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Stagwell’s incoming growth chief sees its future in Europe as UK economy worsens


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

February 7, 2023 | 6 min read

As businesses grapple with the UK’s grim economic outlook, Stagwell looks to beef up its presence across the channel.


Helen Lafford says Stagwell will focus investment efforts on its European bases, such as Stockholm, in 2023 / Unsplash

Stagwell plans to focus its hiring efforts away from the UK and towards continental Europe, according to its newly appointed head of growth for the region, Helen Lafford.

Discussing the group’s expansion plans for the year ahead, Lafford said that it would not “panic” or change course in response to a UK recession, but that it would pursue a pluralist strategy in its M&A and hiring efforts this year, building up bases in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

“The UK will always have a strength of talent and a legacy of knowledge, but there are some really creative hotspots popping up around the region,” she tells The Drum.

Lafford, previously EMEA head of growth at media agency Initiative, was put in charge of Stagwell’s growth drive across Europe and the UK in January. The hire comes at a critical moment for the UK’s advertising sector; despite its status as one of the largest advertising markets in the world, Britain will likely be the only major global economy to go through a recession in 2023 (by some measures, it entered a recession in the third quarter of last year).

Lafford says the prospect of a downturn hasn’t altered Stagwell’s long-term roadmap for expansion. “It’s the companies that panic and stop everything that suffer in the long run. There’s something to be said about holding firm, being prudent and making adjustments rather than a complete course correct.”

She does aim, however, to reduce the group’s dependence on the British market by growing its already considerable continental European operations through recruitment and M&A activity. In particular, Lafford says hiring investments will be built out from those hotspots, via Swedish agency Forsman & Bodenfors or 72andSunny’s Dutch base.

“Everything used to be so London-focused; there is now an amazing creative hub in Amsterdam and it is no accident that 72andSunny is headquartered there. Sweden has always been incredibly creative, as has Denmark. Berlin is one of the most interesting cities on the continent. What Stagwell does is bring those things together, and not focus on one city or country,” she says.

Between affiliates and subsidiary companies, Stagwell also has bases in nine European countries. “You always need a mothership. But you go where the talent and clients are and over the last few years, client bases have spread across the region. What we’re seeing reflects that.”

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Though she declined to give a specific hiring estimate, Lafford says the business expects to remain on the front foot in the talent market this year. “We expect to hire a significant number of people in the region,” she says.

Lafford also indicated that the group hopes to further develop the media investments Stagwell has made in the last year, through the continuing partnership with Serviceplan Media Network, and more directly, in the form of London-based media shop Goodstuff.

“They’re a new acquisition, they’ve been with Stagwell for a year… it’s about looking at opportunities for growth. You’ve got a really brilliant team and we need to open up the doors and say: ‘What more can we do?’”

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