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

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

Midsize PR Agency of the Year: W2O Group (Independent)

Fifteen years into its founding, the W2O Group has followed an astonishing growth trajectory that’s fueled by its ability to leverage precise, custom analytics to inform strategy and creative for clients. With its blend of proprietary algorithms, platforms and approaches, the W2O Group stands out amongst its peers — larger and smaller — for making analytics a core part of its business.

W2O has demonstrated clients are willing to pay for analytics as the holding group bounds towards the $100m threshold. Global revenue is up 15% to $95m with profitability nearing 20%, while headcount is around 425.  The tenure of its top 20 clients is notable with many with relationships exceeding seven years. US offices include Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Napa, New York, San Francisco (HQ) and Silicon Valley.

Prior to last year, the analytics offerings was somewhat disparate across the firm. But under the leadership of CEO Jim Weiss and president Bob Pearson, W2O’s analytics was centralized to equalize access across its agency brands — WCG, Twist, and Brewlife. The agency brands have each carved its own niche across W2O’s practice areas (mostly healthcare and technology with ambitions to grow further beyond this). Twist surpassed WCG as the largest operating company within the group ($48m) with a focus on healthcare, pharma and biotech. WCG closed the year at $39m with its clients split almost evenly across health and tech, meanwhile Brewlife is around $10m focused on emerging brands in the healthcare space.

Yet, W2O’s most distinct market differentiator remains its analytics offering that includes  MDigitalLife that maps the footprint of more than 700,000 health ecosystem profiles; the “SocialGraphics” analytics operating system that pulls data from a host of sources for statistical analyses; the Digital Health Influencer Index which is a proprietary database; and Inception, an analytics-driven crisis tool.

Notable work includes Sanofi “Flu + You” to raise awareness around the importance of flu vaccines, Tejava Tea “Nothing is Perfect” for influencer targeting and LAP-BAND “It Fits” a brand revitalization effort. — AaS


Allison + Partners (MDC Partners)

Allison + Partners continues to impress with another year of remarkable business performance, continued global scale while also growing its service offerings. CEO Scott Allison has built the firm — now in its 15th year — around a commitment to operating under a single P&L.

Revenues were up more than 30% to $48.8m and headcount is now 300 across operations in the US (which accounts for 91% of revenue and 225 of its employees), Europe and Asia. The firm’s 13 US offices are San Francisco, Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, Boston, Portland and Atlanta.

Driving this growth was significant client wins including Fox Home Entertainment, Polycom, Focus Brands Restaurant Group (Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s and McCalister’s Deli), and Energy Upgrade California, while also growing longstanding clients like Toyota, Sony and Samsung.

While Allison is mostly known for its consumer and technology expertise, increasingly the MDC-owned firm is gaining momentum as a corporate player. Corporate work now represents 27% of its overall revenue and 80% growth since 2014 with clients that include Adecco, Deloitte Digital, Flowserv and Materne. Meanwhile, the firm is also making notable strides in healthcare by doing In2 SABRE award-winning work on Dignity Health’s Great Kindness Challenge. Last year, its consumer practice changed hands to Corey Martin while adding big-name clients such as Nike, Pinterest, Tiffany and Seventh Generation.

Last year, Allison also unveiled its formalized research, content, creative, digital and measurement division called All Told that now represents about $5m in revenues. Led by Cathy Planchard, All Told recently added video production specialists, animators, illustrators and producers in the US and Thailand. Allison has also launched its first annual Influence Impact Report that revealed influence only begins when consumers make a decision to move toward purchase, among other insights. — AaS

Finn Partners (Independent)
Since it gained its independence from Ruder Finn five years ago, Finn Partners has been growing in equal parts through acquisition and organically, a pattern that continued in 2015. The firm ended the year with fee income of $71 million, up 35 percent, enough to rank as the number six independent in the US.

That growth included the expansion of its tech capabilities—long the firm’s largest practice, now supplemented by the acquisition of San Francisco-based specialist Horn Group—and its healthcare capabilities, with the appointment of Hill+Knowlton and Makovsky veteran Gil Bashe to add pharma expertise and lead the practice. It also broadened its geographic reach, acquiring and merging Nashville-based communications firms DVL Public Relations & Advertising and Seigenthaler Public Relations.

Highlights of the firm’s work range from public education work on behalf of the US Consumer Products Safety Commission to free trade awareness for the South Korean embassy, from a celebration of marriage equality for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau  to a campaign against domestic violence for NoMore.org (a coalition including Avon, Kaiser Permanente, Mary Kay and several NGOs). The firm also continues to focus on creating a winning workplace—it was ranked among our Best Midsize Agencies to Work For last year—and thought leadership ranging from an examination of the changing healthcare ecosystem to an exploration of the factors that inspire employee loyalty. — PH

Marina Maher Communications (Omnicom Group)
As a general rule, midsize firms have been outperforming their larger competitors over the past four or five years, so it’s no surprise that one of the jewels in the Omnicom crown is Marina Maher Communications, with revenues believed to be in the $40-45 million range a fraction of the size of the holding company’s global players.

A longtime leader in the consumer category, MMC has more recently established itself as a significant player in healthcare (under its own and the Rx Mosaic brand). The firm’s status in the former category was underlined in 2015 when it led Omnicom’s MMK+ offering (which adds international reach from Ketchum and others to Marina Maher’s US expertise) to significant gains in the P&G agency consolidation: MMK now represents the consumer products giant globally on its Olympics program, fabric care brands (Tide/Ariel, Gain, Downy-Lenor), Herbal Essences and Head & Shoulders.

The firm also partners with sister agencies in the healthcare arena on Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue brand, Bayer, Merck, Celgene (Abraxane), and Pfizer (Pristiq). Additional new business came form Johnson & Johnson corporate, Reckitt Benckiser (the KY and Durex brands) and Galderma (aesthetics and correctives) and on the Rx side with Pfizer, Roche Diagnostics, and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Just as impressive, however, is the firm’s effort to stay ahead on the curve in areas such as data and analytics, digital and social, and content creation, with the additional of new digital strategy hires Edwin Endlich (formerly of Comedy Central and Grey Advertising) and Mike Rosich (formerly Razorfish) and the formalization of its RISE (Real Time, Insight Based, Strategic Engagement) approach. — PH

MWWPR (Independent)
Since buying itself back from Interpublic five years ago, MWW has recovered the swagger that made it one of the nation’s top independents prior to its IPG deal. With fees now north of $50 million, the firm is among the top 10 independents in the US, with eight offices (and a boutique operation in the UK) and a staff of more than 240.

It has core strength in corporate communications (including robust executive communications and crisis management operations), public affairs (in the nation’s capital as well as its native New Jersey and California), and consumer (with a focus on challenger brands), with research and insights and digital and social expertise that cuts across practices.

But it has also been developing some market-leading niche capabilities, via the acquisition two years ago of LGBT+ specialist Macias Media Group and this year the addition of Bret Werner, co-founder and former Managing Director of Catalyst, who has joined MWWPR as Chief Client Officer and Executive Vice-President. Brett is responsible for leading strategy, growth and deepening client relationships across all practice groups and offices. Other key additions including Don McIver, returning as chief people officer, and Michelle Gordon from Horizon Media as senior VP, research and insights, but the core leadership team—CEO Michael Kempner and executive VPs Carreen Winters, Alissa Blate, Bill Murray, and Rich Tauberman—have been together seemingly forever.

Similarly, the client list is a mix of the long-tenured (Nikon, 1800 Flowers, Tyson, ConnectOne Bank and Deloitte have all been there for more than a decade) and new work for the likes of Virgin America, Red Lobster, Frito-Lay, TomTom, and Opera Software. Interesting work ranges from CSR for Subaru to health programming for Walgreens, from public affairs support for the Dominican Republic (around immigration issues) to LGBT community outreach for Doritos. — PH