There are many reasons why Blue Rubicon deserved to win Marketing's 2007 PR Agency of the Year title, but one of the most important factors that helped it pull ahead of the pack was the effort the agency puts into documenting the effectiveness of its campaigns.
The judges said that Blue Rubicon had shown 'fantastic growth and real depth and breadth in terms of business results, commitment to staff and their local community. It is an agency that doesn't just talk about media coverage.'
The PR industry has spent years debating how to prove the business case for its activities, but most agencies still try to demonstrate their success with piles of cuttings. Few clients are willing to pay for more detailed evaluation of the contribution PR makes to their business objectives.
Blue Rubicon, however, strives to assert these connections. It has worked with McDonald's since 2002, its brief being to instil pride in employees and prompt consumers to reappraise the brand. In 2007 there was a 15-point rise in the latter measure. Its work for Cycling England has re-ignited an interest in cycling across all age groups, and the agency has helped GlaxoSmithKline reduce the Ribena soft-drink brand's reliance on the children's market.
Unsurprisingly, Blue Rubicon's relationships with its clients have been strengthened as a result. In its internal client survey, scores for overall satisfaction rose from four to 4.3 out of five. Cycling England has had its budget doubled, and Blue Rubicon reports to McDonald's president for Northern Europe - a far more senior contact than most PR agencies achieve.
These kinds of agency/client relationships may be one reason why Blue Rubicon enjoys the kind of staff turnover that other agencies can only dream of. Figures from the Public Relations Consultants Association show poaching is now so rife that the average agency loses a quarter of its staff each year. Over the past year Blue Rubicon lost just one of its 60 employees, and boosted staff numbers by 45%. The agency might also attribute this to its focus on staff training and development, spending the equivalent of £20,000 a year on each employee.
Like other agencies, Blue Rubicon looked at to how best to meet clients' need to monitor and influence online activity. Its solution was to bring in a head of digital media. Other initiatives included creating an online auditing tool to identify the internet voices that shape offline journalists' opinions.
The agency was also innovative in areas of corporate reputation and media relations. It commissioned Oxford Metrica to create a model for recovery of trust in a brand, and studied US campaigning techniques to look at what could be replicated in the UK to influence 'swing voter' consumers.
Many PR agencies try to elevate their standing among counterparts in other disciplines with whom they share clients. The majority have to put up with the fact that ad agencies take the lead, but this year Blue Rubicon achieved a degree of primacy in its relationships with other agencies.
The best example of this is the Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness, the entertainment sector's vehicle to tackle film and TV content piracy. Blue Rubicon led a £4m campaign centred on the 'Knock-Off Nigel' character that included advertising, media buying and digital agencies.
It also made strides this year toward becoming an ethical business, recycling more and reducing energy use, partly by swapping its printers for more energy-efficient models. This is in addition to the pro bono work the agency has done since it was founded in 1999. In 2007, for example, it spent an equivalent of 60 days' work supporting the Hammersmith & Fulham Refugee Project.
These developments have contributed to the agency's robust financial performance in 2006/07. Twenty new clients were signed up, with no losses. New briefs included the promotion of British Gas' environmental credentials, while Cadbury Schweppes turned to Blue Rubicon for corporate reputation work while dealing with the fallout from last year's salmonella outbreak. The agency also attracted work from Morrisons, Lucozade and the Energy Savings Trust.
Fee income rose 45% to £4m and profit went up 52% against an industry average of 17.5%, while at 27%, its profit margins are twice the industry average. Achieving this in the year when the four agency partners moved their 60 staff into new offices on the South Bank was particularly impressive.
2006: Frank PR
2005: Frank PR
2004: Lexis PR
2003: Shine Communications