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

2015 North America Digital 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.

Digital Agency of the Year — Beyond (Next 15)

When Beyond launched in 2009, much of the industry still considered digital to be nearly synonymous with social media. Meanwhile Next 15 CEO Tim Dyson was far ahead enough to realize that agencies needed to get beyond social media to win the digital turf wars that dominated that era. What came from that vision was the cryptically named Project Metal that offered services that spanned the gamut of technical, social and creative.

But simply having the vision didn’t immediately result in great success. Along the way, Project Metal became Beyond, and like its name, the firm’s services underwent a retooling. After some management changes and re-calibrating  Beyond solidified its market position around the online user experience.

Now under the leadership of CEO Nick Rappolt and partner Matthew Iliffe out of San Francisco, Beyond’s renewed focus on experience design work, in particular on digital product and service development, has made it a true specialist shop. For instance, most clients come to Beyond for assignments around data/content strategy — which often leads to major user-interface work and development.

And this has been good for business. Demand is strong — revenues were up 20% in 2014. Its portfolio includes work with Google; the design and creation of internal knowledge management systems for Viacom; the design, creation of a brand archive for Sainsbury's called the Sainsbury's Living Archive; and the design and development for As the firm has matured, project duration and size has also increased.

In its work with, Beyond successfully reimagined Virgin’s online presence [] in a way that showcased its values like “smart disruption, heartfelt service and red hot.” For Google, Beyond has helped the company promote how they bring Android to business users around the world.

There are few other agencies in the realm of PR taking on assignments like these. Beyond’s willingness to push the boundaries of digital beyond social media has now translated to a solid business that does impressive work, making the firm standout among the digital finalists.  —AaS


Lewis PR (Independent)

While Lewis PR is best known for tech PR, the independent firm’s digital prowess is increasingly becoming its competitive advantage. In 2014, the firm had 17% organic growth and is expected to reach $70m in global revenue at the end of its fiscal year in July. Its US revenues are approximately $37 million. Remarkably, the agency’s digital marketing division, Lewis Pulse, grew by over 70%.

Lewis recently made another acquisition to deepen its digital strength with the purchase of the San Diego-based Piston that specializes in SEO, SEM and display advertising, media planning and buying, analytics and creative design services.

Already, through its Pulse digital division, Lewis runs high-profile campaigns, such as a blog program for McAfee’s CMO that includes paid social media and sponsored content. For McAfee, the firm also handles crisis around social and handles overall content creation, such as video, infographics, website development, as well as organic and paid search programs.  

Global CEO and founder Chris Lewis remains at the helm of the organization, supported — in the US — by EVP Morgan McLintic who launched the Lewis US operations in 1998. Stephen Corsi is SVP of global digital marketing. — AaS

Ogilvy Public Relations (WPP)

Ogilvy PR’s new commitment to building “communities of excellence” builds on and goes beyond the Social@Ogilvy platform—the multidisciplinary and multi-agency team it has led in recent years—and includes communities focused on insights and strategy, social media, and content, all areas in which the firm can claim leadership. The social business grew by 35% last year, managing content and community for Firefox, Huawei, VMWare and others; providing integrated digital support to American Express and Coca-Cola; and supporting Interface and Merck with consulting and strategy.

Highlights range from an integrated campaign to help Spanish biofuels company Abengoa build its brand in the US to the “GIF that keeps on GIFing” effort for Lincoln Motor Company, using third-party storytelling to shift perceptions and increase share of voice. And Ogilvy is not resting on its digital laurels. There’s a new Social@ “command center” in New York, providing real-time engagement for clients such as America Express, Coca-Cola and UPS, and a new partnership with Social.Lab to deliver paid social excellence.

There’s a strong emphasis on data and analytics—and on the planning process that helps extract actionable insights from all that data. And while so much digital and social work focuses on consumer engagement, Ogilvy has been thinking about corporate reputation, helping companies be more transparent, prepare for crises, and tell their stories online in a more proactive manner.—PH

Shift Communications

Shift Communications rose from the ashes of a B2B tech agency destroyed by the dot-com crash of the early 2000s. The principals of Shift acquired the assets of that firm, rebranded and put its lessons-learned to good use: expanding from B2B to include B2C and vertical industry practices and deciding no single client would ever comprise more than 10% of revenue.

With clients like McDonalds, H&R Block, Citrix, Whole Foods and Bitly, Shift did successfully reach a variety of sectors. This was largely done by selling clients on cutting edge digital creds — built on co-founder/CEO Todd Defren’s breakout hit “the social media press release.”

In 2014, the firm lost two major accounts but was able to recoup the revenue with new business and held steady around $18m.

The lure for clients is Shift’s heritage in social media that has now expanded to smart digital insights around earned/paid/owned strategies much of which is led by VP Chris Penn. The firm’s leadership also includes president Amy Lyons who oversees the strategic direction of the agency and last year the firm made a big splash when former Ford social media lead Scott Monty jumped on to lead new business from Detroit. This year the firm also became a certified Google Analytics partner.

The work includes Tango’s $280m investment round, in which Shift was tapped to drum up media in a climate when newsmakers were nabbing billion-dollar acquisitions. Even so, Shift was able to clench top-tier media across various channels highlighting the milestone. For H&R Block, Shift raised traffic to its Block Talk blog to more than one million monthly visitors — double from the previous year, also increasing the number of social shares for its content. For EB Sport Group’s new line SYNC, Shift combined social marketing with traditional PR, ultimately yielding a 20% bump in sales. — AaS

The W2O Group

The W2O Group has come a long way from being the healthcare-focused entity that Jim Weiss founded in 2001. Weiss has transformed Weiss Communications Partners from a healthcare agency into an analytics powerhouse that is home to anchor firm WCG, Twist Marketing, Brew Life and W2O Ventures — as well as acquiring a handful of players to deliver on its analytics promise. The rebrand came in 2012 and W2O has reaped generous rewards as the company has seen double-digit year-on-year growth since then.

Total revenue up 10% 2014 to $82.7m and headcount was up 2% to 402 — but even more notably, the firm has more than 150 people working in its analytics division. CEO Jim Weiss announced another minor restructuring this year that codifies a four-person executive team with chief innovation officer Bob Pearson, CFO Tony Esposito and COO Jenn Gottlieb. Aaron Strout was also upped to president of WCG — signaling a stronger shift towards tech. Key clients include  Medtronic, Galderma, Merck, Roche, Pfizer, Otsuka, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon and Intel. New additions include Allergan, Astra Zeneca, Bayer, Harley Davidson and PepsiCo.

Ultimately what makes the W2O Group standout is its analytics expertise that is unparalleled in the industry. This year, Weiss moved the analytics and insights offering into its own entity that services all the W2O brands. Among its offerings are software-based models focused on identifying influencers, understanding the networks in which they operate, and providing targeted engagement and content; and MDigitalLife which has mapped the digital footprint of more than 500,000 health ecosystem profiles (including physicians, healthcare advocates and hospitals).

This has translated into memorable work like the Genomic Health “Your Prostate Your Decision” campaign in which W2O Group partnered with Genomic Health to educate patients and caregivers about the company’s prostate cancer diagnostic test. For HP’s “Always On” campaign the W2O Group created a content engine and agile content. Western Digital tasked the W2O Group with creating a social media campaign to engage fans around MyCloud, a personal cloud storage device for its #KeepItPersonal campaign. — AaS