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Superbrands case studies: Hill & Knowlton

Originally published in 'Business Superbrands 2002'. The book reviews the UK's strongest business-to-business brands as judged by the independent Business Superbrands Council.

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Market

Hill & Knowlton specialises in communications campaigns which make a tangible difference to clients' businesses. It employs global resources and specialist knowledge to produce real results and is committed to influencing governments, consumers and businesses alike. Hill & Knowlton positions itself as an international agency with all the advantages of a global network, while understanding the need for local teams in terms of geographical, social and cultural differences.

Hill & Knowlton aims to connect with its clients worldwide with more than physical presence, infrastructure and knowledge but with a culture that embraces diversity, demands respect and challenges all in the creation of ideas and intelligence on behalf of its clients.

Hill & Knowlton delivers strategic thinking and creative solutions in one cohesive package.

Achievements

Hill & Knowlton recently won a number of prestigious awards, notably the IPR City and Financial Award 2001, the Inside PR International PR Agency of the Year Award in 1999 and the PR Week Agency of the Year Award in 1997.

Hill & Knowlton also takes great pride in winning awards for its client work. Recent highlights include: the PR Week Business Campaign Of The Year 2000, Maxim Style Awards 2001, the Communique Patient Campaign of the Year 2000 and the BAFTA Best Use of Electronic Media Award 1999.

The company's office in London has become the largest in the Hill & Knowlton network, as well as the largest overall PR office in London. Over the last five years, it has increased revenues from $13.3m to $35.4m, and doubled its staff to more than 300.

In March 1999, Hill & Knowlton was formally awarded Investors in People status. As an Investors in People company, Hill & Knowlton is committed to training and developing its people and acknowledging their contribution to the overall success of the company. The company also has Consultancy Management Standard accreditation from the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA).

History

John Hill founded the agency that would eventually become Hill & Knowlton International PR in Cleveland, Ohio in 1927. Instead of working on his own, as was the practice in those days, Hill hired other agents and trained them to work in his style - thus becoming, in effect, the founder of the modern-day PR consultancy.

In 1933, Hill was joined by Don Knowlton and Hill & Knowlton was officially born. The firm moved its headquarters to New York in 1934 and, during the 1950s, became the first US agency to build a European network.

In 1952, Hill & Knowlton became the first US PR consultancy to recognise the business communication implications of the formation of the European Economic Community. Hill & Knowlton established a network of affiliates across Europe and became the first US PR firm to have wholly-owned offices in Europe.

In 1980 the company was bought by J Walter Thompson, the advertising agency. Expansion led to the firm's current network of offices and Hill & Knowlton became the first US PR firm to open an office in Budapest, Hungary and, in 1984, was the first to establish a presence in the People's Republic of China. Hill & Knowlton became part of WPP Group in 1987.

Product

Hill & Knowlton has three goals: to be pioneers of PR in the new century; to deliver creative, innovative and powerful cross-media communications; and to create the most exciting and attractive environment for talented professionals in the industry.

Hill & Knowlton is passionate about smart thinking, creativity, business results and quality service. Its ambition is to redefine the practice of PR to keep clients ahead in the 21st century.

Hill & Knowlton brings specialists by discipline and industry together in 'Best Teams' to tackle every aspect of a client's assignment. Thus the company aims to have the best of both worlds: best in class boutiques, working together within a worldwide brand.

Hill & Knowlton has wide ranging experience. The company provides specialist services in marketing communications; corporate and business communications; change and internal communications; public affairs (regulatory communications); financial communications; interactive communications (netcoms); sports marketing and sponsorship; health and pharmaceutical marketing; issues and crisis consultancy and media and presentation training. The company also works across every major industry sector to provide comprehensive communications strategies and creative solutions to a brief, on time and on target.

As part of its offer, Hill & Knowlton uses proprietary tools, including its highly effective problem-solving methodology, ComPASS Account Planning System. It also uses research such as BRANDZ, WPP Group's cutting-edge, global consumer Brand Equity Study to provide insights. The STAMP methodology provides Hill & Knowlton account teams with a common template to manage multinational campaigns. An intranet, HK.net, allows staff, clients and partners to share information and ideas, guaranteeing efficient management of multi-country campaigns and harnessing Hill and Knowlton's vast reservoir of talent, expertise and experience.

Hill & Knowlton has also teamed up with other WPP companies, MindShare, Millward Brown and Millward Brown Precis, to launch Precision, a planning and evaluation methodology that measures not only the prominence and impact of a PR campaign, but also its effect on a specified target audience. This has been a major stride forward in bringing the PR industry a step closer to true accountability.

Hill & Knowlton believes in creativity as the key to successful PR. At the London office, the 'Greenhouse' has been built as a brainstorming space to encourage ideas to grow. The office also runs frequent Blue Cow workshops which aim to turn thinking upside down to achieve the best and most creative campaign ideas.

Recent developments

Hill & Knowlton has grown substantially over the last 10 years with a focus on geographic expansion and increasing sector and service specialisation.

The company has pursued a strategy, driven by client demand, to establish and expand its wholly-owned presence in all major markets. For example, a Berlin office was founded in late 2000 to capitalise on the resurgence of the city as a major political and commercial hub. The recent acquisition of NR Consulting has also established Hill and Knowlton's presence in Portugal. Thompson Corp, Hill & Knowlton's joint venture in France with J Walter Thompson, has acquired RPCA, a leading consumer marketing company, and Concept, a corporate branding and communications organisation.

In order to deepen specialist capabilities across borders, Hill & Knowlton recently acquired Blanc & Otus, a US market leader in communications for technology companies; Gaia, a specialist environmental public affairs agency in Italy; and Hiller Wuest & Partner, a leading German technology agency.

Because business issues are global, a number of global specialist "asset groups" have been established to provide best counsel to clients internationally. An example of this is Hill & Knowlton's Global BSE Group set up to advise on the communication impact of the BSE crisis.

As well as forming best-practice teams internally, Hill & Knowlton also believes in partnering with respected external specialists to benefit clients. For example, in the UK, Hill & Knowlton has brokered unique partnerships with the Leatherhead Food Research Group to provide food and beverage clients with the most up-to-date thinking in food and nutrition. And within the retail arena, Hill & Knowlton is a member of The Store, a global grouping of WPP's retail specialists.

Promotion

Hill & Knowlton has global and local expertise in all major sectors and pursues different marketing strategies to appeal to different types of buyers across different industry sectors. The company organises frequent PR events, discussion forums for senior managers regarding today's business challenges and instigates dialogue with clients on topical issues. Hill & Knowlton also stages regular events to present new tools and techniques such as account planning systems, evaluation techniques, trends in the media and audience segmentation systems.

Working with industry magazine PR Week in the UK, Hill & Knowlton placed a pioneering series of advertorials, highlighting the company's culture and history as well as its work in both corporate and consumer communications. Focusing largely on the commitment within Hill & Knowlton to creativity -- in the working environment and in client work -- these advertorials, along with the development of a series of divisional identities, provided the basis for Hill & Knowlton UK's standard client credentials and website launched this year. Hill & Knowlton has a global web presence at www.hillandknowlton.com and many of the other offices have local language websites to cater for local client needs. Hill & Knowlton produces frequent publications on specialist sectors, such as XRAY which demonstrates its up-to-date knowledge of the youth sector, M magazine (thinking on marketing communications) and Public Affairs magazine. Corporate Seeds produced by Hill & Knowlton Brussels showcases best thinking and information on corporate social responsibility.

In addition to these initiatives, Hill & Knowlton carries out its own bespoke research including a study on CEOs' attitudes to corporate reputation management. The annual Corporate Reputation Watch survey has now become a leading global study in 10 different countries.

These insights are distributed to clients and potential clients to highlight Hill & Knowlton's vast array of expertise and many Hill & Knowlton consultants are asked to act as commentators in the media or speak at industry events on the role and impact of communication.

Hill & Knowlton ensures that clients are content with the work it does through its industry-leading Quality Service Programme -- a process which solicits client feedback after every project and on an annual basis. This service, which has proved very popular, offers clients the opportunity to openly commend or criticise Hill & Knowlton's work and encourages the agency to continue to demonstrate increased value and results.

Brand values

Hill & Knowlton specialises in communications campaigns which make a tangible difference to clients' businesses. It employs global resources and specialist knowledge to produce real results and is committed to influencing governments, consumers and businesses alike. Hill & Knowlton positions itself as an international agency with all the advantages of a global network, while understanding the need for local teams in terms of geographical, social and cultural differences.

Hill & Knowlton aims to connect with its clients worldwide with more than physical presence, infrastructure and knowledge but with a culture that embraces diversity, demands respect and challenges all in the creation of ideas and intelligence on behalf of its clients.

Hill & Knowlton delivers strategic thinking and creative solutions in one cohesive package.

Things you didn't know

  • In the London office alone, staff include a star from the original 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing' Coca-Cola ad, three rock bands, a published novelist, five adventurers who have trekked through tropical rainforest for charity and more than 20 nationalities.

  • Hill & Knowlton was the first public relations firm to open an office in the People's Republic of China.

  • PR Week said of Hill & Knowlton's London office: 'H&K leads the way in having probably the sexiest offices in PR'. The offices have also been featured in Level and Interiors magazines.

  • Hill & Knowlton have staged consumer media events on a Russian aircraft carrier moored off the coast of China, on the White Cliffs of Dover and in a giant fish tank.

  • Hill & Knowlton was the first agency to offer in-house broadcast-quality video production, in-house satellite up-link and down-link capabilities and computerised multiple-city press release distribution.

  • As well as its core activities such as media relations, event management and online communications, Hill & Knowlton created the first global product placement company, Showcase International. It has 11 offices that interact and work with motion picture and TV production companies in the placement of products on screen.

    © 2002 Superbrands Ltd

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