2017 Canadian PR Agencies of the Year, North America | Holmes Report

2017 Canadian PR Agencies of the Year

Our 2017 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 2017 North American SABRE Awards, at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York on May 2.

Winner: 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 by staying ahead of the increasingly complex and changing media universe, an approach that is clearly paying off if the firm's stellar growth and campaign work is any guide.

Now numbering 65 people across offices in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, Veritas grew its fee income by 12% in 2016 to US$8.3m, powered by new business from Audible, Kijiji, General Mills, Bayer, Kimberly-Clark, Revlon, Collegium Pharmaceuticals, Tangerine, Metro/FoodBasics and Volkswagen. They join a client roster that already includes Microsoft, CBC, Subway, Labatt, Church and Dwight, Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, and other brands from Kimberly Clark and Bayer.

The new business haul is impressive enough, but under president/CEO Krista Webster, it is Veritas' development into a credible creative contender that is particularly worthy of recognition. Veritas' 'Bring Back the Bees' work for Honey Nut Cheerios represents an ideal example of this approach, blending word-of-mouth and influencer marketing to deliver real business results and win numerous awards. The firm's workplace culture, via the ROWE (Results-Oriented Work Environment) concept, also stands out, as does its commitment to influencer research, via its proprietary Influencer Impact methodology. — AS


Citizen Relations (BlueFocus) 

With 60 consultants working across offices in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Quebec City, Citizen Relations has long been one of Canada's leading PR firms, with particular strength in consumer marketing which has been significantly bolstered by investment in digital analytics and planning, influencer research and marketing and integrated creative capabilities -- from strategic planning to deep creative leadership.

After leading Citizen's Canadian operations for several years, North American president Nick Cowling has worked to export the firm's strategic planning and integrated communications functions to its US offices. That speaks to the depth of insight and creativity within Citizen's Canadian base, which has helped it new business from the likes of PepsiCo Foods, Molson Coors Canada, Dyson, Intuit, Tourism Australia, eHarmony and Tim Hortons. They join an existing Canadian client roster that also includes the Egg Farmers of Canada, P&G, Emirates and Disney.

There was eye-catching work for PC Organics, for which Citizen created the PC Babylicious program, raising awareness of the brand among millennial mothers with toddlers. And the firm continued to develop a strong strategic planning function, which also resulted in the creation of offshoot agency The Colony Project. — AS

Proof Inc. (Independent)

Independent Canadian PR firm Proof Inc. has not typically sought out the limelight, but its continued strong performance remains worthy of recognition. Founded by Bruce MacLellan in 1994, Proof Inc. has brought pioneering mindset to much of its expansion since, and now operates wholly-owned offices in Toronto, Ottawa, and Washington, DC, along with minority ownership of Capital Image in Montreal. And growth 

Proof Inc. sister company, Environics Research, has meant the agency has always used a data-driven approach to its consulting work, helping it retain a client base of uncommonly long tenure, including many for more than 15 years (The Globe & Mail, Panasonic, Queen’s University, Edward Jones). In 2016, there was new business from Shopify, Dell/EMC, Electrical Safety Authority, TD Bank, Thomson Reuters, Soda Stream, National Bank, MasterCard Foundation, EQ Bank and Campbell Company of Canada, joining a client roster that also features Netflix, eBay / StubHub, Catelli, Allstate Insurance, Loblaw Companies Limited, and Boehringer Ingleheim.

All of that helped Proof Inc. report growth of 14% in 2016 to US$14m, bolstered by a willingness to diversify its thinking beyond traditional PR activity. Last year, for example, Proof Inc. created its first 30-second TV spot for a major CPG brand, and also made major hires in data/analytics (Rob Clark from Edelman) and paid media (Matthew Naftalin). In addition to MacLellan, the firm's leadership team includes SVPs Mimi Carter, Greg MacEachern, Josh Cobden and Vanessa Eaton, along with digital strategy VP Andrew Kinnear.

Much of Proof's work focuses on health sciences, consumer products, technology, financial services and associations, helping it develop particular strength across in corporate communications, public affairs, experiential (via sister company Free For All Marketing), government relations, social media and video production. That approach helped drive some impressive integrated work last year, for Catelli, Fisher Price, Allstate Canada and Ontario Tire Stewardship. Now in its second year, furthermore, the firm's CanTrust Index has received coast-to-coast news coverage, and serves as an ongoing platform for thought leadership activities aimed at clients, prospects and the industry.   — AS

National PR (Res Publica)

Founded in 1976, National PR's growth into one of Canada's largest communications firms is no accident. For 40 years, the firm has delivered strong credentials across the healthcare, energy and professional knowledge sectors, along with the country's top financial communications & investor relations practice. Now part of the Res Publica group, National operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Saint John, Halifax and St. John's, serving a client list that includes Novo Nordisk, Roche, Ford Motor Company, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Vifor International, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, Shire, Pfizer, McDonald’s and Novartis.

In 2016, growth at the firm was powered by new business from Deloitte and Sephora, along with some significant, confidential assignments. The Alberta energy crisis posed a challenge for National's Calgary offices, which it overcame by working closely with the Conference Board of Canada’s Emissions Roundtable to increase visibility and by putting in place a transfer program for Calgary consultants.

Founded by Luc Beauregard, National is today led by chairman Andrew Molson and president/CEO Jean-Pierre Vasseur. There were several new hires last year, including new VPs in government relations, marketing communications, corporate communications and public affairs. And the firm's thought leadership remains a strong driver of its business success, thanks to the Bold Thinking Report, an annual study of the predominant value systems guiding Canadians, and the Belief Based Behaviour (B3) digital ethnographic research, which focuses on which values are important to Canadians today and why. That kind of thinking helped National develop some above-average campaign work, particularly in the healthcare sector, covering idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, metastatic breast cancer, and pediatric vaccination.   — AS

Weber Shandwick (IPG)

Six years of double-digit growth in Canada have helped Weber Shandwick establish itself as perhaps the strongest of the US-based multinationals in a market where most of the plaudits continue to go to home-grown agencies.

Moving to a single P&L for the Canadian market six years ago was clearly a major factor in the firm’s turnaround, as was the adaption of the global agency’s “engagement engine” model, and an emphasis on both professional development and workplace culture under the leadership of Greg Power, who joined as president in 2010 after leadership roles at Edelman and Opimum.

Weber Shandwick now has 75 people across three offices (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) and a client roster that includes the likes of McDonald’s (the firm is now agency of record across the country), KPMG (for which WS manages storytelling efforts nationally), Florida Citrus, GM, the Healthy Grains Institute (telling the nutrition story for bread) and RBC (everything from crisis preparedness to corporate citizenship). — PH