Agency of the Year: Public Relations Agency of the Year - Lexis PR

A year of new clients, new business and new services were too much for even the Dasani launch disaster to dampen.

When a product launch goes bad, it can be near impossible to limit the backlash. Which is why Lexis PR's success in refocusing its business after the disastrous launch of Coca-Cola's Dasani water is one reason why it is Marketing's PR Agency of the Year.

Using sharp ideas that engaged client audiences, the agency shrugged off the digital disappointments of the previous 12 months, set about restoring fortunes and walked away from the Dasani launch-turned-recall with its reputation intact.

Following a management buyout two years ago, Lexis enjoyed a fee income rise of 15%, from £4m to £4.6m, while 2004 profits are set to increase by a whopping 50%.

The agency started early by putting its technology woes behind it and pulling in telecoms firm 3 UK in January. Throughout the year the firm took on a steady stream of clients: William Grant's The Balvenie and Glenfiddich Vintage; Diageo's Captain Morgan and Morgan's Spiced brands; bookmaker Victor Chandler; and not-for-profit organisation Arts & Business.

Other wins included Cash Generators on a b2b brief, sandwich chain Benjys, Kraft for an as-yet undisclosed launch, and the Platinum Guild. Last month Lexis found is way onto the COI roster for the first time.

Growth has also come from existing clients. Having instigated a media debate at the start of the year around perception of female beauty and the use of 'real women' in its launch of Unilever's Dove range of products, incremental work on Unilever's Surf detergent account swiftly followed.

Similarly, Terry's Chocolate Orange hired the firm on a retainer on the strength of project work promoting its range of products in the run up to Christmas.

Lexis' fledgling sports division is performing well, improving revenues by 42% on last year. Most recently, this practice took Barclaycard's sponsorship of the English Premiership beyond the sports pages to news and arts audiences by creating a competition to give the football terraces a Chant Laureate.

A prize of £10,000 to attend Premiership fixtures in the 2004/5 season galvanised 1500 football fans to send in chant entries celebrating their favourite players. The judging panel included Poet Laureate and Arsenal fan Andrew Motion.

To extend its services further, the agency established an OTC healthcare practice headed by Liz Jones from Fuel PR. Set to make £185,000 in its first year of operation, the venture won a contract from Roche Consumer Health to promote caffeine tablet Pro Plus, cystitis remedy Cystopurin and travel sickness brand Kwells.

In September the agency launched a public sector sponsorship offering, poaching Matthew Elton from sponsorship specialist EDComms. Currently working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Elton's team hopes to secure commercial backing around the UK's dual presidencies of the European Union and G8 summit next year.

In 2004 the consultancy won a number of awards, including Campaign of the Year from PR Week for increasing franchise enquiries for Domino's Pizza by more than 400% against a target rise of 25%.

Using case studies of real franchisees who had turned their initial investment of £210,000 into Domino's businesses worth over £1m, this 'Pizza Millionaires' campaign convinced the fast-food chain to dump its franchise advertising in favour of PR.

The launch of the ill-fated Dasani in March meant not all of 2004 was plain sailing for Lexis. But while its plans to promote the water stalled when it received a media panning, and was eventually withdrawn over health risks, even this failed to make a serious dent in the agency's progress. In May the agency won Coca-Cola's consumer PR for Sprite - promoting the brand's links with urban sports and lifestyle - and continues to promote Diet Coke.

In line with its upturn in business, average headcount at the agency rose from 62 to 68 during the year. To meet both the flexible working demands of employees and the fluctuating needs of clients, the consultancy now employs eight part-time workers and regularly uses freelance support.

Judging by Lexis' number 10 agency ranking in Marketing's recent Top 100 marketing employers 2004 survey, measures like these are helping to create job satisfaction.

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2003: Shine Communications

2002: The RED Consultancy

2001: Cohn & Wolfe

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