After a miserable 2009, the only way was up for Porter Novelli in 2010 and a respectable turnaround duly materialised in Europe. One year earlier, revenues were down after the agency lost three of its largest clients—BA, HP and Qualcomm—and then it lost its EMEA region president Jean Wylie. Fast-forward 12 months and life is a little rosier, with a global rebrand adding to the sense of renewal. The UK office, under new CEO Sally Ward, performed creditably - bolstered by wins of Morrison’s, Forevermark, and Royal Mint. The agency’s healthcare practice also saw growth, adding new accounts from Levitra, AstraZeneca, Gore Medical and Quest. And there was enough new business - from Bausch & Lomb, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, Nokia, PayPal, Bugaboo, Panasonic, Sony, T-Mobile, Volvo and Toyota - to suggest that Porter-Novelli is back on track in Europe.
Porter Novelli serves the EMEA region through a mix of wholly-owned offices and network members. The wholly-owned offices are in the UK, where the firm has around 80 people, strength across four key practice areas (corporate and consumer, healthcare and technology), and a blue-chip client list that includes P&G, Novo Nordisk, AstraZeneca and Morrison’s; Brussels, where a team of 30 has historically focused on Belgian business but has a reasonably well-developed integrated public affairs and PR offering; the Netherlands, where a 40-person firm produces award-winning creative work for clients such as P&G, McDonald’s and local telecom giant KPN; and Spain, where a staff of 90 makes PN a market leader. In 2010, PN expanded its affiliate network, notably into East Africa, via partnerships with Kenya’s Apex Communications - one of that country’s stronger agencies - and Tanzania’s Frontline Management. Of the network offices, the most impressive include Farner Porter Novelli, the market leader in Switzerland with 70 people and a strong reputation for corporate and financial counsel; F&H Porter Novelli in Germany, with 60 people and strong consumer and technology credentials; a 30-person Austrian operation with strong corporate capabilities; a similarly-sized French offer with more of a consumer focus; a Nordic network that includes about 40 people across Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden (including a new Gothenburg office); and a very extensive Eastern European presence. In the Middle East, Impact Porter Novelli has had a better 2010, thanks to particular growth in its Abu Dhabi operation.
In his second year as Porter Novelli global CEO, Gary Stockman has made strides in his efforts to re-engineer the firm’s offering. After a difficult 2009, the agency fared considerably better in 2010 - led by its North American operation - which had a strong new business run. The flagship New York office, led by Lisa Rosenberg, is a longtime leader in both consumer and healthcare communications. The Washington office is home to a public affairs practice and a major hub for the firm’s creative work. The Chicago office has grown in stature in recent years, and the firm maintains a strong presence in California, offering technology, life sciences and public affairs expertise. There are smaller offices in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, and Seattle, and north of the border in Montreal and Toronto. Following 2008’s deal with Shunya, which saw Omnciom take a minority stake in China’s largest communications company, Porter Novelli was transformed from a minor player in China (where it previously has a team of just three) into a significant force in Asia’s most important market and the region as whole. Other North Asia operations include brand partners Korcom Porter Novelli of Korea; Focused Porter Novelli of Tokyo; and LHC Porter Novelli of Taiwan, which has about a dozen people and a full-service offering. The South Asia group is led out of Singapore, where the firm has another dozen consultants, most of them providing strategy for regional programs. The largest operations are in Australia and India.
One of the PN’s challenges has been the lack of strong pan-regional practices - thanks to an inconsistent network that can be likened to a patchwork quilt. The London office is perhaps unique in being able to offer a good mix of corporate and consumer, healthcare and technology expertise, and there is enough to suggest that healthcare is becoming a genuine cross-regional practice, under the leadership of Shipra Singh. A number of the practice’s new wins and campaigns have been multi-market, including the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. The firm is also hoping to make more of its expertise in Brussels, where it already runs integrated public affairs and PR programmes, under new EU public affairs head Tim Edgar. Meanwhile, despite the loss of several key members from its London digital hub, PN’s other digital hub in Brussels remains in good shape, and the agency has launched a new ‘real-time reputation’ product to help clients plan for adverse events. Elsewhere, there are strong consumer teams in many offices (Germany, the Netherlands, Spain), and centers of excellence elsewhere (the financial practice at Farner, for example).
PN appears to have taken a conscious decision not to replace Wylie, with each market MD instead reporting into New York. There were, however, several key talent additions. Shipra Singh came aboard in London to head EMEA and Asia-Pacific healthcare, Melissa Taylor shifted from the US to head the firm’s strategic planning and research unit. Also in the UK, Jo Patterson was appointed head of consumer. In Brussels, Tim Edgar became EU head of public affairs; and in Prague Karol Fellegi was appointed Czech MD. Javier Markina was named financial and professional services leader and, in the Netherlands, Corrine Solleveld was appointed healthcare practice lead.
Collaboration and training has improved markedly this year. The firm rolled out PNU, based on the successful Omnicom University programme, identifying 55 performers from around the world to take part in a rigorous senior management programme that includes senior professors from Harvard Business School and Babson College. The firm has also put client relationship leaders into place, to improve multi-market business and cohesion, and held an EMEA conference that also included two days of training, drawing 60 delegates from 28 countries. And it continues to train people via its COMPASS, PNPoint Insights and Big It Up programmes.
PN has embraced the digital and social media revolution with considerable enthusiasm, and has taken steps to build on its product offer in this area, such as through its real-time reputation product, and through its ‘intelligent influence’ and ‘intelligent dialogue’ methodology. PN also has one of the more advanced planning capabilities of its competitive set, with EMEA strategic planning director Melissa Taylor newly appointed to oversee the area. This includes various training components along with the 2010 EuroPNStyles survey of more than 10,000 consumers, across 100 data points in the region, including new expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. There is already participation in this programme from key clients such as P&G and Almond Board of California, and PN also extended its insight offering through two new surveys in conjunction with Dutch universities: an Authenticity in Branding study; and research into Trends in Corporate Missions among 500 leading Dutch companies.
Particularly interesting work came from the healthcare practice, where PN demonstrated a welcome ability to create compelling and effective multi-market campaigns. None more so, perhaps, than the ‘speed-dating’ event it developed from Levitra, for 42 journalists from 14 European countries. Meanwhile PN Brussels also won a SABRE in the Fashion & Beauty category for a charitable campaign on behalf of P&G, persuading people to donate their hair to cancer sufferers.
The departure of Wylie robs Porter Novelli of a focal point for its European activity, which is a problem for an agency that can be too self-effacing for its own good. Indeed the gap between the firm’s investment in such areas as new media and planning, and its market perception, needs to be bridged rapidly if PN is to effectively communicate a unique, vibrant positioning. There are encouraging signs, at both a global and local level, that Porter Novelli sees this as a priority and - indeed - the firm’s presence at the Cannes Lions festival demonstrated a refreshing willingness to build a stronger profile. As, of course, did the brand relaunch - which PN hopes will update its offering and perhaps jettison some of the baggage of recent years.
There is a quiet optimism about Porter Novelli now, although much of its re-engineering, inevitably, has been led by its North American operation. Its European offices will need to demonstrate that they too can walk the talk promised by the new brand, but there is enough ability in the critical areas of digital and planning to suggest that this is a realistic goal. If nothing else, talk of a merger between PN and another Omnicom agency has thankfully receded. The PN brand has a rich heritage and a lot of the thought leadership work the agency has undertaken over the past few years—new methodologies and thinking about the role of PR—has been impressive. The firm’s future will clearly be decided at a global level, but it clearly needs to get a strong European leadership team in place if the region is going to make a contribution to PN’s growth and its continued relevance.—AS