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

2015 North America Creative 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 Agencies of the Year and Finalists for each category can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Creative Agency of the Year — Marina Maher Communications (Omnicom Group)

When Omnicom acquired Marina Maher Communications four years ago, chairman and chief executive John Wren was clear about his motivation: “They understand the importance of integration, and are equal partners with advertising, relationship marketing and all of the disciplines.” Under the leadership of founder and CEO Marina Maher, the firm had made the transition from fashion and beauty boutique to brand-building powerhouse—a firm capable of holding its own in the company of other marketing and management counselors.

One key indicator of that capability is its ability to not only survive but thrive few several agency reviews and consolidations at flagship client Procter & Gamble, adding new brands and responsibilities, particularly in digital and social media. But the firm also expanded its focus: long known for its expertise in marketing to women, it added a healthcare practice that now accounts for almost half of its business (especially after adding another Omnicom business, RxMosaic, to its portfolio last year).

Over the past four years, MMC has expanded its capabilities—a significant investment in insights and strategy, trend-spotting and trend-watching, design and video capabilities, digital content creation and community management, and analytics and measurement. The most recent expansion of the firm’s capabilities involved adding a shopper marketing offer (research shows that 75 percent of shopping decisions are now made before the customer enters the store) bringing brands into shoppers’ lives before they are even thinking about a purchase: it’s an approach the firm has applied for client Stainmaster’s Pet Protect brand with a living demo/torture test, a sales associate toolkit, and display signage.

The team continues to grow too, with longtime employees like consumer and P&G lead Nancy Lowman Labadie; EVP of consumer, lifestyle and health Diana Littman Paige; chief brand reputation officer Debra Gaynor; and creative catalyst group leader Susan Bean joined last year by managing director, digital strategies, Dave Richeson.

The leadership firm also picked up a host of creative awards—more than 40 last year—for campaigns including Procter & Gamble’s Thank You Mom (building on the success of the consumer products giant’s Olympic sponsorship); the Merck for Mothers CSR initiative; the “Drop Your Pants for Underwareness” campaign for Kimberly Clark’s Depends brand; and continuing work for U by Kotex. All of that was enough to see it secure a top 10 spot on the Holmes Report's Global Creative Index.

And it has expanded its international reach through the formation of “MMK,” which brings it into partnership with Omnicom sister agency Ketchum for overseas work.—PH​​


Golin (Interpublic Group)

Over the past couple of years, the Holmes Report has recognized Golin for its business transformation — the introduction of a new industry model that replaces the traditional practice area/industry structure architecture with a new model revolving around strategists, creators, connectors and catalysts. But this was the first year in which the fruits of that restructuring were clearly visible in the agency's creative work, resulting in seven SABRE Awards nominations.

Particularly impressive is the way the firm's best campaigns reflect some of its investment priorities: its #inspiredbypets cause-related marketing work for PetSmart reflects its ability to come up with crisp and clear brand insights; its brand newsroom for McDonalds — responding to criticism and questions about the fast-food giant — reflects the pioneering work Golin has done in real-time marketing; its executive positioning efforts for clean energy leader NRG reflect its commitment to research and strategy; its new website for Unilever's 'Dirt Is Good' campaign reflect its impressive digital capabilities.

It's a result of a culture that values risk-taking (CEO Fred Cook is calling on the agency's people to 'Go All In'); important new hires like chief creative and community officer Caroline Dettman and executive director of planning Jesse Dienstag; and of a suite of offerings (the Brand Relevance methodology, strategic planning process Brand Story, real-time marketing offer The Bridge, storytelling approach Brand Voice, and more) all designed to bring the agency's creative heritage to new life.— PH

Mullen Public Relations
(Interpublic Group)

Full-service ad agency Mullen says its mission is to be the "world's most creative and innovative agency," and this year brought evidence to suggest that the agency's public relations unit — which accounts for about 10% of its revenue — is doing its part to make it a reality.

Focused on working with progressive challenger brands — clients include American Greetings, Capital One, Century 21, JetBlue, MassMutual, Olympus, Tedx Manhattan, Zappos, and the US Department of Defense — the Boston-based firm earned four SABRE nominations this year, notably for its "World's Toughest Job" mother's day campaign on behalf of American Greetings and its "Flying It Forward" cause-related marketing initiative on behalf of Jet Blue.

It is clear from those campaigns and others that the firm has invested heavily in its content creation and social media capabilities in recent years. A solid PR leadership team includes managing director Sheila Leyne, a 20-year industry veteran, and senior vice president Kelly Burke, who brings social influence and integrated brand management experience to the firm.— PH

Olson Engage
(ICF International)

Olson Engage’s creativity has consistently wowed judges at both the In2 SABRE Awards and the SABRE Awards. Its culture embodies the David vs. Goliath mentality infused in its origins with its first assignment helping Miller pick a fight with Anheuser-Busch. A decade later, clients include the likes of Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, GoPro, Pizza Hut, Salesforce and Trulia — alongside its founding clients MillerCoors and Wrigley.

2014 was another rock solid year for the firm. Revenue increased more than 20%, breaking $20m with 105 people based in its offices across Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Austin, New York and Denver. Under the leadership of president Bryan Specht and executive creative director Josh Lohrius, the firm has made major investments in content creation – including hiring multiple designers, producers and strategists that have resulted in new projects with Skittles, Trulia and Reynolds.   

For instance, Skittles asked Olson Engage to create a content series to support its new NFL sponsorship’s pledge to “make gameday awesomer.” The campaign played on NFL star’s Marshawn Lynch’s reticence with the media in a video that helped drive a 19.2% sales increase in January. Its work with Oscar Mayer won the In2 SABRE Award for the “Wake Up & Smell the Bacon” campaign that used custom-built devices to turn iPhones into a bacon-scented alarm clocks that boosted bacon sales by 15%. — AaS 

PMK*BNC (Interpublic Group)

Since PMK*BNC was born out of the historic merger between PMK-HBH and Bragman Nyman Cafarelli in 2010, the firm has cornered the market when it comes to the intersection of brand and entertainment. Its pulse on pop culture has resulted in remarkably creative work that’s been a consistent standout in the In2 SABRE and SABRE Awards.

For PMK*BNC, good work has meant good business. Revenues were up 13% — the third consecutive year of double-digit growth — pushing the firm well over the $50m mark. The 258 employees are distributed between offices in Los Angeles, New York and London. Clients include Audi, Samsung Mobile, American Express, T-Mobile, The Honest Company, Amy Poehler, Showtime, Shonda Rhimes, Tim McGraw, among many others.

CEOs Michael Nyman, Cindi Berger and Chris Robichaud have also overseen the growth of PMK’s formidable insights and analytics service that is now an 18-person offering with ground-breaking products that include predictive analytics around pop culture and blueprinting the anatomy of a fan with Fanatomy. Last year the agency built a digital division Vowel.  

Its most creative work has been around brand storytelling for Audi under the direction of COO Joseph Assad. This year, PMK took home “Best in Show” honors at the In2 SABRE Awards for the creativity and storytelling behind the “Barely Legal Pawn” mockumentary featuring Bryan Cranston, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Aaron Paul.  This builds on the “Spock vs Spock” challenge — both demonstrating the potential of bringing the right talent and brand together to tell a story. — AaS