Weber Shandwick has been outperforming the public relations industry as a whole, and the vast majority of its competitors, for the past decade. Its performance slipped a little in 2009: it was down by about 6 percent (slightly better than WPP’s portfolio of PR agencies, considerably better than Omnicom’s firms) globally, but its North American revenues actually increased slightly over the course of the year, thanks in part to a fourth quarter rebound. There was new business from Taco Bell., Pepsico (digital work), Clorox’s Pine-Sol brand, Unilever’s Sunsilk Symantec, Samsung, Juniper Networks, SoBe, State Farm, AmeriCares, Dreamworks, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Goldman Sachs. The firm also continued to deepen and broaden its key client relationships: its top 40 now account for 47 percent of global revenue, up from 36 percent just five years ago. Key organic growth came from American Airlines, Campbell’s, Siemens, Honeywell, ExxonMobil, the U.S. Army and got milk.
With 19 offices in the United States, Weber Shandwick can match any of its competitors when it comes to its regional footprint. There was growth in several key markets during 2009: New York, the firm’s flagship office, which has strength in consumer, corporate and healthcare; Minneapolis, which serves as headquarters for some of the firm’s biggest financial services and government accounts; Chicago, best known for its impressive consumer and food and beverage expertise; Dallas, where the American Airlines account is based; and Washington, D.C., where Weber Shandwick’s own public affairs and government expertise is supplemented by the Powell Tate and Cassidy operations. Other U.S. offices include Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Portland (Ore.), San Francisco, Seattle, Silicon Valley and St. Louis. The firm has equally impressive reach north of the border, via offices in Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.
Weber Shandwick now has 77 offices in 58 markets throughout the EMEA region under the leadership of Colin Byrne, giving it a footprint that’s comparable to any of its major competitors, with about 1,000 employees. PR Week estimates that about 300 of those people are in the U.K., where Weber Shandwick is a top five player, but the story of the past few years has been the development of a much healthier balance between its British and continental European business, with Germany and Brussels among the standouts. Still, the EMEA region had the toughest time of any Weber Shandwick business last year. After a decade of hugely impressive growth, from nowhere in Asia-Pacific (in 2001, the firm was basically a Singapore hub with no significant spokes) to one of the region’s three or four largest networks, Weber Shandwick experienced a tough year in 2009, with revenues were down about 9 percent across the region. But perhaps the most significant development of 2009 saw Weber Shandwick move decisively to address is most obvious weakness, hiring Tyler Kim to open an office in Korea, taking the number of owned offices in the region to 17. The China operation remains the strongest, with close to 150 people in three offices (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) working with multinationals such as P&G, Microsoft, GM and American Airlines and Chinese companies like Yili, China Mobile and Great Wall Wine.
Weber Shandwick has strength in all of its five major practice areas. Its public affairs business remains strong, with a number of large government-funded public education programs supplementing the more traditional public policy work. The consumer practice has developed over the past five years into one of the market leaders, and the addition in 2009 of Lisa Sepulveda adds even more depth to an impressive team. Under the leadership of Laura Schoen, the firm has emerged as a powerhouse in healthcare too, with biotech and consumer health expertise in addition to its traditional pharmaceutical marketing capabilities. The technology practice began to see a rebound in the second half of the year after the loss of some Microsoft business and Nortel account in early 2009. And Weber Shandwick enjoys a good reputation in corporate communications, with the crisis communications and change management business particularly robust last year. The firm’s digital practice, meanwhile, doesn’t make as much noise as some of its rivals but is well integrated into everything Weber Shandwick does thanks to its “inline” communications approach.
Weber Shandwick has arguably the best senior team in the industry, led by global chief executive Harris Diamond, chairman Jack Leslie and president Andy Polansky, as well as a long-tenured regional and practice area leadership like Cathy Calhoun, Gail Heimann, Ken Luce and Laura Schoen. Perhaps the most notable addition to the team was Lisa Sepulveda, the former head of Edelman’s New York consumer practice who joined as president of global consumer marketing from her leadership role at Euro RSCG. Another key hire was Laura Tessinari, who joined from Ogilvy One to lead the firm’s learning and development initiatives. There were promotions for Laura Schoen, named chair of the firm’s Latin American operations; Chris Perry, head of digital; and Judith Harrison, who is now senior vice president, diversity and inclusion.
Leading public relations firms have been paying lip service to the notion of diversity for more than a decade, but in most cases the commitment has been skin deep at best: only about 10 percent of account staff at major agencies come from minority backgrounds. Weber Shandwick has made diversity a major priority, with the creation of a diversity and inclusion community at the firm’s intranet designed to generate grassroots ideas for improving the firm’s performance in this area. There’s not much else that needs improving. Weber Shandwick once again ranked among the top five large firms in our Best Agencies to Work For survey, scoring high marks for its professional development initiatives.
Over the past two or three years, Weber Shandwick chairman Jack Leslie has been developing the firm’s advocacy approach (the firm’s mission statement talks of helping clients develop “a legion of believers, supporters and fans) and a continued emphasis on metrics, building on the Net Promoter Score approach developed by management guru Fred Reichheld and developing a proprietary Advocacy Quotient tool that measures both volume and quality of advocacy. Meanwhile, under the leadership of chief knowledge officer Leslie Gaines-Ross, the firm continues to produce a variety of original research on hot-button topics, from the social media capabilities of nonprofits to the civility gap in American politics.
The firm did some sterling work on behalf of GM, which started the year in serious trouble but finished strongly, with a much improved online presence—including conversations between consumers and key executives—and CEO Fritz Henderson recognized for the “best CEO buzz” by Fortune magazine. Other highlights include advocacy work on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; helping the American College of Surgeons take a leadership position on healthcare reform issues; working with Pepsico and others at South by Southwest, showcasing the company’s various digital initiatives, and helping Pepsi use digital outreach to develop new corporate philanthropy priorities; helping Hanes target moms online; and leveraging the firm’s unique network of registered dietitians in 26 markets around the U.S. to help clients like got milk and
Campbell’s engage with consumers.
In addition to picking up our 2009 Global Agency of the Year award, Weber Shandwick has been recognized by inclusion on the Advertising Age A-List as well as being named Agency of the Decade by the same publication; took home the gold medal in PR Week’s inaugural Global Agency Report Card, and was named that publication’s International Consultancy of the Year; and was named Large Agency of the Year by PR News. In other words, the Weber Shandwick brand is among the strongest in the industry, recognized equally for impressive business performance—it is now almost certainly the largest PR firm in the world, and its track record over the past decade is consistently excellent—and the quality of its work for clients.
Our Global Consultancy of the Year for 2009, Weber Shandwick is one of only a couple of firms that can legitimately claim to be a top three player—in terms of size and quality—in all three of the world’s major regions. And an examination of the firm’s operations in the top 10 markets confirms that it’s a serious competitor in all of them, something few if any of its competitors can say. The only threat to the firm’s status among the industry elite is complacency, and there’s very little sign of that.