Boutique PR Agencies of the Year, North America | Holmes Report

2015 North America Boutique PR Agencies of the Year

Our 2015 North America PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 150 submissions and 50 face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across the US and Canada.

Analysis of each of the Finalists for each category can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here. Winners were announced on May 5 at the SABRE Awards in New York, where winners also received their trophies.

Boutique Agency of the Year — Exponent

Minneapolis firm Exponent’s transformation from a sleepy agribusiness agency into a fast-growing integrated marketing shop has been nothing short of compelling. Under managing director Tom Lindell, the firm has returned several consecutive years of double-digit growth, including an eye-catching 28% upturn in 2014 to just under $10m in fee income.

Driving much of this growth is Exponent’s focus on modern consumer advocacy, which it now provides to big-name food brands like Land O’Lakes, Kozy Shack and El Monterey, and non-traditional retail brands like Duluth Trading Company and Caribou Coffee. New business in 2014 included Bellisio Foods, August Schell Brewing Company and Ruiz Foods, along with a crisis assignment for St. Louis University during the unrest and Ferguson, and work for Associated Bank.

Despite its rapid growth, furthermore, the MDC-owned firm has kept a solid handle on turnover, which runs at less than 10%, despite tight labor conditions in the Twin Cities. The shortest tenure on the firm’s senior leadership team is four years, with its key food and nutrition practice led by 20-year veteran Bernice Neumann.

But it is not just Exponent’s financial success that stands out. The firm’s work, particularly in the field of farm to table marketing, has helped create successful campaigns for several of its food clients. In addition, a specific focus on brand publishing has supported some particularly impressive digital content work, including ‘Pin a Meal’ for Land O’Lakes; the ‘Flannel City Face-Off’ for Duluth Trading Company; and ‘Creating with Consumers’ with Caribou Coffee. And, it is worth noting, the firm’s support of St Louis University during the Ferguson unrest helped achieve a peaceful resolution to demonstrations on campus.— AS


360PR (Independent)

CEO Laura Tomasetti built 360PR around a singular focus — the consumer. This has earned the boutique a client roster that an agency of any size would envy: Hasbro, Warner Brothers, Stonyfield Organic, Walker’s Shortbread, Tommee Tipee, Liberty Mutual Insurance, among many other household brands.

By the end of 2014, the Boston-based firm had additional offices in New York, San Francisco and Washington DC. Last year also marked the agency’s sixth consecutive year of growth as it climbed to $6.6m. Overall, the firm has grown 16% for the three-year period from 2012-2014 and now has 42 full-time professionals.

In 2014, its work stood-out for its integrated and creative thinking. For instance, it partnered with Boston-based Upward Labs to pilot and begin using a new dashboard that enables its teams to deploy frequent assignments to online influencers and track this activity. So far, this has been rolled out for brand ambassador programs for clients like Balance Bar. The firm also created Anti-Frizz month for VO5 to give women a platform for their hair frizzy hair travails. The campaign drove a 8.1% sales lift.  For Cree, 360PR created the American Bulb Swap encouraging consumers to trade-in incandescent and CFL bulbs to #MaketheSwitch to Cree’s LED bulbs. The program put new Cree bulbs directly in the hands of more than 12,000 consumers. — AaS

Max Borges

Many agencies are built on simple ideas, but its the execution that sets them apart. Max Borges was founded on three ideas: work with great brands, hire smart people and do great work. So far, the agency has remained true to this intent even amid rapid growth.

In 2014, revenues were up 19%  to $9.4m — topping off 12 straight years of growth. This is fueled with more than 80 clients in the consumer tech and enterprise markets including: being national social AOR for Cricket (AT&T), Zepp Labs, Party Poker, AT&T Mobility, Griffin Technology, Ogio International and Zound Industries. The Miami-based CEO/founder Max Borges recently brought on Michael Young from Access to lead account services, business strategy and corporate development from Silicon Valley.

Among its work, Max Borges builds and manages two unique products that help drive client impact. The first is the firm’s annual Holiday Tech Showcase in New York in which upwards of 50 tech brands participate in the daylong event that draws more than 130 top-tier media. The second the is Tech Launch Pad, which broadcasts more than 500 live segments from it studio in Miami. Each year during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the TLP team broadcasts upwards of 150 segments from the show floor which air on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX affiliates across the country.  — AaS

Nebo (Independent)

Nebo caught the eye of the In2 SABRE judges in 2015 for developing a human-centric digital marketing agency that produced compelling campaigns. Launched in 2004, the Atlanta-based agency has grown on the mantra that culture is its competitive advantage.

What does this look like? For one, doing away with billable hours for set project fees and rolling retainers. This has resulted in 11 straight years of growth. In 2014, revenue was $6.9m — up nearly 20% from 2013 and, remarkably, 100% since 2012. The firm’s founders Brian Easter and Adam Harrell now oversee a team of 53 people.

The clients include Cox, Verifone, McKesson, Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory, Sharp, Budget Rent-a-Car and the ASPCA. Notably, its work for Choose ATL was a community-driven effort to brand its homebase Atlanta as a digital hub. Even though Atlanta is the 15th largest economy in the world, many people remain unaware of its potential — so Choose ATL sought to change that. Nebo created and launched the microsite which was the cornerstone of the campaign. In just three months, the effort secured 200 media placements and encouraged more than 10,000 views of the Choose ATL video. — AaS

ReviveHealth (Independent)

ReviveHealth is a firm that has never limited itself simply because of its size. Perhaps that’s because in the five years since its launch, ReviveHealth’s revenue has grown 10x while also undergoing a transformation from a PR-centric firm to — like many others in the industry — one that’s built on integrated marketing communications.

Revenue is up 63% to $8.8m, making ReviveHealth the largest independent firm in Nashville after only five years in business. The firm’s 47-person team is spread throughout its headquarters in Nashville, as well as offices in Minneapolis and Santa Barbara. CEO Brandon Edwards has taken the smart approach to limit any single client to 10% of revenue or less. These clients are: Tenet Healthcare, athenahealth, Heritage Group, Accolade and Vets First Choice, among others. ReviveHealth now represents four of the five largest for-profit hospital companies and the largest publicly-traded home health company.

For athenahealth, ReviveHealth was brought on to elevate its brand beyond its flagship billing and EHR products to tell a bigger story about the future of interconnected care and its mission to become a national health information leader. The firm worked with the client to build a thought-leadership program anchored in its business priorities that ultimately exceeded metrics by 112%. — AaS