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How Porter Novelli closed the gaps to transform its bottom line


By Awards Analyst, writer

December 6, 2022 | 5 min read

Porter Novelli won at The Drum Awards for Agency Business 2022 in the Business Transformation Strategy category. Here, we find out what’s behind their remarkable transformation.

Porter Novelli's work to 'close the say-do gap'

Porter Novelli won our Business Transformation Strategy award for its 'closing the say-do gap' initiative / Credit: Porter Novelli

Communications agency Porter Novelli celebrated its 50th birthday this year. Well established and respected, it was nonetheless dealing with struggling revenues and the long list of struggles that have recently affected all industries. Reorganizing almost every element of its business under a new proposition of ‘helping clients close the say-do gap,’ it has reintroduced a vibrancy to its work, and grown both fees and margins.

The brief

Struggling revenues and other key metrics, alongside a desire to rediscover a vibrancy across its business, meant that Porter Novelli was ready to go through an extensive transformation. With targets from increased revenues, fee growth and margins to racial diversity and women in leadership positions, it set out to make whatever changes were necessary, structural reform and leadership changes included.

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The idea

Transformation started with extensive consultation, with external and internal input, to agree upon a unifying idea, which would ultimately become the agency-wide proposition to ‘help clients close the say-do gap’. Proposition in-hand, the agency went about re-writing its credentials; overhauling its onboarding, building a new website, firing-up socials, and launching with a PR push.

Internal transformation was required to: the agency set about replacing its traditional hub-and-spoke model in favor of a more agile approach that it calls a ‘virtual collective’ operating around a ‘connected core’. A diverse influx of new hires helped: a strategist who had previously led a Covid vaccine taskforce; a TikTok specialist; a former Google analyst; and a bronze medallist Paralympian.

The idea of closing the say-do gap was disseminated throughout the agency’s teams and activities, with ‘close the gap weeks’, ‘mind the gap experiences’ and a new system of grants. Overhauled HR policies included new menopause support; enhanced parental leave; pension boosts; a new ‘smart working’ system with increased flexibility; and a raft of wellbeing initiatives (including free breakfast and financial support towards lunch as the cost-of-living crisis bites).

Heavy investments in data, analytics and insights, aided with a shifting in its positioning of PR: not an unquantifiable expense, but a value-generating business-driver.

The results

Baseline business metrics all point to Porter Novelli’s best year ever in 2021: fee growth and increased margins, all of which they say they’re on track to repeat in 2022. All in, that amounts to 44% top-line growth in two years, completely reversing that trend of stagnation.

Other key metrics are looking good too: 96% team retention and a 40% increase in headcount; representation of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds up from 8% to 22%; a 0% gender/race pay gap; and an increase of women in leadership from 40% to 83%.

Impressively, the agency retained 90% of its clients between July of 2020 and June of 2021, while winning new business from the likes of Sainsbury’s, Hershey’s, Belvedere, and AstraZeneca.

This campaign was a winner at The Drum Awards for Agency Business 2022. You can see all the winners here.

The Drum Awards for Marketing are currently open for entry. Find out how you can enter now.

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