Global Public Affairs Agencies of the Year | Holmes Report

2015 Global Public Affairs Agencies of the Year

Our 2015 Global PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 400 submissions and face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across North America, EMEA and Asia-Pacific.

Analysis of all agencies in each category can be accessed via the navigation menu or here. Winners were announced at the 2015 Global SABRE Awards, at the Global PR Summit in Miami on the evening of 28th October.

Winner — Hanover Communications (UK/Independent)

Since its inception 17 years ago Hanover has evolved beyond its UK roots to become one of Europe largest public affairs consultancies, thanks in large part to stellar topline growth of 63% over the past three years, driven by a blue-chip client roster that includes Goldman Sachs, Sky, Lloyds Banking Group, Lilly, Lucozade Ribena Suntory and the NFL. Neither does Hanover appear to be cooling its heels; the firm wants to double in size by 2018 by deepening its expertise in healthcare, financial services, energy and FMCG; investing in new practice areas in global crisis and issues, social media community management (and digital build) and brand strategy for fast growth technology companies.

After growing 45% in 2013, Hanover maintained its impressive performance in 2014, reporting fee income of more than £7m, generated by around 60 staffers in London and Brussels. Long-term retained client relationships – with Sky, Lloyds Banking Group, Microsoft, the British Beer & Pub Association, John Lewis Partnership, Lilly and Airbus Group – continue to represent the bulk of Hanover’s work, but the firm also attracted a number of significant new retained clients, including, AEE Renewables, Celltrion, England and Wales Cricket Board, the European Branded Clothing Alliance, Lucozade Ribena Suntory, the National Football League (NFL) and Novartis.

The firm remains led by founder former Downing Street press secretarty Charles Lewington, who is supported by Andrew Harrison, director and global head of the healthcare practice; Laura Swire, director and head of Hanover’s advocacy team; and director and head of Hanover’s corporate and consumer practice, Gavin Megaw. Brussels is headed by MD Christian Hierholzer, who recently reappointed Emma Eatwell as director of healthcare of that operation.

Hanover public affairs and healthcare expertise has been boosted, furthermore, by its Sentio platform, developed in conjunction with Populus, which combines the probabilities for a variety of potential government outcomes with qualitative analysis of business-critical policies, and is the FT's official election predictor tool. That kind of innovation also helps the firm's campaign work, most visibily in its efforts to help the British Beer and Pub Association successfully achieve a cut in beer tax for the third year running.— AS


FTI Consulting

Since Brussels-based public affairs firm Blueprint was acquired by FTI Consulting (then FD) in 2008, it has grown every year. After fee income increased by another 30% in 2014 (new business came from Air Liquide, BHP Billiton, Cosmetics Europe, Dow, Google, Johnson & Johnson and more), the firm now has a team of 60 consultants generating revenues of more than $10m, still led by Blueprint founder Julia Harrison.

It has refined its capabilities in recent years, building on its experience in highly-regulated and issues-rich sectors such as energy, financial services, healthcare, technology and agriculture, and in practice areas such as crisis communications and competition policy—while drawing on the unique expertise of the larger consulting operation in areas such as corporate finance, global risk, and economics consulting.

The firm has handled high-profile, high-stakes issues for clients such as Mastercard, the Gates Foundation, and Shale Gas Europe. In the past year, FTI helped increase understanding of and support for the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, proposed natural gas pipeline through Greece, Albania and the Adriatic Sea landing in Italy. It also created a multilingual pan-European campaign for Shale Gas Europe, injecting science and perspective into an emotionally-charged debate. And its integrated effort on behalf of The Walk Free Foundation, a global movement fighting to end modern slavery, resulted in widespread media coverage.

And while Brussels remains the epicentre of European public affairs and of FTI’s offer, it has made moves to strengthen elsewhere, with the appointment of Alex Deane (formerly of Weber Shandwick) as managing director in the London office and with Martin Kothé continuing to head up a solid Berlin offer.— PH

Global Strategy Group

Global Strategy Group has not missed a beat since winning Public Affairs Agency of the Year in 2014. The firm remains led by co-founders CEO Jon Silvan and president Jefrey Pollock, who launched the firm two decades ago, and now oversee nearly 100 professionals across New York, Washington DC, Hartford and Los Angeles. Originally founded as a polling firm, Global Strategy Group has evolved into one of the nation’s leading public affairs, corporate reputation, and issues management firms, offering a range of communications, research, and advocacy services to clients across business (Airbnb, Comcast, Con Edison ESPN, Google, Microsoft, Motorola); politics (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand); and non-profit sectors (Coalition for Opportunity in Education, Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, MacArthur Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation).  

In 2014, GSG generated $32.4m in revenue, an impressive 30% increase in 2013, fuelled by double-digit growth across all offices and a strong 2014 election cycle that included work for a number of candidates for office.

The firm’s work continues to showcase a sophisticated understanding of public affairs issues and research, including helping the Rockefeller Foundation and The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement a competition for $1bn in federal funding called the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC); promoting reform school districts in the Northeast and Midwest; and, raising awareness of Airbnb in New York City and its positive impact on individual hosts, guests and neighborhood economies.— AS

Portland (UK/Omnicom)

Typically viewed as one of the UK's defining public affairs firms, Portland has broadened its capabilities considerably to cover the full range of corporate communications in recent years, with the moves paying off to such an extent that it grew by as much as 70% in 2014, to more than £20m in fee income.

That performance is remarkable enough, but it should be placed into context. This is not just a lobbying shop making hay, but a firm that counsels the Barclays CEO on his repuation, and also provides similar advice to the likes of Nestle, Pfizer, Google, Apple (UK public policy work and projects on education and health) and McDonald's. With that growth has come increasingly international mandates, including plenty of work in the Middle East and Africa, often helping governments build their communications capabilities . All of which adds to an existing client roster that includes public affairs and corporate work for Aviva, NetworkRail, Heathrow (around its third runway plans), Funding Circle, AB Inbev and Hyatt; along with a strong base of foundations, for such as figures as Kofi Annan, Mo Ibrahim and Bill and Melinda Gates.

Plenty of the firm's work, meanwhile, has genuined moved the needle for its clients, reflecting its view that genuine reputation management requires an integrated of public affairs and corporate comms, in recognition of how regulaotry debate and scrutiny has moved beyond Westminster onto the High Street.

For example, the firm has helped Nestle position itself as a UK leader when it comes to skills and innovation. An expanding Heathrow account involves public affairs, local consultation, corporate comms, events, digital, content and branding. And its Barclays activity involves nothing less than transforming the bank's corporate reputation in tandem with CEO Antony Jenkins.

Now numbering 145 people, founder Tim Allan oversees a deep leadership team that includes former Sun political editor George Pascoe-Watson; ex-Downing Street advisor Steve Morris; and Tony Blair's former communications director Alastair Campbell. Allan likes to say that public relations is a "British success story". His own firm certainly provides evidence of that. — AS

SKDKnickerbocker (US/Independent)

Led by Washington, DC, managing directors Anita Dunn (former White House communications director and senior adviser to President Obama’s presidential campaigns) and Hilary Rosen (inter alia a former interim director of the Human Rights Campaign), SKD Knickerbocker is not surprisingly best known for its work in support of progressive issues: it provided media relations support for the President’s signature healthcare law in the King v Obamacare case before the Supreme Court; it has worked on an integrated campaign for Mayors Against Illegals Guns following the school shooting in Newtown, Mass.; and it received two SABRE nominations this year for its efforts to free Alan Gross, an American imprisoned in Cuba for more than five years, until the Obama administration’s decision to relax sanctions.

The firm also works on its share of corporate assignments: it handled regulatory aspects of the US Airways-American Airlines merger, and has triggered an “ethical fashion” movement for client MADE. Other corporate clients include Microsoft, Pfizer, AT&T, and the Walt Disney Companywith new additions last year including Pepsico, Herbalife, Time Warner, GE, CVS and Starbucks. With its roots in politics and additional offices in New York City, Los Angeles and Albany, the firm has 85 employees—up from about 25 in 2010—and offers a sophisticated blend of services: research, message development, digital strategy, content creation, advertising, media relations, event planning, influencer outreach, and crisis communications. It added executive communications and millennial PR practices in 2014.—PH