Michael Cullen asks Hume Brophy founders to explain their agency’s role
Hume Brophy may not be as widely known as some long-established PR agencies in Ireland but when it comes to offering advice on public affairs, crisis management and regulatory issues on foreign direct investment (FDI), no other local agency comes next or near it in terms of servicing clients in five specialist business sectors from Dublin to Hong Kong.
Some PR agencies in Dublin may operate on a franchise basis with tentacles reaching out to overseas markets as part of a worldwide communications network, but in the case of Hume Brophy, organisations and brand owners work seamlessly with one agency through eight offices across the world – spanning 22 different languages and five different currencies.
The window shades in the agency’s Herbert Street offices put it succinctly: ‘Hume Brophy – global reach, local influence’. While Eoin Brophy is coy about naming clients because of the competitive and often sensitive nature of the type of work they are hired to do, a deeper dive shows they handle several market leaders and major bodies across international borders.
Brophy points to the five business sectors – financial services, health, energy, transport and TMT, namely tech, media and telcos. He co-founded the agency with John Hume in 2005. is His His career began at the European Commission in Brussels. He spent seven years in the European Parliament as a lobbyist for the travel retail industry and ran Servecast’s PR.
Onwards and upwards: Eoin Brophy and John Hume first met in Brussels when they were working on the Save Duty Free campaign. Launched in 2005, Hume Brophy’s business from seven overseas offices now accounts for about 80 per cent of the company’s total revenue.
Brophy is seen an able strategist who thrives on analysing business issues and producing in-depth client reports. As with other PR agencies of a similar vein, Brexit has kept them busy. Last year, they were involved in about 200 briefings on the implications of British exiting the EU. Not surprisingly, not so much as a syllable was positive from an Irish perspective.
It was while working in Brussels that Brophy met up with co-founder John Hume. He is the son of the former SDLP leader, MEP and Good Friday Agreement instigator of the same name. As is often said, the apple rarely falls far from the tree. Hume is a business and regulatory expert on airports, working with a host of authorities and duty free bodies.
After starting his career as a management consultant with Deloitte, Hume was director of European PR for the International Duty Free Confederation Focus 99, a consortium of airports, ferry operators and consumer goods companies. Before helping launch Hume Brophy, he was deputy director-general of the Airports Council International (ACI).
“Clients hire us because we understand complex and specific international issues,” Hume says. “A local agency can’t bring a bigger picture approach in the same way. We do things differently and with 100 per cent autonomy. It allows greater flexibility. Bear in mind, we’ve 25 people in our Brussels office alone, where we’re seen as experts in EU affairs.”
Brophy says the agency has averaged 20 per cent growth since its launch. He says they are now rated one of the world’s top independent global networks. “When you build and grow, everything has to be thought through,” he says. “The same ethos must run though a business, including hiring good people. If you make mistakes, you do something about it quickly.”
Hume Brophy’s CEO is Conall McDevitt (above). He directed SDLP communications during the Good Friday Agreement talks and advised the Minister for Agriculture & Rural Development in the first power sharing government. He served on the North’s Policing Board. A fluent Spanish speaker, he worked at FleishmanHillard and Weber Shandwick.
Maria Cryan is in charge of the Dublin office. She worked in Paris for PR agency Quintus, which was acquired by UK group Luther Pedragon in 2009. The agency handled media and political campaigning. Cryan had dealings with the OECD, the UN and Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs. She spent two years with the Irish Embassy in the French capital.
The group’s local business is evenly split between corporate and public affairs work, with 25 staff. “We’re as diversified as any Hume Brophy office overseas,” Cryan says. Half of its clients are indigenous brands, with the other half comprising multinationals either entering the Irish market are looking for regulatory and investment guidance.
Hume Brophy handles Barclays and Premier Lotteries Ireland’s National Lottery. Cryan is particularly proud of the work they did for Cairn Homes’ initial purchase offer (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange and the IPO for Irish medical device company, Oneview Healthcare, which raised €40m when it was first floated in Australia around two years ago.
Brexit cannot be ignored but at least now overseas companies call on Hume Brophy to help them suss out opportunities to relocate from the UK to Dublin, or to enter the market here for the first time. Other agency clients include Largo Foods, owned by German group Intersnack, and Applegreen, which now has 342 services stations in Ireland, the UK and the US.
The Department of Health last year paid Hume Brophy €114,000 for its public affairs and communications work for Ireland’s bid to relocate the London-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Dublin due to Brexit. The EMA, a decentralised agency responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines developed by pharmaceutical companies, ended up choosing Amsterdam from the 19 cities that pitched.
Hume Brophy has about 100 staff across its eight international offices, in Brussels, Dublin, London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Frankfurt and Paris. The network also relies on a panel of senior consultants comprising former MEPs, regulators, MPs, former Government ministers and officials, journalists, newspaper executives, publishers and editors.
As Hume spends most of his time commuting to the agency’s overseas offices, it is just as well he is not phased by jet lag. Most of his working life is spent flying to and fro Brussels and beyond. A day after doing this interview in the Haddington Hotel in Dun Laoghaire, he was heading off for a few weeks to tackle assignments in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai.
Highly diplomatic: Maria Cryan is in charge of Hume Brophy’s Dublin office. She joined the agency eight years ago, after a year with Insight Consultants. She had also worked at Accenture and in Paris with Quintus and in the Irish Embassy as an attache to the UN and OECD. Dublin clients include Barclays, the National Lottery, Largo Foods and Applegreen.
Former Independent News & Media (INM) journalist and senior executive Michael Brophy is executive chairman. While he is not credited with the title, one suspects that given his experience he is seen as a mentor. Clients in the UK include VMWare, Natixis, Ceeva, Whitbread and EFAMA. In Brussels, they work for City of London, ETRC, Deloitte and CMC; in the US, Kodak and in Asia, JD.com, Grab, Bytedance, Varde and Wellington AM.
Asia is a big focus for Hume Brophy for the next five years, Brophy insists. Working for the likes of Mobike, the world’s biggest bike sharing company based in Beijing, is an example. It made Shanghai the world’s top bike-sharing city. Now owned by web company, Meituan-Dianping, Mobike raised US$600m in funding last June and was valued at US$3 billion.
Recent reports that Hainan Airlines is to begin flying from Beijing to Dublin in June is great news for Hume. It follows on from Cathay Pacific’s new Hong Kong service, also from June. For the first time, there will be eight direct flights a week from the region. Tourism Ireland reckons that about 70,000 Chinese people visited the island of Ireland last year.
Tourism Ireland aims to grow the market through tour operators and travel agents in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. The British-Irish visa scheme allows Chinese tourists to visit Ireland and the UK using the one set of travel documents. So where to next for Hume Brophy? Beijing? Or, perhaps boarding the new non-stop flight from London to Perth?
The sky’s the limit.