Reflecting on 2021 Performance ...


Our company’s rescheduled holiday celebration looms later this week, prompting a look back on 2021.

While the pandemic delivered the ultimate stress test for PR agencies in 2020, it’s not like everything returned to normal in 2021. Between variants like Omicron, political turmoil — hello, Jan. 6 — and continued calls for social justice, the past year delivered plenty of disruption.

With this backdrop, we feel good about our 2021 performance, one that showed us shifting into hyper-growth mode defined as increasing revenue over 30%. Our global revenue grew 33%, joining tech-focused agencies, Matter Communications, Walker Sands, Clarity, BOSPAR and SourceCode in the 30+ club. Not to take anything away from some of our esteemed competitors, but we drove our growth without the benefit of acquisitions.

Before drilling down into the “why behind our performance,” let’s look at the tech PR industry at the macro level.

Tech PR Expands

The top tech shops found demand for their services outstripping supply in 2021.

Part of this surge was a byproduct of pent-up demand. The previous year found buyers with a mindset that simply maintaining the status quo or even retrenching was a win. By the time 2021 rolled out, these same buyers had decided it was time to get on with it and invest in communications.

Assignments started to expand as well. For example, employee communications and a renewed emphasis on corporate communications with an eye on demonstrating purpose — as the Business Roundtable evangelized back in 2019, corporations must do more than turn the money crank — supplemented the traditional PR assignments.

In our case, we executed three integrated campaigns that focused on talent acquisition touching on another macro trend. Tech PR consultancies are increasingly executing campaigns that bring together owned media and paid media, not just earned media. I found our talent acquisition campaigns particularly satisfying because there’s such clarity in determining success. Either you generate XX number of new employees or you don’t (spoiler alert: we did).

Last, startups had an outsized impact on the tech PR market, hiring seasoned PR pros much earlier in process — often after raising Series A funding — and allocating larger budgets for sophisticated programming. As George Jetson so eloquently put it, “money talks and bologna walks.” The chart below shows that both the number of exits and their value are driving this dynamic.

record exit value points to rise of IPOs

It used to be that we made a conscious effort to limit the number of startup clients due to their volatility. That’s no longer the case as the communications function within startups often reflects the ethos associated with more mature companies.

A Deeper Look at Us in 2021

We believe no agency on the planet can match our ability to execute multi-market campaigns for tech companies. This offering gained greater traction in 2021 bringing together our domain expertise, our on-the-ground talent in all the key markets (over 90% of the B2B tech spend is in the U.S., Western Europe, Japan and Asia), our DNA and our emphasis on a global P/L as opposed to the conventional approach of worshiping individual office P/L.

Because the U.S. continues to be ground zero for the tech industry, the leadership position for our U.S. team is critical to our global strategy. You can see how this played out in 2021 with revenue in APAC and Europe derived from programs that started in the U.S. coming in at $1,934,000, roughly 10% of global revenue. This number will grow significantly in 2022.

Of course, the numbers only tell part of the story. Advancing our workplace, what we term the “employee experience,” grounds our entire operation.

We prioritized staff wellness in 2021. There’s no magic wand to getting this right. It requires informal and formal mechanisms to ensure we’re hearing the employees’ voice and acting on this feedback. Sure, new benefits are part of this picture like knocking off early at 3 p.m. on Fridays to give staff a running start on the weekend and providing a stipend for working from home.

Just as important, were actions that fall outside the benefits umbrella. For example, in driving this hypergrowth we didn’t realize that some of our younger professionals had been assigned to four or even five accounts. That’s too much. Some fraying at the edges of service delivery and internal chatter brought this to leadership’s attention prompting a reshaping of account teams and a rethinking of our hiring roadmap.

Surveys is one of the formal ways we gain feedback from our staff. This is one of the more revealing data points from a survey conducted in the U.S.

employee survey results

We know career development is mission critical, often ranking above compensation in terms of importance to employees. Still, we recognize that we can’t rest of our laurels and need to keep advancing our “employee experience” in all areas including career development.

All in all, this foundation gives us a fighting chance to land in the 30+ club again in 2022.

We’ll see.

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