How Eleven saw off the heavyweights to become PR agency of the year

The first six months of 2016 have been big for PR agency Eleven, with it picking up high profile accounts and scooping the Mumbrella PR Agency of the Year Award. Mumbrella speaks to Eleven MD Roberto Pace about their success and what's next for the agency.

If PR agency Eleven largely flew under the radar during the second half of 2015, a period when it bedded down new leadership following the exit of Rob Lowe, then 2016 is when everything clicked into place for the Sydney firm.

While it has enjoyed past success, in campaigns such as MJ Bale’s award winning Grazed on Greatness, the agency has really made its mark since the turn of the year, firstly winning the much-coveted Virgin Mobile telco account, and then taking the McDonald’s PR business from incumbents PPR and Mango.


Eleven PR: Mumbrella's PR Agency of the Year

Eleven PR: Mumbrella’s PR Agency of the Year

And a fine six months culminated at the Mumbrella awards when, up against the heavyweights of Ogilvy PR, Red Agency, One Green Bean and Atomic212, Eleven pick up the PR Agency of the Year award.

One juror likened Eleven to the “David v Goliath” of the category, while another described the agency as “one to watch”. So, after such a successful 2016, where next for Eleven?

The Eleven story

Just over 12 months ago, Rob Lowe left Whybin\TBWA’s Eleven PR to form his own PR agency, leaving the agency in a period of quiet reflection as it found new leadership in the form of self-confessed introvert Roberto Pace.


Pace joined Whybin\TBWA’s Eleven in May last year

Pace joined the agency from Dentsu Aegis’ Haystac and purely by coincidence was able to take on the role of managing director of both Eleven and FleishmanHillard following the departure of Eleven’s Lowe and Chris Newman from Fleishman.

“What was interesting in this role is previously Eleven and Fleishman had two separate leaders who very rarely interacted and the teams were run completely separately and the businesses were run completely separately, and by sheer coincidence both left at the same time and it provided an opportunity for TBWA to look at how they wanted to restructure that,” Pace says.

“I don’t think they realised, nor did I realise until I had accepted the role and got into it, that actually what one business lacked the other business had and by combining the two it actually would open up a lot of opportunities for both brands.”

Pace says Fleishman offers Eleven a “much more global, strategic, data and insights driven way of looking at things” while Eleven offers Fleishman an ability “to grab hold of an idea really quickly and amplify it across all sorts of channels”.

A strong start to 2016

Eleven could not have asked for a better start to 2016, picking up the hotly-contested PR account for Virgin Mobile alongside Whybin\TBWA, which won the creative account for the telco.

Eleven's first work for Virgin Mobile was the unused data auction

Eleven’s first work for Virgin Mobile was the unused data auction

That was followed later by the likes of McDonald’s, Bellamy’s Organic and Cabcharge, showing once again the importance of momentum in the new business game.

This success Pace says is down to Eleven and Fleishman’s ability to draw on the right skill set from across the two agencies.

“The success that both Eleven and Fleishman have had in winning these accounts has been by actually combining the best skill sets between both teams and going to market with the most appropriate brand that fits that client,” Pace says.

“Bellamy’s Organic needs an agency that has regional and global reach and is very thoughtful and conscientious in its approach because of the category it works within, which is largely infant formula, but can also scale to very credible, creative, impactful ideas.

“It made sense to put Fleishman as the lead brand on that but draw on the resources of Eleven where appropriate.”

‘Not waiting for the TBWA Gods to shine’


Not a conflict shop

FleishmanHillard is not a conflict shop

Pace rejects the notion that either agency is a conflict shop – an agency created to secure business in a category the other already has clients in.

“The answer is no, they’re not conflict agencies,” he says.

“They’re completely different agencies to market and they have their own clients, but sometimes they share clients and resources.

“There is absolutely no way we could work on McDonald’s under Eleven and KFC under Fleishman because regardless of the fact that they sit side-by-side, it’s shared management, it’s shared resources, it’s one P&L.”

Eleven clients include Krispy Kreme, Philips, Tourism New Zealand, Presto and Gatorade.

Krispy Kreme American Classics

Pace also asserts Eleven is an independent PR agency and does not just live off the clients it shares with Whybin\TBWA, which it shares an office with.

“A year ago the majority of Eleven’s revenue came from shared clients with TBWA whether they were retained or campaigns that has very much switched in the last 12 months,” Pace admits.

“We’re really proud of the fact that we’re part of TBWA and we absolutely don’t want to lose sight of that. It affords us fantastic resources that I think other PR agencies struggle to have – fantastic creative that thinks on a really large level because of working in an ad agency environment.

“The model today has seen a shift in revenue. The majority of our revenue now sits with Eleven-owned clients which yes, within those owned clients there is still an element of sharing resources with TBWA,” Pace says.

“For Fleishman and Eleven – where perhaps people have seen us as an offshoot of TBWA, the recent wins both agencies have had the likes of Bellamy’s, Cabcharge, Virgin Mobile, they’re accounts that have come into PR and then were sold into the rest of the group.”

On the Virgin account Pace says the telco were already looking for a creative agency and realised there “was an opportunity to align Eleven with TBWA”.

“It wasn’t as if they came to TBWA saying what can you do? There was a phone call for Eleven and there was a phone call for TBWA and it happened together.

“We’re not just sitting here waiting for the TBWA gods to shine down upon us.”

He explains the agency does draw on TBWA’s resources, citing Digital Arts Network creative director Russ Tucker who works across TBWA, Eleven and FleishmanHillard.

Tucker is the creative director across Whybin\TBWA Digital Arts Network, Eleven and FleishmanHillard

Tucker is the creative director across Whybin\TBWA Digital Arts Network, Eleven and FleishmanHillard

“As we grow the amount of time we use Russ for is increasing,” Pace says.

“So where we might have used Russ before on new business pitches, he’s now a regular part of the team because of the type of work and the demands that we have on those creative requirements for the clients that we are winning.”

The agency has proven its ability to stand on its own feet, scooping up the McDonald’s account.

“McDonald’s needed a brand that was all about helping them reconnect with customers as they continue to evolve their business,” Pace says.

Eleven beat out

Eleven beat One Green Bean, Mango, Ogilvy PR and PPR to land the lead on the McDonald’s PR account

“The Eleven model of creating cultural impact and doing that for McDonald’s, while also not losing sight of the fact that they are a very huge business with a lot of issues and challenges and what would not be the right fit for them is a pure creative brand comms agency.

“They also need people who can be quite considered and thoughtful and conscientious in their approach and that’s where the marrying of the right Fleishman resources went into it.”

Pace says the McDonald’s account is going to be one of the first time’s the agency will “work regularly with a creative agency that is outside of the group”, that being DDB.

“We tend to work with outside agencies on more campaign-based work as opposed to regular retainer work,” he says.

On what’s missing from the agency portfolio Pace says he doesn’t look at it and say “we’d love an airline”, rather they “love to work with challenger brands”.

Pace was quick to admit that McDonald’s might not be a challenger brand.

“Challenger to me can mean a number of things, they’re going through immense change at the moment, there’s a lot of entrants who are newer, fresher, perceived to be the healthier and so in some ways they are under threat,” he says.

“That’s the type of work and the type of client we love and if that takes us into an airline, or healthcare, or financial services then that’s great. What’s more interesting is being able to say we can solve problems regardless of what industry or vertical they fit within.”

What’s next?

One Mumbrella Awards juror pegged them as the “one to watch” crediting the “interesting ideas and a clear passion for innovation” as a differentiator in “a strong field”.

Pace says while the agency’s recent success will propel it forward into a new period of growth, that is not necessarily the vision of Eleven.

“The standard answer to what we want to do now is we want to grow, we want to be really big, but I don’t think that’s our objective,” says Pace.

“If we have to grow because we win work that affords it, that’s fantastic, but it’s not the objective.”

For Pace the objective is bedding down some of the accounts the agency has won and to prove Eleven can play in the big-leagues of “always-on” work.

“A lot of the work Eleven has been known for – GayTMs especially – have been campaigns. To demonstrate that we can play in that league where yes, we can win this work and yes, we can run this work really well and consistently deliver work that creates culture outside of campaigns,” he says.


“That’s what the ‘disruption live’ model is about. It’s not just saying here’s a model that we used to come up with awesome work, it’s actually a model that affords us to create culture on a continual basis.

“Certainly proving we’re in that league and we can do it is one key thing.”

Pace says winning the Mumbrella PR Agency of the Year award and winning “some major accounts” will mean the agency will “go through a period of growth” and that it is important to ensure new staff fit the culture, whilst also making sure existing staff are appreciated.

“I’ve always said it’s really easy to be excited about new people and it’s often easy to overlook the great talent you’ve got,” he says.

“We have quite a focus on promoting from within. One of the key things that myself, Fiona Milliken [group account director] from Eleven  and Jenna Orme [general manager] from Fleishman did when we first started was put a succession plan in place. When we need to grow, when we need to promote there are people there who are ready for it.

“I would love to be in a position where we can really give people who are ready the opportunity to step up as opposed to hiring on top of them. It’s a good message for the agency to tell.”

Eleven is currently a team of 12, while FleishmanHillard boasts a staff of 18.

Eleven interior

“When I started it was less than half than that. As much as our strategy is not about growth, it’s about doing awesome work, it’s a proof point that you do awesome work and you grow,” Pace says.

Pace says when he is hiring new staff they are looking for people who have base-level PR skills.

“We look at that from a hygiene factor – can they do the guts of PR? We expect everyone who comes through the door to have base-level skills,” he says.

“We have what we like to call ninjas and that’s fed right down to people’s development plans. What we do with each individual is, yes we have their job description but we also pull out a particular skill or skills that they have a natural inclination towards and that could be content, digital, social or events.

“It could be things far broader than that – we have people really interested in workplace health and making standing desks a thing for everyone.”

Pace said while diversity is important, when it comes to recruitment the agency is focused on finding  “really interesting people with interesting skill sets with interesting stories to tell”.

“We are looking for really interesting people who can stretch beyond their immediate skill set because ultimately that is what creating culture is about. We need people that are interested in the world away from them and know about life outside their immediate qualification,” he says.

“I look at it through the lens of creating culture is about going above the norm. So if we hired carbon copies of ourselves – whether that’s men, women, PR people – we couldn’t deliver against that vision.

“What I look for in diversity is really interesting people with interesting skillsets, with interesting stories to tell. If that means they happen to be African American, or of a sexual denomination or they have a particular way they look or dress, that’s kind of secondary to me, it’s more about their individual story and what makes them rich in life.”

Pace says expanding offices is another possibility the agency is eying.

“There is good opportunity for us in and outside of TBWA in Melbourne,” he says.

“As much as we stand apart from TBWA, they are always going to be a huge part of our legacy.”


Eleven does not like to say it competes with PR agencies, rather Pace says the agency competes with agencies “anchored in the creative spirit”.

“It’s funny because we get pitched against a whole lot of different types of agencies – not just PR but other digital and social agencies,” he says.

On the traditional PR front the agencies Eleven typically finds itself up against include One Green Bean, Mango and Pulse Communications – indeed, Eleven beat out One Green Bean, Mango and Ogilvy PR (which Pulse is part of) to win the lead on the McDonald’s PR account.

“I wouldn’t say they are our exclusive competition. There’s some great work coming out of really small agencies or agencies that are on the rise,” Pace says.

“Atomic 212 – I don’t know much but about them but they seem to be doing great work, History Will Be Kind – I hear a lot of good things coming out of them as well.

“For me, it’s less about the size because we end up pitching with massive agencies like Ogilvy and more about the culture and spirit of that agency.

“It tends to be anchored in the creative spirit but it also seems to be anchored in agencies that are real and frank in what they do.”

A David in a field of Goliaths 

Having scored some big accounts and won some awards, 2016 has been a stellar agency for Eleven described by a Mumbrella Awards juror as a “the David vs Goliath” of the PR Agency of the Year category, Eleven now will clearly be one of a handful of agencies the industry touts as “one to watch”.

One juror says: “It was a fiercely competitive category but Eleven stood out in its pitch and its body of work. Their approach was very contemporary and unique.

“Their story from beginning to end was impressive.”


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