TOP 150 2007: Ones to watch

PRWeek profiles three up and coming agencies that could soon be snapping at the heels of the bigger players.

SPORT Vero Communications

Specialist sports agency Vero was founded in January 2006 and, with a staff of just five, has grown to a fee income of £620,000 with a string of international clients.

Founder Mike Lee – PRWeek’s PR professional of the year in 2005 – says Vero’s success stems from ‘real expertise in sport business and from people capable of working at a strategic, as well as an operational, level. Plus, we’re a start-up, so there’s a huge amount of enthusiasm and ­belief in what we’re doing.’

The Vero team has impressive sporting credentials. Formerly director of communications and public affairs for UEFA, Lee subsequently held the same post for the successful London 2012 Olympic bid, for which he was awarded an OBE in 2005.

John Zerafa, previously head of government relations at 2012, came on board as a director in March 2006. Claire Furlong, from the English Institute of Sport, joined in July as head of media relations, while Olympic medallist Jonathan Edwards is a consultant and chairs the agency’s advisory board.

Lee says Vero’s ‘narrative-based and campaigning approach’ makes it stand out from the competition. ‘All great brands have a narrative – we understand what the real story is and work out the best way to tell that story.’

It seems to work: Vero became profitable in its first year and has not had to pitch for any business. Clients include the England and Wales ­Cricket Board (ECB), Lawn Tennis Asso­ciation, Liver­pool FC, Premier Rugby, UK Athletics, UK Sport, Virgin Atlantic, Visit Britain, West Ham United and Tour of Britain.

Colin Gibson, director of communications at the ECB, says the agency is unique. He asks: ‘How many agencies bring the wealth of experience that includes direction and promotion of the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League – the two most successful football brands in Europe – and also the political knowledge of the biggest prize of all –the Olympic Games? Few agencies can point to such an outstanding track record.’

International clients include Salzburg, Glasgow and Rio de Janeiro – bidding for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Olympics respectively. Vero has also begun working in the corporate market, although the emphasis remains on sport. Indeed, Lee says the ­agency’s future lies in the interface between sport and business. ‘Increasing interest in sponsorship of sport means it is becoming a very interes­ting marketplace,’
he says.

Vero is busy recruiting for two roles – a head of sponsorship and brand communications and a media manager – and recently entered into a global affiliate relationship with Edelman, giving it access to the US network’s sports, sponsorship and marketing practice.


Kelly Luchford’s determination to hire the best has marked her out since she launched Luchford APM in January 2004 and this sense of focus is reflected in the recent appointment of Fishburn Hedges Group chief executive Neil Hedges as a non-executive director.

As a fellow judge on the PRWeek Awards two years ago, Luchford mentioned to Hedges her ambition to expand the fledgling ­agency. ‘I was doing well, but needed to be in contact with people better than myself.’ The details of how they could work together emerged over the next year and a half. Luchford extends the same focus to each member of her 24-strong team whose combined expertise, she argues, makes it unrivalled in the lifestyle sector.

Director Charlotte Heath-Bullock joined last July from Focus PR, with a view to gearing up the drinks team. She came with five years’ wine trade experience, including ­Allied Domecq and Wines from Roussillon, and brought with her Kate Fairclough, who previously worked with the Champagne Infor­mation Bureau, Wines of Bordeaux and Ruinart Champagne. These choices have subsequently been proved as astute appointments, as the recent win of trade event Wine+ shows.

Not that Luchford relies entirely on her team for success. She claims 60 London hotel and restaurant wins to her name – including Tom Aikens and Terence Conran’s venture at The Great Eastern Hotel – and still puts in the hours herself on behalf of her clients. ‘As the owner, I’ve never felt the need to delegate selling in on a daily basis,’ she says. ‘Sixty per cent of my day is still spent selling in stories and I think that’s where so many people get it wrong. I still get a massive buzz from it. If I were a brand I would want to know that the key people were still selling in the story.’

Recent highs include winning the Arsenal lifestyle remit and Pringle of Scotland, which Luchford claims was ‘like coming home – we secured 90 pieces of coverage in the first 10 weeks of the job.’

Other clients include Gas Jeans, Daylesford Organic and Penhaligons. Fee income grew from £705,000 in 2005 to £1.1m in 2006, and the agency has just taken on new offices of 4,000 square feet to accommodate further growth.

Hedges says he was drawn to Luchford ­because ‘its proposition in the markets in which it operates is very attractive – added to which the sheer energy and creativity of the agency are infectious’.

Luchford says the plan now is to take advantage of the agency’s creative reputation and sign up bigger name clients. ‘To get to the million mark is fantastic, but it’s the £2m that will set us apart from the competition,’ she says.

At just one year old, Mischief PR’s mission to be the most ‘straight-talking agency’ in the indus­try is well underway. Clients appear to like the direct approach – in its first year of business the agency won all of its 15 pitches.

Founder Mitchell Kaye insists that hon­esty is the way forward. ‘We are not afraid to walk away from a pitch rather than saying whatever it takes to win it, and we tell clients what they need to know, not necessarily what they want to hear,’ he says.

A former director at Shine Communications, Kaye left to launch Mischief in January 2006, taking the Krispy Kreme UK account with him. Outspoken in his desire to be different, he saw an opportunity to get to the heart of a client’s business, providing more than a ‘bit of coverage to hang on the wall’.

Every client meeting begins with a thorough business update, and staff at all levels are exposed to clients’ financial performance and targets.

Kaye says: ‘Clients don’t like senior staff who pitch, disappear and then come back with a month to go. They don’t like agencies that can’t write properly or PR people that don’t understand their business.’

This attitude has clearly paid off. Fee ­income has grown from £156,586 in 2005 to £579,708 in 2006, and it is on track to hit £1m in 2007.

Clients include Channel 4, Lovefilm and Paypoint, with recent wins from the Teenage Cancer Trust, National Geographic Kids and PDSA.

Highlights of the past year include a guerrilla marketing campaign for More4 to promote its drama The Trial of Tony Blair, with 100 actors in Blair masks walking from the Houses of Parliament to the Old Bailey.

Mischief also created a Spot Kick Challenge for Samsung Mobile, which toured a virtual goal around eight cities, culminating in a final hosted by David Seaman and Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti.

Setting out to hire the best talent in the indus­try, Kaye says his staff of nine combines the best of the bigger agencies they are from with the hunger and energy of a fresh brand. ‘We are ambitious, driven, and in a hurry.’

He is passionate about his staff, and firmly believes that if you want the best from people, you need to give them the best environment possible. Packages are comparable to established agencies and perks include a nutritionist and financial adviser.

Kaye is confident he will cement his reputation for straight talking in the coming year with a simple aim: ‘We want other agencies to see us on the pitch list and realise they will have to be more honest than us to beat us.’


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