KEY PLAYERS: Top 50 consumer consultancies 2007

Alex Black spoke to some of the movers and shakers in the Top 50 about their recipe for success.

The Red Consultancy (3)
£6,017,507 ↑ 6%

‘One thing that stood out about 2006 was how brave clients are getting,’ says Ed Staples, director in The Red Consultancy’s consumer brands division.

This may seem an odd adjective to give the people who pay your bills, but Staples is adamant. ‘Expedia let us hire someone to send around the world and establish where the bluest sky was to be found,’ he explains.

The person in question, armed with Pantone colour charts and filtered glass, surveyed the world’s sunniest regions, eventually concluding the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro had ‘the ­bluest sky in the world’.

‘We did it to tie in with Expedia’s blue sky logo, but for a client to agree to something like this rather than saying “just call some people up and get a survey done” is a sign they understand that getting decent cut-through ­requires ambition.’

The Expedia work wasn’t the only foreign travel chalked up by a Red campaign last year.

The agency also sent an AA patrol truck out to Germany during the football World Cup to capitalise on the publicity surrounding football-mad Brits driving over to Germany to watch live games.

All this falls under a new trend of ‘showing rather than telling,’ adds ­Staples, as does Red’s 2006 work for Finnish phone outfit Nokia.

Fans of rock band Dirty Pretty Things (fronted by ex-Libertines co-founder Carl Barat) used the new Nokia N91 ‘music phone’ to track down a secret gig, and were rewarded by free downloads of exclusive tracks from a new album being beamed into the phone.

Another trend that Red (and other consumer agencies) saw emerging last year is closer integration between marcoms agencies.

‘Clients’ briefs often used to revolve around asking PR agencies to work around an ad campaign,’ he explains. ‘Now we are sitting down with the advertising, marketing and online agencies at an earlier stage and being asked to work together. It doesn’t always work, but it makes our job different and we certainly factor in integration when we are at the planning stage.’

AT A GLANCE

Best performing area of 2006 Consumer services
Top three wins Glenfiddich, Department of Work and Pensions, the Football Association
Best hire of 2006 Our four-strong graduate intake
Expected consumer fee income for 2007
£6.4m
Plans for 2007 ‘Showing rather than telling’

Frank PR (10)
£3,062,419 ↑ 33%

Year-on-year growth of a third is ‘a nice balance’ between development and consolidation, says Frank chairman Graham Goodkind.


Goodkind: chairman

‘We’ve got a great base to build on and that allows us to keep driving forward,’ says Goodkind. ‘You’re using annual growth for this table, but we look at it in five-year blocks. When I look at our competitors based on that period, we have now started to outperform the ones we used to use as a benchmark. Now we’re looking at new agencies to aim for.’

Sticking to the composition of PRWeek’s Top 50 consumer league table, Goodkind continues: ‘An important measurement that isn’t shown here is profit.


There comes a point where you have to start turning fees into profit rather than simply taking on high-profile accounts to build your agency’s brand. Frank is a very profitable agency.’

This fact is presumably not lost on Frank staff, all of whom get a share of the agency’s profits.

Aside from the qualification of the agency’s greyhound ‘Flying Frank’ for the Racing Post Festival (‘the Champion’s League of greyhound racing’), Goodkind has been particularly pleased with the way Frank has turned projects into retained accounts in 2006. Both Npower and the agency’s work on Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser brand started out as projects, and briefs have flooded in for Unilever brands such as Persil and Sure.

Goodkind is also chuffed that the concept of ‘Talkability’, trademarked by Frank some time ago, is slipping into the lexicon of Frank’s clients and compe­titors.

Drilling deeper into the potential offered by the web is on the cards for 2007. Nine months ago Frank developed (and once again trademarked) Super-Fans.The theory behind it, explains Goodkind, is to identify influential audiences, be they bloggers or CEOs, and then tailor a campaign to radiate the opinions of the core group.

‘An agency that communicates with an online audience in the right way rather than just using ‘the idiot’s guide to online PR’ is going to be the agency that gets clients interested,’ he adds.

AT A GLANCE

Best performing area of 2006 Financial services (‘In that we haven’t had any of these clients before’)
Top three wins Npower, Bennets Motorcycle Insurance, Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser
Best hire of 2006 ‘I’m not going to say. The last person I flagged up as a best hire in PRWeek had six headhunters on the phone within a week’
Expected consumer fee income for 2007 ‘Pushing £4m’
Plans for 2007 Making use of online product perspective service Super-Fans

Nelson Bostock Communications (17)
£1,964,729 ↑ 152%

A quick glance at the figures shows how Nelson Bostock Communications has more than ­doubled its consumer fee income and catapul­ted ­itself from 49th in the 2005 Top 50 to 17th in 2006. In 2005, consumer work accounted for 17 per cent of the consumer tech shop’s fee ­income. In 2006, that percentage was 42.

All of which is particularly satisfying for MD Lee Nugent.

‘We made a concerted effort to add mainstream consumer clients to our traditional base of consumer tech last year,’ says Nugent.

The strategy was realised when luxury brands such as Swatch-owned Tissot came on board. The decision by Australian wine company Penfolds (owned by drinks giant Foster’s) to hand its first UK ‘luxury credentials’ project to Nelson Bostock was also something of a coup – especially now the account has since become a retainer.


Nugent: MD

Nugent and his management team are keen to build on this balance of tech and consumer tech, but also believe current clients can be part of this.

The brief for long-time Nelson Bostock client Canon has traditionally been tech-based, but the Japanese electronics firm’s sponsorship of the London, Paris and Milan fashion shows provided an opportunity for Nelson Bostock to demonstrate some mainstream consumer flair.

‘We gave fashion designers and models Canon cameras and asked them to take behind-the-scenes shots for a glossy magazine called The ­Other Side of Fashion,’ explains Nugent. ‘We also used some of the pictures for a travelling exhibition, which we set up on site during the fashion weeks.’

Another experiential campaign was run for technology firm Toshiba. The Nelson Bostock team spotted a chance to piggyback on the increased sales of expensive flatscreen TVs. A ‘HD DVD roadshow’ was ­devised and sent around the country to demonstrate how new advances in HD technology had ‘revolutionised’ the picture quality of DVDs.

Nugent thinks he has found a way of offering clients more of this kind of work. ‘There are around 20 people in the consumer team, but there are probably another 30 with consumer experience in other teams. We want to make sure we are using all the skills these people have,’ he says.

AT A GLANCE

Best performing area of 2006 Programme content and entertainment
Top three wins Disney Channels, Swatch brands, project for Penfolds wine (now retained)
Best hire of 2006 ‘Can I pick Lucy Mayo, who we hired as an account exec 10 years ago and is now our head of consumer?’
Expected consumer fee income for 2007
‘Our PLC parent [Creston] doesn’t allow us to give public projections’
Plans for 2007 Expert practices for consumer division

Cow PR (27)
£1,373,921 ↑ 40%

With growth in consumer fees of 40 per cent, 2006 was a good year for Cow PR.

The agency, set up by ex-Weber Shandwick and Red Consultancy staffers Sian Morgan and Dirk Singer, topped £1.5m in fee income last year, the majority of which came from its consumer work.

Singer has no plans to change this balance.


Singer: co-founder

‘Primarily we’re a consumer generalist agency, and as a result we do get asked “what do you do?” by potential clients,’ he says.

‘I would say our strengths are in the entertainment, leisure, ­retail, automotive and consumer tech sectors, but that’s not an exclusive list. We’ve also done work in the finance and voluntary sector fields.’

 

In 2006, Cow had particular success in the leisure/entertainment and kids sectors, he says. The agency now works for Bandai (one of the world’s top five toy companies), Revell (a toy company specialising in model kits), Jetix and Thorpe Park (part of the Tussauds group).

The agency also grew its online portfolio. Work for eBay-owned Gumtree was resigned to free up Cow to take on fish4, and other web-based ­clients included Audible.co.uk (the biggest Internet audiobook and digital content publisher), Google, Waterstones.com and Tesco.com.

Cow’s UK office (an office in Cape Town was established by associate ­director Donald Swanepoel early in 2006) nestles on the edge of London’s trendy Shoreditch and is also home to Cowshed Productions – the agency’s recently rebranded broadcast unit.

Headed up by Morgan, Cowshed Productions hired former TV researcher, director and producer Emma Thomas in March 2006. Thomas’s background at Endemol, Channel5, Sky and Australian TV allows her to produce films and footage for clients.

Success in 2006 could have given Morgan and Singer an excuse to consolidate and focus on ‘more of the same’ this year. However, a ‘sophisticated ­media evaluation system’ called Cow Wow is in beta-testing after six months of development. A social/grassroots networking division called ‘Herd’ and a creative and brainstorming unit called ‘Milk’ are also in the pipeline.

AT A GLANCE

Best performing area of 2006 Kids’ leisure and online
Top three wins Fish4, General Motors, Jetix
Best hire of 2006 ‘Our crop of graduates. We found it difficult last year to get agency staff with 1-2 years behind them, so we took on people with no previous PR agency experience. We now have a mix of ex-agency staffers and people who have no preconceived ideas about how things should be done’
Expected consumer fee income for 2007 £1.7m
Plans for 2007 Cow Wow, Herd and Milk


Click here to download the Top 50 consumer consultancies league table
Or click here for the Top 150 PR consultancies table

 

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