry Chappell left Freuds in 2001 to found Pitch PR. He says Matthew Freud was so ‘helpful and understanding’ that he even invested in the new company. Similarly, when Simon Jones and Jonathan Hackford left to set up Hackford Jones in 2003, they were given licence to take some of Freuds’ music and TV clients with them.

Although Freuds nowadays does not seem to be seeking celebrity work (‘years ago we used to pitch against them all the time, but it never happens now,’ reflects Julian Henry), the agency certainly makes use of its celebrity associations for business gain. Even its website tempts prospective clients with ‘film screenings and VIP passes’.

Outside London, Freuds also has a growing presence in the US. The agency launched properly in New York City 18 months ago, installing former Miramax Films PR man Matthew Hiltzik as office head (PRWeek, 24 June 2005).

Former Freuds (UK) board director Jonathan Sanchez, now chief comms officer at Euro RSCG Worldwide and based in New York, says: ‘There is probably no better known PR agency than Freuds in Europe – of all the UK agencies they should succeed here – but awareness of their brand here is low.’

Thykier, however, insists that Freuds’ New York presence is ‘starting to be pretty significant’. He earmarks the US as an area with potential for major growth for the agency, along with international work in general and pulling in more of those heavyweight, strategic (and big-billing) corporate and consumer clients.

That is the masterplan, then. But it is Freuds’ alluring associations with the world into which Thykier is heading full-time – entertainment – that will still separate the agency from rivals.

Freud Communications: who’s who and top clients

Chairman Matthew Freud

CEO Nick Wiszowaty

MD Fiona Noble

Deputy MD Rebecca Hirst

Creative director Paul Melody (also oversees Nucleus, the agency’s insight and research division)

Director (corporate and crisis management) Oli Wheeler

Director (consumer) Nick Mulholland

Director (media and public affairs) Kate Garvey

Director (film and entertainment) Nicola Howson

Director (media) Patrick Keegan

Director (film) Kate Lee

Director (resp. for international business) Mia Brniceuik

Major clients include: AEG, Amex, BSkyB, Carphone Warehouse, Greater London Authority, MySpace, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Random House, Sony, Visit London, VW and Warner Bros.

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