WA Communications is clearly a very successful business with a strong turnover, great wins and producing great work. What makes them a stand-out consultancy is their “people first” approach. From the lack of a gender pay gap to the enhanced maternity and paternity leave, their commitment to ethnic diversity, solid training package and increase in staff salaries, WA Communications talks the talk and walks the walk. It is rare to see a company invest so heavily back into its staff and the benefits show. Their campaign case study was powerful, clever, and effective. WA Communications should be an inspiration to all. This should be what all agencies aspire to be and do: invest in staff first and reap the rewards.

Finalists:

  • iseepr
  • Jargon PR
  • Lansons
  • Ready10
  • Smarts
  • Stripe Communications
  • Tin Man

Winner entry:

Number of employees:

27 consultants.

Business objectives and analysis of performance against budget over the last two years:

WA’s vision is to be the UK’s top independent public affairs business in five years.

The last two years have seen us continuing to build towards this vision, providing a strong foundation on which to grow to the next level.

Our 2018 fee revenue smashed our targets and resulted in a 20% margin, after posting generous bonuses.

On the back of this performance, and an annual average 25% growth rate over the last five years, PRWeek ranked WA as the UK’s fifth largest public affairs company by revenue in 2019.

In 2019 fee revenue stabilised, slightly below our start of year expectations, but in the face of considerable Brexit headwinds that especially affected our large investor clients.

We’re proud that in a difficult environment we won a significant amount in new business and organic growth and retained 90% of our clients, improving our 2018 personal best for client retention. We’re proud to have achieved a 17% margin through careful budget management, further boosting our company reserves and allowing for continued re-investment.

A brief overview of business / team strategy:

Our strategy for achieving our five-year vision is simple: focus on our people. 2019 saw us take a big step forward as we prioritised building an environment of continuous learning. In so doing our aim is to provide an enriching professional experience, to encourage candour, challenge and feedback and to combine work with wellbeing.

By making progress in each of these areas we hope to motivate our people to deliver great client service whilst growing their careers and enjoying work.

A summary of commitment to CPD and professionalism:

We supercharged our approach to training backed with a £70k budget, involving:

  • Three pieces of paid-for training from an outside expert per month, covering skills and knowledge development
  • Attendance at paid-for training events, including CIPR provided
  • “Lunch and learn” sessions from outside speakers and team members
  • Mentoring for everyone from Account Director up backed by a £2k budget per person
  • Senior people attending courses on strategy, leadership and management at the
  • London Busi-ness School and Judge Business School
  • A 10-step graduate development programme for the four graduates on the 2019 graduate scheme.

We created a staff-led approach to personal professional development through online surveys, group and 1-2-1 sessions, leading to an upgraded approach to CPD:

  • Our whole team, from the bottom up, re-invented the criteria used in their appraisals
  • In addition to company-wide training everyone now has a personal development budget (£500 per year for junior staff and up to £5k for Directors), backed by a professional development plan they put together with support from managers
  • Our junior staff were given a further additional budget to organise an annual young professionals reception, creating opportunities for peer-to-peer networking
  • We introduced objective appraisals, with extensive colleague and client feedback every six months. For Directors this includes 360 reviews
  • We created a level playing field for performance assessment across the business through a non-discretionary, points-based performance rating system that is audited at a cross-company level
  • Regular staff client satisfaction interviews are now conducted through independent FCIPR associates, with feedback provided to teams so everyone can contribute, learn and improve.

A summary of recent outstanding achievements, including client list growth / retention:

In addition to our comprehensive CPD programme, we used our independent ownership to go further than our competitors towards pay, incentive and reward, employee wellbeing and diversity in 2019. This means clients work with exceptionally smart, highly motivated consultants who are unafraid to provide a fresh perspective on challenges presented by the contemporary political and business environment.

Our other people-focused achievements that we’re most proud of are:

  • Creating a non-discretionary incentive and reward scheme for all staff, which applies to every-one, with bonuses of up to 20% of salary
  • Maintaining a 50-50 gender balance, including in the leadership team, with no gender pay gap
  • Introducing a core hours policy, early finish Fridays and actively promoting flexible working, regular ‘mindfulness’ breaks and working from home
  • Launching a mental health at work policy, with two mental health first aiders, trained by Mind, and a 24-hour stress and mental health helpline
  • Subsidised GymBox membership, meaning staff only pay £15 per month for membership
  • Doubling the number of BAME staff
  • 5% average pay increase, plus 11 promotions
  • Staff-led communications through 1-2-1 meetings, brainstorms, 360-degree reviews, away days and online surveys.

We also invested c£500k back into the business, recruiting three Directors, refitting our offices and launching a new corporate brand and website.

The results speak for themselves:

  • We added 15 new names to our client list – see accompanying infographic
  • We retained 90% of our clients, with a healthy proportion of our £1.7m new business target coming from existing clients
  • We had exceptionally positive staff and client feedback, from independently commissioned surveys
  • Staff retention increased to 83% in 2019, up from 75% in 2018 and well above the industry average.

A summary of a campaign you are particularly proud of, including details of the brief, objectives, strategy, tactics, outputs, outcomes and budget:

Brief:

Loose regulation had allowed unscrupulous companies to mis-sell funeral plans with impunity for too long. WA was asked by market leaders, Dignity, to help clean up the industry by making the case for better regulation and enforcement.

Objective:

To secure statutory regulation of funeral plans.

Strategy:

To show the scale of funeral-plan mis-selling, the profound impact it has on people taken advantage of at their most vulnerable, and to build a coalition of third-party champions for regulation.

Tactics:

We:

  • Commissioned detailed consumer research that evidenced that mis-selling was happening from call centres across the country
  • Worked in partnership with consumer group Fairer Finance to launch a report showing that consumers thought regulation was already in place to protect them and were being caught out by there being none
  • Published a detailed White Paper setting out a blueprint for stronger regulation
  • Secured national media coverage of the report and white paper
  • Initiated discussions with ministers, parliamentarians and officials to build support for change.

Outputs:

Campaign outputs included a compelling report and detailed white paper, national media coverage, and c. 20 stakeholder meetings.

Outcomes:

HM Treasury announced in 2019 their intention to introduce statutory regulation of funeral plans.

Budget:

£100,000.