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

2017 North America Midsize 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: Zeno 

When Barby Siegel took the helm at Zeno seven years ago, the firm had 55 people, $10 million in fee income, an almost exclusive focus on consumer, and was viewed by the marketplace as “Edelman’s conflict agency.” Today, after seven years of double-digit growth, Zeno has 400 people around the world, fees of close to $60 million, a balanced portfolio of consumer, corporate, health and tech business, and a global footprint (enhanced by last year the acquisition of UK agency 3 Monkeys).

The US operation, which still makes up more than half the headcount, grew by 23% last year to a little over $42 million, with new business coming from Pizza Hut, Easterseals, Britax, Air Asia, Microsoft Bing, Serta, Ubiquity and more. They join a roster that includes Kia Motors (a client for 13 years); Turtle Wax (10 years), AstraZeneca and Starbucks (seven years), and Bausch + Lomb (six).

But it’s the work that really impresses, from helping Starbucks defend itself against charges that it was part of the “war on Christmas” to supporting Spin Master’s launch of toy sensation Hatchimals to a data-driven micro-targeted marketing campaign for Bernzomatic that really drove sales. The thought leadership isn’t bad either, particularly the firm’s Human Project, a multi-generational study that helps brands forge deeper connections with consumers. — PH


Citizen Relations (BlueFocus)

After a couple of quiet years following the acquisition of parent company Vison7 by Chinese marketing services giant BlueFocus, Citizen appeared reinvigorated in 2016, with global revenues up to US$28m, around $24m of which comes from its North American operations. Always one of the smarter consumer marketing firms, Citizen's expansion owes much to systematic investment in its integrated capabilities, including digital analytics and planning, influencer research and marketing, and creative — highlighted by new intellectual property products and senior appointments, including ECD Scott Cocchiere.

Citizen continues to develop cutting-edge work for key client P&G, for which it emerged creditably from the FMCG giant's global PR review, retaining duties for Cascade, Dawn, Dreft, Duracell, Febreze, Ivory, Luvs, Mr. Clean, Old Spice, P&G Professional and Swiffer. In 2016, there was plenty of new business from its Canadian and US offices, including eHarmony, Intuit, Natrol, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Tim Hortons and Wienerschnitzel, joining a client roster that features Aflac, Duracell, Egg Farmers of Canada, MolsonCoors, PepsiCo Foods, Rocky Mountaineer and Travelocity.

And there was some strong campaign work, notably for Duracell ('Stay Connected'); and making Mr Clean relevant for a new generation of consumers.  — AS

M Booth (Next15)

Last year’s North American Agency of the Year, M Booth kept the momentum going in 2016, picking up new business from a host of blue-chip clients—General Motors (for Buick/GMC), Johnson & Johnson (for its sponsorship of Global Citizen), The Coca-Cola Company (Honest Tea), Estee Lauder, Sam Adams, Tinder, Priceline, Etsy—on the way to another year of impressive growth, with fees up 50% over the past two years.

The firm is still best known for its work in the consumer space (food and drink, travel and tourism are particular strengths), including its Made@MBooth design and content creation studio—with animators, videographers and others creating digital product, VR and 360 video—and its Micro-Tribes research, an important piece of thought leadership. But the corporate practice was the fastest-growing last year, with work for American Express expanding to include employee engagement, a three-year Google relationship growing to include education issues and cloud computing, a repositioning of Tinder (from hook-up app to a brand about forming real-world connections), and the issues-heavy work for Beyond Meat.

Other highlights of the work in 2016 included breast cancer awareness work for Weight Watchers, the launch of noosa yogurt, influencer work for Boston Beer, and a campaign that connected Carnival Cruises with singer Carrie Underwood and military families for a unique event.

The firm has also been adding talent, with FleishmanHillard veteran Nancy Seliger joining as executive VP, and new senior VPs Scott Varland (leading innovation) and Michelle Overall (entertainment and marketing partnerships) joining founder Margi Booth, CEO Dale Bornstein, chief creative officer Adrianna Giuliani Bevilaqua, and insights and planning chief Bonnie Ulman. — PH

MWWPR (Independent)

Because buying back its independence from IPG more than five years ago granted MWW a new start, it’s easy to forget Michael Kempner’s firm has been around for 30 years. But it was during the last five years that MWW regained its footing and emerged as, once again, as a formidable mid-size player with revenues around $50m. 

Kempner has brought together an all-star leadership team that includes Bret Werner (co-founder of Catalyst), Carreen Winters as chief strategy officer as well as EVPs Heather Wilson, former DNC CEO Amy Dacey and Parker Ray.

Despite its heritage in public affairs, some of MWW’s most notable work of late has been digital campaigns in the consumer space. For instance, toymaker Moose Toys brought MWW on to launch Shopkins and ultimately drive sales. Among its tactics, the firm formed strategic partnerships on YouTube to develop video content that now has more than 900 million views — and business results that include Moose being the #4 largest toymaker in the US. The work won an Innovation SABRE Award for the best use of YouTube. For Jack in the Box’s newest menu item, MWW tapped VR to video transport users to a simulated gastro-pub environment for a multi-sensory burger experience.

The firm’s portfolio of clients spans across sectors to include Nature’s Bounty (new), Nikon, Tom Tom (new), Subaru, Air New Zealand, Honeywell International (new), Tyson, Red Lobster and Atkins. Its LGBT practice doubled its client roster with Hilton Worldwide, Focus Features, Universal Home Entertainment, Kellogg’s, Anything the Film and LA Tourism & Convention Board.

Industry leadership includes “Hervoice” a practice focused on building the internal and external profiles of female leaders, a millennial marketing research report and “corpsumer” combining consumer marketing and company perception in one unified program. — AaS

Text100 (Next15)

Throughout Text100's 36-year history, the Next15 firm has been best-known for its technology expertise, with its North American operation establishing itself via long-term relationships with Xerox, IBM and Cisco. In recent years, however, the Text100 has begun the inevitable effort to diversify its offering, around a 'Vision 2020' plan that includes a refresh of our company’s vision, purpose and mission. After merging with two marketing-focused firms in London, Text100's capabilities are far removed from a narrow focus on the technology industry and much of the agency's new business — including a number of assignments in North America — favour the consumer and corporate sectors, including Egon Zehnder and Suntrust Bank. Indeed the firm's embrace of broader content, digital and data capabilities (which includes a 'dynamic newsroom' capability) helped underpin global growth of 5.3% to $66m, of which around $29m is derived from North American offices in Boston, Rochester and San Francisco.

Text's reinvigoration has coincided with a reshuffle of its senior ranks, including the hire of former Emanate CEO Kim Sample to lead New York and Steven Astle as SVP of a new practice area focusing on highly-regulated markets. They join a senior team that remains led by long-term global CEO Aedhmar Hynes, who is supported by chief digital officer James Beechinor-Collins; creative director Richard Parkinson; and North American regional director Ken Peters. 

Text's best work illustrates the progress it is making towards becoming a a credible marketing communications player. For Egon Zehnder, Text helped to elevate the firm's Global Board Diversity Analysis, creating a proprietary data visualizer tool that drove impressive results. And for IBM's Watson, Text developed a series of stories that showcased technology's 'human' side. — AS