THE TOP 150 UK PR CONSULTANCIES 1998: Ones to watch - Moving up the league table is only one measure of a consultancy’s success, so here’s PR Week’s pick of the up and coming. Not the biggest, not the fastest growing, but the ones

FULL SERVICE - Hill and Knowlton

FULL SERVICE - Hill and Knowlton

The choice of Hill and Knowlton as the full service agency to watch this

year is a little unconventional. At number three in the 1998 PR Week

league tables, H&K is already one of the UK’s biggest agencies.

Nevertheless, over the last 18 months the agency has astounded rivals by

the regularity with which it has appeared on shortlists for the largest


This year’s new wins include the Department for Education and

Employment, with a pounds 750,000 budget campaign for the National Year

of Reading, British Digital Broadcasting, IT company Oracle and


H&K has a team of five people in the UK dedicated to generating new

local and international business. Comp-anies within the group, such as

internal comms outfit Banner McBride, are increasingly using H&K to work

on their own clients, and vice versa.

But, according to chief executive David McLaren: ’Half of new business

is additional business from existing clients, which is exactly as we

want it. You’re not getting new business because of things you’ve

promised but things you’ve achieved.’

Last year Kellogg, a Hill and Knowlton client in the UK since the early

1970s, extended the agency’s brief right across Europe, the Middle East

and Africa . As did another existing client, Motorola.

The strategy of growing existing clients, and of attracting fewer and

more profitable accounts, seems to be working for H&K. Fee income

increased by 16 per cent to nearly pounds 19 million, despite a one

third drop in retained and project clients.

Another reason for H&K’s continuing success is that it has not ignored

consumer marketing at the expense of the more high brow corporate


H&K estimates that it derives half of its income from consumer PR.

H&K’s reputation for brand building is now standing it in good


Clients in the healthcare or technology sectors, which previously relied

on business-to-business PR, are increasingly seeking to position

themselves as mainstream brands, using PR to reach consumer


But for McLaren, the key to H&K’s success is simply its reputation as a

successful agency, boosted by the fact that it won Consultancy of the

Year at the 1997 PR Week Awards. ’We’ve got sustainable momentum.’


Last September the agency best known for inspiring one of the PR world’s

betes noires, Absolutely Fabulous, shed its Lynne Franks skin and

emerged as Life PR.

Opinion was divided on how much of a risk dumping the best known brand

in PR was, but as chief executive Samantha Royston said at the time:

’Our name change is reflecting the fact that we have grown up.’

The new name wasn’t the only change at the agency - it also restructured

to create three new units. Influencers, to identify influences on

consumers, Futures to pinpoint trends, and Exposure to maximise media

exposure for brands. ’Clients have responded very positively to the

restructuring,’ says managing director Graham Goodkind.

It must have been reassuring for the Life team that two months later, in

November it had a record month which carried through to 1998. In January

Rover Group picked the agency to promote the 40th anniversary of its

classic car, the Mini, and in February Wrangler chose Life to handle its

repositioning as a contemporary brand. The agency also expanded its long

term relationship with Procter and Gamble, to handle the sponsorship of

the England Football Team for the 1998 World Cup.

One of 1997’s highlights was winning a brief from Lotus Development

Corporation to run special projects aimed at business directors and key

company decision makers.

’We are still perceived as a fashion PR company, but that’s just one

area of strength,’ insists Goodkind.

Despite the loss of board director Tanya Hughes at the end of 1996, and

director Jane Boardman who left in January 1997, Goodkind says there is

a core of middle and senior level managers who are ’really doing some

excellent stuff’. ’People believe they are going places,’ he says.

’Clients can sense an energy about the place when they come here.’

The big challenge in the next year is looking at the international


Life has an informal network of affiliated agencies across Europe, but

Goodkind predicts that the agency will be looking at some Life branded

’products’ soon.


The past year has seen the transformation of Shandwick public affairs

from a small, almost indistinct part of its parent agency to a thrusting

public affairs agency on the cutting edge of politics and lobbying. It

now regularly secures prominent positions on pitch-lists for FTSE 100

clients and has ferociously poached new recruits from rival


Since Christmas alone, the agency has won competitive pitches for the

BBC World Service and the BBC Policy Unit, financial services companies

Scottish Widows and Fidelity Investments.

During the same period, the agency has poached four consultants from

rival agencies. This process culminated this month with the appointment

of Chris Savage, a former head of industry policy at the TUC who joins

from competitor agency the Public Policy Unit. Savage will become the

agency’s second director and head up its new regulation and competition

policy unit.

Shandwick public affairs managing director, Colin Byrne, is undoubtedly

the driving force behind the agency’s journey to the forefront of public

affairs. His success owes as much to the election victory last May,

which created an unprecedented opening for well-connected lobbyists -

Byrne worked as Peter Mandelson’s deputy for four years and helped his

former boss out during the election - to gain access to the new

Government, as to Shandwick’s innovative approach to political


’When Shand-wick public affairs was set up in February 1997 it liberated

the potential of public affairs within Shandwick, previously buried

within a financial PR company. Then the run-up to the election put us

politically on the map as the hottest new Labour shop,’ says Byrne.

Eyeing the success of his public affairs offshoot, Shandwick UK CEO Mike

Murphy is keen to cement the relationship between Shandwick UK and the

group holding company International PR.

’The future is a good one for us,’ says Byrne, ’having a profile of our

own but being able to leverage off a huge international PR company. We

could double our growth potential’.

HEALTHCARE - Cohn and Wolfe

Cohn and Wolfe has worked hard to break away from its image as

Burson-Marsteller’s little sister, and has generally been recognised as

a strong creative consumer agency. Therefore it may come as a surprise

to some to know that the healthcare division accounted for 30 per cent

of its income in 1997, and if it continues to grow as expected,

healthcare will become the biggest division in the agency.

In 1996 the healthcare team pulled in fee incomes of pounds 700,000. By

the end of 1997 that figure had risen to pounds 1.2 million, and the

predicted year end fee income for 1998 is already in excess of the 1997


International director of healthcare Martin Ellis says it has been

particularly encouraging that a large part of the growth has been from

new wins from existing clients. ’What we are doing right is delivering

the communications output to support and grow clients’ brands,’ he


Ellis’ role as international director of healthcare for C&W is a recent

promotion, and means he is responsible for managing relationships with

international clients across Europe and Asia Pacific.

With a total of 12 retained clients the healthcare team has also doubled

in 1997, from ten people to 20, recruiting account director Fiona

Stratford, whom the agency snapped up from her post as public affairs

manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb when the in-house department was axed in

June last year.

C&W has a long-term relationship working on ethical and over-the-counter

products for Boehringer Ingelheim, and won the pharmaceutical giant’s

account to promote the phasing out of CFC metered dose inhalers in July

last year.

In January C&W won an account from Windsor Healthcare, to work on

Pharmaton, a unique combination of vitamins and ginseng which is said to

relieve fatigue.

A major campaign for the healthcare team has been the ’Fab After Fifty’

health education programme sponsored by Eli Lilly and launched last

October with backing from broadcaster Gloria Hunniford. The campaign has

relied completely on PR, and the freephone number has already received

over 100,000 calls.

The healthcare division was also commended for its ’Tea and Health’

campaign for the Tea Council at the 1997 PR Week awards. C&W produced a

report on the potential value of tea drinking to the nation’s health

which attracted significant coverage.

’Healthcare is an increasingly important part of Cohn and Wolfe’s

network, and we are looking to develop further capabilities across

Europe,’ says Ellis of the agency’s future plans. ’A few years ago we

had to fight very hard for a relatively small percentage of the

pharmaceutical industry’s marketing budget. That percentage is now much

greater because the industry understands the positive effect PR has on

its brands.’


The year ahead holds strong potential for growth at Icas PR for a number

of reasons. Firstly, the recruitment last August of Alison Starbuck,

formerly head of planning at The Rowland Company as director of consumer

PR, signalled an intention to diversify the agency’s range of


Carl Courtney, managing director of Icas, says: ’We have succeeded in

attracting good quality staff and have built a strong team across the

agency. The next obvious area of growth is IT consumer.’

Starbuck is working with existing corporate clients such as Black Horse

Agencies and Continental Tyres on consumer work but Icas plans to extend

her remit to hi-tech clients.

Icas’ international focus may become particularly important with regard

to hi-tech clients and the move in the sector toward pan-European and

even global accounts.

Courtney’s claims of growth on the international side are borne out by

the recent win of a pan-European account for Hitachi Data Sytems and an

account won last year to work with Santa Cruz, which provides Unix

server systems, across Europe and Middle East, India and Africa.

Icas’ potential for growth has been exhibited in the past few months

with its presence on some heavyweight hi-tech pitch lists including

Nokia Mobile in the UK and training and recruitment firm CRT Group.

It is significant that both these clients required the combination of

corporate and hi-tech capability that Icas can now offer to prospective

clients. Though the agency missed out on these accounts, 1998 could be

the year that promise is converted into results.

Icas’ clear intention is to grow its hi-tech division alongside its

corporate and consumer sections. The hi-tech division has grown

significantly enough to enable it to relocate from Hemel Hempstead to

offices in central London sometime in the next few weeks. The next few

months could be a watershed for the agency.

FINANCIAL - Finsbury

Over the past few years there has been little to challenge the standing

of the top City agencies. However, Finsbury, launched in October 1994 by

former Financial Times political correspondent Roland Rudd, has stirred

up the sector.

The past year has been particularly good for Finsbury. It won new

clients including Carlton Communications, HMV Media Group, Great

Universal Stores, Virgin Express, Laporte, Pilkington, and Capital


Through such impressive client acquisitions Finsbury has quickly entered

the heavyweight agency league. Indeed, half of its 22 retained clients

are FTSE 100 or FTSE 250 companies. Another factor in Finsbury’s favour

is the democratic nature of its structure. While it has three partners

in Rudd, Rupert Younger and James Murgatroyd, its culture isn’t run

around job titles. All 17 of its staff are expected to have in-depth

knowledge of clients they work on. This means, in theory at least, that

whoever a client speaks to at the agency they are reaching similar

levels of expertise.

Finsbury has very fixed ideas on how it operates and the types of client

it most wants to work with. While it would like to maintain a strong

proportion of FTSE 100 and 250 clients it has a preference for clients

who use it as their sole PR agency, encompassing disciplines such as

public affairs in addition to core financial work. It has recently

advised on public affairs for Great Universal Stores following its bid

for Argos, and for Somerfield and Kwik Save on their proposed


The next year is a big one for Finsbury. It is likely to see an increase

in referrals for bid and M&A work but its handling of retained clients

is perhaps more vital if it is to become a long-term rival to the likes

of Brunswick and Financial Dynamics.

REVIEW OF 1997 - Last year’s ones to watch

How reliable are PR Week’s predict-ions? Here is a brief look at how the

agencies we tipped last year fared

- Scope Ketchum was chosen as the full service agency. In 1997 it moved

two places up the ranking. Fee income and staff levels were both up by

around 20 per cent-this is in line with the company’s target.

- Consumer agency Jackie Cooper PR also moved up the ranking, by five

places. It had high profile client wins in 1997 with Cable and Wireless,

L’Oreal and Shellys Shoes.

- Lobbying agency Westminster Strategy also had a strong year,

appointing several new consultants and promoting Mike Lee to deputy

managing director. Client wins included the England and Wales Cricket

Board and the Association of Train Operating Companies.

- August 1997 saw a management buyout of hi-tech choice Profile PR by

former directors Richard Hewitt and Allan McDonald. Big wins this year

included new networking technology company Virtual Access and work for

BT on corporate reputation and regional initiatives.

- The Hogarth Partnership started out with one client when it formed in

1997. A year later it had a list of 22 clients including the Thomson

Travel Group and the Nationwide Building Society - almost double what it

set out to achieve.

- Finally, GCI Healthcare exceeded its hopes of fee income of pounds

500,000. New work included antibiotic Klarisid from Abbott Laboratories,

SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories and it increased work for

existing client Johnson and Johnson.

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