Top 40 Technology Consultancies 2008

Younger, smaller outfits have overtaken some of the big boys in PR tech over the past year. Clare O'Connor reports.

Steve Ellis
Steve Ellis

Metia has topped PRWeek's list of Top 40 Tech Consultancies for the third year running, narrowly beating multi-award-winning Hotwire, whose star is in the ascendant.

See a table of the Top 40 Tech Consultancies

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Metia MD Steve Ellis sounded somewhat surprised that his agency has managed to stay ahead of the competition. 'I thought we did OK but not spectacularly well last year,' he admits. 'Is it like the World Cup? Now that we have won it three times, do we get to keep it?'

Steve EllisMetia's success in 2007 was mostly down to growth from established clients, with the agency adding value to its existing retainers with CheckFree, Temenos and Microsoft. Ellis remains optimistic about the year ahead as his tech-savvy client base continues to buy into online programmes.

'Frankly, you'd have to be sleepwalking not to see the opportunities,' he says. 'We made some big bets years ago that are paying off today. We created a digital division eight years ago; now it's a huge asset, as online and social media have become mainstream.'

The remainder of the top ten sees some of the large stalwarts of the tech scene being overtaken by younger, smaller outfits, with Brands2Life moving above Citigate Dewe Rogerson and Edelman for the first time.

Brands2Life co-founder Sarah Scales believes the agency's growth spurt is indicative of a demand in the market for brand transformation - taking traditional tech companies and bringing them up to date for the digital era. 'We've seen clients such as the web portal Kelkoo wanting to take themselves to the next step,' she says. 'We're repositioning, working on messaging and realigning the brand.'

Bite has moved up from fourth in 2007's table to number three this year, thanks to seizing some of the most highly contested accounts in the sector. Bite beat smaller agencies Chameleon and Octopus to a brief from social media phenomenon Facebook, arguably the most sought-after retainer of 2007.

Director of planning Nick Rappolt credits the Next Fifteen subsidiary's performance to an account planning approach adopted at the start of 2007. 'We've created an audience-centred model, mapping the best campaigns,' he says. Rappolt has yet to see any adverse effect on tech business from the current economic climate. 'New business is strong,' he says. 'Our pitch rate has increased, although what will happen in 2009 is anybody's guess.'

Waggener Edstrom is seventh on the list, despite a four per cent fall in revenue on the previous year. Wag Ed MD of tech Kirsty Leighton explains the dip as a result of a comms restructure at Microsoft, one of its long-time, flagship clients.

Kirsty Leighton'It decided to get rid of European regional programmes and this had a knock-on effect,' says Leighton, adding that the Microsoft cutbacks have been cushioned by some sizeable wins. She cites semiconductor company AMD as the most significant win of the year, followed by data storage giant NetApp. 'We have arrived on the scene,' says Leighton. 'We're getting calls rather than knocking on doors.'

Big global restructures can indeed make the technology sector volatile, agrees Helen Holland, MD of Chameleon PR. The healthy level of M&A activity in the sector is often going to see agencies lose out when their client is bought by a bigger firm with a global PR strategy already in place.

But Holland also sees opportunities. 'M&A activity gives us a chance to position a company as a likely acquisition target,' she explains. 'Anyway, for every client lost there is a plethora of IT companies and innovative start-ups out there, which means there is ample opportunity for growth for PR companies specialising in this market.'

Another tech agency that has companies beating a path to its door is Berkshire agency Octopus, one of the top climbers of the year, up a whopping 59 per cent on 2006's figures. MD Jon Lonsdale has found himself in the final stages of high-profile pitches where small firms outside London would not, in past years, even have been considered.

'There is a trend for bigger brands taking on smaller PR companies,' he says. 'We pitched for Facebook and Nokia. A few years ago this would not have happened. The landmark pitches this year have seen the small guys involved - even if they haven't won, they've been there. It's all about having senior specialist PROs working for you. At the end of the day, clients are buying people.'

Lonsdale says that Octopus' standout year is also due to diversification, with the tech specialist taking on professional services clients such as insurance provider Columbus Direct. He sees the next 18 months as a time when traditional tech agencies will be forced to branch out into different marketplaces to profit during a predicted downturn. 'It's a combination of having multiple services as well as digital and influencer relations - a subset of what you typically think of as PR,' says Lonsdale. 'This will be key looking ahead to a challenging year.'

Edelman head of tech Jonathan Hargreaves also sees the coming year as a challenge for the sector and believes the PR industry should embrace content in order to attract budgets away from competitors in marketing and advertising. 'The adage "content is king" has never been truer,' he says.

'An imperative for the PR industry is to become creators and publishers of such content in all its forms - online and off-line, video, audio and print. And when the lines between marketing disciplines are blurring, the ability to deliver content end-to-end, from consultancy to creation to publication, is crucial.'

This year, in recognition of this change, Edelman bought digital agency Spook, focusing specifically on the creation of content.

Michelle McGlocklinHowever, there are still hurdles to be overcome in the tech sector, not least when it comes to recruitment. Citigate Dewe Rogerson slipped to fifth after a ten per cent dip in tech fees last year. The agency's corporate technology head Judith Massey admits this was down to a severe shortage of senior PROs.

'Junior people are not a problem, but finding senior people with experience of the tech sector, who also have real business knowledge, is much harder,' she says. It took the agency a year to find a director for new business, finally luring Berkeley PR head of client services and new media Philip Szomszor last month.

While Weber Shandwick is not part of the Tech 40 because of Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, tech MD Michelle McGlocklin led her team to 26 per cent growth across the division. WS talks of a 130 per cent new business growth year-on-year, which contradicts doom and gloom reports of an industry slowdown.

The agency's flagship tech win of the year was a global brief from telecoms giant Nortel. McGlocklin agrees with Edelman's Hargreaves that content will be more important than ever in 2008, but sees the mobile market, particularly, as a 'big, explosive' area. She also believes cleantech and utilities will be increasingly crucial markets for tech PR agencies looking to stay ahead.

'If investment figures are anything to go by, cleantech will be a key area - not just 'green' companies, but companies whose sole reason for being is providing services to create a positive impact on the environment,' she says.

Outside London, many of the smaller, outfits have seen phenomenal growth this year. Brighton-based Midnight Communications is quickly climbing the rankings, thanks to a sophisticated digital division. 'With the growth of social media, we've developed a digital offering for consumer clients - and the focus has paid off,' says Midnight MD Sarah Ogden.

 

Like Octopus' Lonsdale, Ogden sees the expansion of tech PR agencies into new sectors as crucial for combating the coming recession. 'The tech industry is full of early adopters - we're taking our expertise and rolling it out to new areas,' she says.

NEW ENTRY: MULBERRY
CHRIS KLOPPER, MD, Mulberry Marcoms

How can you explain Mulberry's performance this year?
Over the past year,what was an extremely young team has matured professionally to form a tight-knit, focused and extraordinarily committed team. We have also deepened our expertise in areas such as new media, which has helped win clients and grow existing business.

Of which 2007 campaign are you most proud?
I'm proud of all the work we do. Nothing goes out of the door if we can't be proud of it. However, in 2007 we were able to more accurately record the financial uplift of our campaigns. Intermec, Jaga and Retail Eyes, in particular, acknowledge what we have achieved for them.

What are your plans for 2008-2009?
In the next couple of years, we plan to go through a big expansion phase, opening new offices in San Francisco and South East Asia. In the UK, our plan is to emphasise our strengths in core markets, target industries that intersect with existing clients' business, and offer the best career path for young PR talent.

NEW ENTRY: SKYWRITE
SARAH BALDRY, MD, Skywrite Communications

Your debut year fees of £593,010 placed you 29th in the Top 40 tech agencies, so you have obviously had a good year. What was the key to Skywrite's performance in 2007? Good hires? Good wins?

Over the past year we've become really strong in the telecoms, media and entertainment sectors. If you go by the old adage that you get the clients you deserve, we should be immensely proud of ourselves, having picked up brands such as O2, Shazam, Cecure Gaming, BuzzCity and Trampoline over the past year.

Of which 2007 campaign are you most proud?

We've done some amazing work for VoIP company Jajah. We initiated a series of campaigns including 'Dump Your Headset', 'Hidden Costs of Christmas' and 'eBay unfair', and guerrilla activities including student outreach, iPhone and PSP hijacking. As a result we've helped them grow from zero to ten million users.

What are your plans for 2008-2009?

We're going to keep winning business with exciting companies and hiring passionate people who share our vision. We take an holistic approach to the communications mix and we try to get in people who can help us reach consumers in innovative and complementary ways.

 

 

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