2016 Canadian PR Agencies of the Year, North America | Holmes Report

2016 Canadian PR Agencies of the Year

Our 2016 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 for every category can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Winners were unveiled at the 2016 North American SABRE Awards, taking place at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York on May 3.

Canadian PR Agency of the Year:

North Strategic (Independent)
Founded in 2011, North Strategic is not only one of Canada’s fastest-growing national PR firms, having grown to 65 people in less than five years, but has also forged an impressive reputation for creativity and digital expertise under the leadership of co-founders Mia Pearson and Justin Creally. One year ago, the firm consolidated its early gains by winning our Canadian Agency of the Year honours, and its progress in 2015 proved that the award was hardly a flash in the pan.

Revenues grew by an additional 36% last year to more than $10m, across its offices in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary. Much of this was again powered by the firm’s focus on redefining PR beyond media relations to encompass a broader range of influencer and digital activity — with its sister company Notch Video, an online video marketplace, growing by almost 50% in 2015, providing clients with a realistic alternative to the traditional advertising model for content creation.

It is an approach that has clearly struck a chord in the market, helping North Strategic net significant new business from Amex Canada, Avignon, Enercare, GoodLife Fitness, PWC, TD Financial and Canadian Tire, who join a client roster that already features Twitter, Airbnb, Samsung, Canada Goose, Diageo and Ubisoft. The firm’s senior team also grew in tandem with its operational expansion, with Paula Worthington arriving last year to lead its Calgary office; Alice Choe joining as a senior advisor on digital and social; and, Wendie Godbout hired to oversee Montreal.

North’s creativity continues to catch the eye — last year it launched a strategic partnership with Ten Thousand Coffees that resulted in North Navigate, a conversation platform designed to bridge the gap between marketers and millennials. The firm also rolled out an influencer marketing practice — and both of these initiatives helped it produce some innovative work for Cadillac Fairview, Shomi, Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons. Each of the campaigns was notable for an ability to blend innovative storytelling with digital platform expertise.

Pearson and Creally are both veterans of High Road Communications, which Pearson co-founded in 1996, before selling to to FleishmanHillard in 2001. The duo departed Omnicom to launch North Strategic in 2011, and it seems clear that their approach is paying off. — AS


Hill+Knowlton Strategies (WPP) With more than 200 people in nine offices across the country, Hill+Knowlton Strategies is a market leader in Canada, not only in terms of its size and geographic reach but also in terms of its ability to operate at the intersection of business, politics and society, handling some of the market’s most high-profile issues, from work with China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) in its $15-billion acquisition of Canada’s Nexen to its support for the government’s Healthy Canadians public health initiative to a host of environment and natural resources issues.

The firm further expanded its capabilities in 2015 with the acquisition of Acertys, a leading Montreal-based public engagement company that adds French-language expertise; the launch of H+K EastWest, a new consultancy offer in Ottawa that supports Chinese companies’ investment in Canada; and with the formal launch of content marketing specialist Group SJR in Canada.

With longtime market leader Michael Coates recently elevated to president and CEO of the Americas region, the leadership team north of the border now includes president and public affairs practice chief Goldy Hyder, a 14-year veteran of the firm; chief strategy officer Joseph Peters, who sold his social media and public engagement firm to H+K in 2012 and offers expertise in digital content; and corporate practice leader Jane Shapiro, a leading expert in crisis and issues communications. — PH

Strategic Ampersand (Independent)

Founded 25 years ago, Strategic Ampersand retains a distinct focus on the technology sector, an approach that has proved increasingly relevant as technology takes centre-stage across a myriad of industries and practice areas. Miles Pollock and Gayle Robin, who together own 100% of the firm, continue to operate one of Canada’s smartest public relations firms, which long ago adopted an integrated mindset and eschewed billable hours in a bid to demonstrate that long-term retainers and employees matter more.

Revenues for 2015 exceeded CDN$2.5m, with new clients such as GoDaddy, Nulogy and Rogers joining a roster that includes lengthy partnerships with such companies as Cisco, BlackBerry
CDW, Intel Security, Nikon, Schneider Electric and VMware. Strategic Ampersand’s senior team also reflects this focus on long-term relationships — VP of PR Anita Wong has been with the firm for 17 years, while PR director Cindy Watson counts a decade of service.

Last year’s campaign highlights included OpenTable’s ‘100 Best Restaurants in Canada’ initiative; BlackBerry’s significant Priv launch; GoDaddy’s small business survey; and, Cisco’s Canadian Innovation Centre launch. Now numbering almost 20 people in Toronto, Strategic Ampersand is proof that a 25 year-old independent agency can continue to prosper by focusing on its clients and staff. — AS

Veritas (MDC Partners)

Originally established in 1993 as a healthcare communications specialist, Veritas has diversified over the years and today focuses on “influencing the influencers,” drawing on a “custom convergence” model that brings together cross-functional teams and multichannel solutions to ensure the appropriate solution for a range of complex challenges. Based in Toronto, Veritas has built its reputation on staying ahead of the increasingly complex and changing media universe. To this end, Veritas launched its Growth & Innovation Lab as “the cerebral cortex” of the agency and, last summer, a Newsroom equipped with 14 screens that pull content from across multiple media and social channels in real time.

The 23-year-old firm has a team of more than 70 people across offices in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and New York with specialists in retail, lifestyle and business, media relations, digital and creative thinkers. Its work with Microsoft Canada, Kimberly-Clark and Labatt Breweries of Canada is shortlisted in this year’s SABRE Awards competition. Other clients include Subway, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, General Mills and Best Buy Canada.

This year, Veritas is piloting its ROWE (Results-Oriented Work Environment) concept that gives every team member permission to come and go as they please, set hours and working style that works for them — as long as it also works with team members and clients. To facilitate this, everyone will be using client Microsoft’s file-sharing and Skype. “It means everyone will be able to see each other’s progress in a supportive way to ensure rapid course correction for out of whack hours and over-service.” — AaS