AGENCY 2001: PUBLIC RELATIONS AGENCY OF THE YEAR - Cohn & Wolfe - Cohn & Wolfe's work for the Coke auction web site meant that it received in every national newspaper

Public relations has not escaped the current squeeze on marketing

services at the moment, and public relations has not escaped. Several

agencies among the top 20 report staff cuts in response to client budget

cuts.



Cohn & Wolfe, however, claims to have boosted staff to 120 from 93 back

in the spring, on the back of business wins that have "far outweighed

losses". And this following a 33% rise in income in 2000.



The agency is owned by WPP, acquired when the latter snapped up the

Young & Rubicam advertising group last year. It was Y&R's number-two PR

network, arguably providing an outlet for conflicting accounts for its

big sister agency, Burson-Marsteller.



Earlier in the year, managing director Martin Ellis said C&W's focus had

always been on understanding the client's brand and its audiences, and

delivering tangible, measurable results, predominantly through media

relations programmes. "We don't believe in having media relations

specialists," he added. "Every one of our staff is talking to

journalists every day of the week."



Account gains



It is an approach that appeals to many clients. Account gains in the

past year, worth around £1.7m, include Sky, Unilever (Domestos),

AstraZeneca (Zyban), Unisys, Samsung, Playbox, Biogen, Wildfire and

Adidas.



Losses, amounting to £730,000, have included Deloitte, Lloyds TSB,

the Department of Trade and Industry, I-Fusion, First Quote and Top

Jobs.



Coca-Cola's much-praised Coke Auction web site (www.cokeauction.co.uk),

offered the chance to bid for 'must have' teenage items, and experiences

that cannot be bought. Publicising sales promotions is notoriously

difficult, and Cohn & Wolfe's answer was to create a series of

newsworthy prizes that could be built into the programme.



The promotion was launched with an opportunity on the auction site to

bid for a free university education. Other prizes included a chance to

enjoy a white Christmas by having your house covered with real snow.



The programme achieved coverage in every national newspaper and many

regional titles, with a combined reach for the coverage of 150

million.



Equivalent advertising space would have cost £1.3m. More than

250,000 people registered on the web site, and more than 4 million

ringpulls and labels were collected.



Coverage was at least as extensive for the launch of GlaxoSmithKline's

Zyban, the first prescription-only treatment to help people stop

smoking. Here, though, the key objective was to raise awareness while

avoiding claims of 'wonder pills'. All objectives were met, according to

the client.



CPN



Omnicom's Countrywide Porter Novelli has been gearing up for growth. Its

three-year plan includes investing in the 'growth' practices of

healthcare, financial services and IT/telecoms, and targeting key

clients with growth potential. the plans also saw Neil Backwith promoted

to chief executive of the UK agency and of Porter Novelli Europe. Fiona

Joyce was promoted to UK managing director, and Sally Williams to

managing director for strategic business development.



The healthcare practice has grown by 60%. Despite a difficult year for

the City, financial services is up by 80%. And the agency is claiming a

150% growth in IT/telecoms work, where it has established a new global

practice, Porter Novelli Convergence.



The list of account wins includes GlaxoSmithKline, AXA, Barclays, the

Food Standards Agency, Worldcom, GNR, Esso Lubricants, Johnnie Walker

and Heinz.



Countrywide Porter Novelli won two categories in this year's Public

Relations Consultants Association awards. One of these, in the finance

sector, was for a campaign for the GM credit card, which offers loyal

users discounts on Vauxhall cars. The agency created a credit card index

that changed the perceptions of journalists, leading them to put less

emphasis on interest rates, and more on features such as loyalty

benefits.



HILL & KNOWLTON



Although Hill & Knowlton prides itself on being a multi-skilled agency -

it loathes the term generalist - it is also firmly established as the

biggest player in consumer public relations. Almost half its income -

£13.1m last year - is derived from addressing the consumer market,

and it gets almost twice as much business from this sector as any of its

competitors.



This year it has established two startups - PiranhaKid to handle

conflicts, and Bisquit, a design offshoot to handle everything from

event management to web design.



Most account losses in the past year have been due to budget cuts at

dotcom companies such as Eurobet, BuildOnLine and Stepstone, the agency

claims. Gains have included Marconi, Compaq, Philips, Findus, the Rugby

Football Union, Nestle, the AA and Britvic.



Recent projects have included work for Crookes Healthcare to tackle the

problem of young eczema sufferers resisting the use of creams to help

their condition. The agency created two characters, Mr itch and Mrs

Soothe, and stars to go on a wall chart every time emollient cream is

applied. The prize for full compliance over time is an electronic pet -

an apt choice, since many eczema sufferers are forbidden normal

pets.



GRAYLING GROUP



Grayling is a subsidiary of Havas Advertising, which plans to

restructure its below-the-line holdings due to the current economic

climate. Nevertheless, Grayling claims, its owner is pleased with its

performance. The second half of the year, it adds, has been far better

than the first.



New business includes Manganese Bronze Holdings, the British Toy & Hobby

Association, CGNU, and the Department of Health. Grayling lost the

accountancy software company Sage.



A campaign for Bayer's Canesten this year yielded the memorable headline

that embarrassment is becoming a health hazard. It was based on market

research showing that men and women don't like discussing conditions

such as sweat rash, athlete's foot, 'jock itch' and thrush, and often

would rather ignore them. Media coverage was widespread, prompting

demand for two booklets produced by Grayling - one for health

professionals and one for the general public.



TOP 20 PUBLIC RELATIONS AGENCIES

Rank Agency Income 2000 Income 1999 %

(pounds) (pounds) change

1 Incepta Group 36,795,000 30,027,000 22.54

2 Weber Shandwick Worldwide 31,929,000 28,845,000 10.69

3 Bell Pottinger Communications 30,479,000 24,514,000 24.33

4 Hill & Knowlton UK 28,934,000 25,201,000 14.81

5 Countrywide Porter Novelli 20,906,000 19,019,000 9.92

6 BSMG Worldwide 17,919,000 9,821,000 82.46

7 Burson-Marsteller 17,187,000 17,554,000 -2.09

8 GCI/APCO 16,282,000 11,706,000 39.09

9 Good Relations Group 13,124,000 9,876,000 32.89

10 Biss Lancaster 11,282,000 9,688,000 16.45

11 Chime Online 10,741,000 n/a n/a

12 Ketchum 10,570,000 8,806,000 20.03

13 Edelman PR Worldwide 10,458,000 9,001,000 16.19

14 Medical Action Communications 10,200,000 9,900,000 3.03

15 College Hill 9,831,000 7,457,000 31.84

16 Grayling 9,291,000 8,794,000 5.65

17 Cohn & Wolfe 8,409,000 6,309,000 33.29

18 Fishburn Hedges 8,158,000 6,768,000 20.54

19 Freud Communications 7,485,000 6,690,000 11.88

20 Firefly Communications 7,076,000 5,652,000 25.19

Source: Marketing league tables.



WEBER SHANDWICK WORLDWIDE



In the category of one to watch is Weber Shandwick, the product of much

rationalisation within Interpublic. During 2001, the agency has worked

for clients including Coke, Kodak and British Midland. Weber, which

included under its umbrella McCann PR and Ludgate, merged with Shandwick

last year.



This is the grouping in second place in the table, which is based on

figures for 2000.



This autumn, however, Interpublic has merged it with BSMG, a PR network

it acquired when it bought True North.



The rationale for the latest merger was apparently surplus capacity in

the US, but it creates a UK agency with an income of some £50m.



FISHBURN HEDGES



Fishburn Hedges is a subsidiary of ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO,

in the Omnicom stable. In an intriguing move, it has recruited Sue

Garrard, a senior board director at AMV, to help broaden its marketing

perspective. It also has a well-established design arm, and has

recruited Martin Brown, formerly of the Design Council, to head it.



Fishburn Hedges is also among the few big agencies to have increased

staff numbers in what has clearly been a difficult year for the

industry.



Account gains in the past year have included Transport for London, on

congestion charging, an internal communications brief from Consignia and

corporate communications for Investcorp and Visa. It lost first-e bank

and the design and production of Railtrack's accounts.



One of its most interesting recent projects has been for

PricewaterhouseCoopers.



The brief was to raise awareness of the client's expertise in working

with under-performing internet businesses. However, it wasn't possible

publicise case studies because of confidentiality issues.



The pan-European campaign therefore hinged on PwC taking ownership of

issues such as cash 'burn rates' and share prices. Widley covered in the

media, the programme is credited with attracting at least five new

clients for PwC.



FIREFLY COMMUNICATIONS



Four years ago, Firefly Communications ranked somewhere in the industry

leagues table's mid 30s. Now, for the first time, it has reached the top

20 - and it has done so without falling for the blandishments of the

many who would like to acquire it. As ambitious as it is independent,

Firefly opened a Paris office last year, and one in Munich in

October.



As an IT specialist, it has suffered somewhat on the business front from

dotcom failures and slashed budgets. Recent account gains, on the other

hand, have included Andersen, i2 Technologies, Indigo Vision and

Virgin.net.



Shortlisted for the CBI innovative company of the year, it was PR Week's

agency of the year in 2000. In this year's PRCA awards, managing

director Claire Walker was voted 'best old professional'.



To celebrate the 20th anniversary of 3M's Post-It Notes, Firefly linked

with the Royal Academy and invited distinguished artists and celebrities

to create miniature masterpieces on Post-Its. These were exhibited in

the Royal Academy restaurant and auctioned on line, raising thousands of

pounds for charity. One subsequently achieved an entry in the Guinness

Book of Records as the most valuable Post-It Note ever.



It was a story the media loved. Opportunities to see have been

calculated at 57 million.



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