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

2016 North America Financial 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 will be unveiled at the 2016 North American SABRE Awards, taking place at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York on May 3.

Financial Agency of the Year

Joele Frank (Independent)

“We help our clients take control,” is the Joele Frank promise. In the context of the world in which the firm operates—mergers and acquisitions, proxy battles, activist attacks and other high-stakes special situations—that’s a big promise, and one on which the firm has been delivering for 15 years. Over that time, the firm has grown to 100 people—including 19 partners—and expanded to the west coast, with a new San Francisco office in 2015, supplementing its crisis work with some broad retainer-based investor relations and corporate communications work (two-thirds of its special situations turn into retainer assignments) for clients such as Alcoa, American Airlines, DuPont, Martin Marietta, Merck, Monsanto, Procter & Gamble, Salesforce.com, Sears Holdings and more—as well as new additions AB Electrolux, Avon Products, , Humana, Teva Pharmaceutical and Yum! Brands.

In the US, Joele Frank led the mergermarket rankings last year in terms of deal volume (132) and came in second by value of deals worked, with highlights including work for DuPont in its proxy contest against Trian Fund Management and subsequent merger with The Dow Chemical; GE with the announcement of its plan to sell most of its GE Capital assets; The Williams Companies in its sale to Energy Transfer Equity; Teva Pharmaceutical in its unsolicited proposal to acquire Mylan and its acquisition of Allergan’s generics business; and Humana in its sale to Aetna. The firm also assisted on 72 management changes in 2015, and handled several restructurings in the energy and commodities markets. — PH


Brunswick (Independent)

Brunswick Group provided communications support for more mergers and acquisitions—more than 200—than any other public relations firm in 2015, according to the latest data from industry authority mergermarket, and while its US operation was slightly less active (108 deals) it still finished number one in terms of the value of deals worked, clearly benefiting from the firm’s unique international reach—23 offices around the world—and ability to handle even the biggest cross-border transaction.

But of course, Brunswick today is much more than just a deal shop: it has expertise that spans capital markets communications, corporate responsibility, crisis management, employee engagement, litigation, and public affairs. Indeed, the appointment of Maria Figueroa Kupcu to lead the New York office indicates the breadth of the firm’s work: in nine years with the firm, she has focused on social purpose, supporting campaigns including PepsiCo’s “Performance with Purpose” and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s “Better World.” Steve Lipin, who joined from The Wall Street Journal in 2001 and has spearheaded the firm’s US growth, continues as senior partner, while veteran Republican strategist Ed Gillespie returned to the firm as senior counselor in Washington, DC, and other new additions included Laurie Hays (formerly senior executive editor of Bloomberg News) and Kevin Bailey (former chief legal counsel for communications and external affairs at BP). — PH

Edelman (DJE Holdings)
When Edelman hired Lex Suvanto from Abernathy MacGregor in the summer of 2013 to build a financial transactions capability, there was some understandable skepticism. For the most part, full service agencies are no longer a factor in an M&A world dominated by specialist firms, and several efforts to reverse that trend have failed. But after a year in which Edelman forced its way into the top 10 deal advisors according to the league table compiled by industry authority mergermarket, the addition of Suvanto is looking more and more like a smart move.

Edelman finished sixth in the value of deals worked ($299 billion) last year and seventh in volume (84) working on significant transactions including Willis’ acquisition of Gras Savoye; the DTZ merger with Cushman & Wakefield; ​FujiFIlm’s acquisition of Cellular Dynamics; ​Journal Media Group’s sale to Gannett; and ​PayPal’s acquisition of Xoom. The firm has also added talent in the US, Nadia Damouni, previously M&A team leader at Reuters; Brett Philbin, previously banking reporter at Wall Street Journal; Deb Wasser, an IR industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience most recently with Veeco Industries; and Ted McHugh, previously head of IR at a real estate investment trust. Now Suvanto has a global role, presiding over a financial communications capability bolstered by the acquisitions of Smithfield Consultants in London and ergo in Germany and Edelman can expect to be a player in cross-border transactions for some time to come. — PH

While many of the firms in its space have been forced to diversify beyond financial transactions to add more retainer corporate reputation work, Finsbury—at least in the US—has been facing the opposite challenge. An established leader in the high-stakes corporate realm since its Robinson Lerer & Montgomery days, the firm has been expanding its financial and M&A capabilities to take advantage of the cross-border potential presented by its UK operation, a perennial leader in the M&A rankings there. And there is certainly evidence that Finsbury’s US operations are making progress, ranking in the top eight by both value and volume, representing SABMiller in the $107 billion Anheuser-Busch InBev deal; Royal Dutch Shell's $70 billion acquisition of BG Group; the Walgreens Boots Alliance/Rite Aid merger; and UnitedHealth Group's acquisition of Catamaran.

Meanwhile, the firm has continued to handle high-profile work from the Toyota and Volkswagen crises the CEO transition at the iconic retailer Ralph Lauren to Duke Energy’s settlement with the Department of Justice. New business came from SABMiller, Royal Dutch Shell, Barclays, Google, Ernst & Young, Bank of China and more, joining the likes of Verizon, Starbucks, Ahold, and Deutsche Bank and contributing to double digit growth in 2015 (global fee income is north of $80 million).

There was new talent too, with Peter Land, former global CCO at AOL, joining as partner and former Wall Street Journal journalist Deborah Solomon, Bloomberg News legal writer Sherri Toub, and MF Global and Fitch Ratings veteran Lisa Kampf all joining as principals, working alongside US chief executive Michael Gross and partner Kal Goldberg, who has been building the M&A practice. — PH

Kekst and Company (Publicis Groupe)

Having enjoyed the benefits of a strong and stable leadership team for many years under Gershon Kekst and Larry Rand, the passing of the generational torch at Kekst and Company—along with the firm’s acquisition by Publicis—gave competitors hope that the most storied of the New York-based corporate and financial communications specialists might be vulnerable. But Kekst—a pioneer in providing investor and public relations support in mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies, corporate governance crises, leadership transitions, litigation, and more—has handled the transition smoothly, with Jeremy Fielding taking the helm as Kekst’s president and CEO in 2014 and agency veteran Jim Fingeroth appointed as executive chairman.

The firm employs about 70 senior consultants, and continues to rank among the leaders in the US M&A arena, handling 116 deals in 2015 (third in both volume and value of deals worked, according to mergermarket) including Dell’s acquisition of EMC, while continuing to see growth in shareholder activism, crisis communications (it handled Volkswagen’s issues in the US), leadership transitions, and bankruptcies and restructurings (Radio Shack, among others). — PH