Global Corporate/Financial PR Agencies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report

2018 Global Corporate/Financial Agencies of the Year

The 2018 Global PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 450 submissions and face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across North AmericaEMEA and Asia-Pacific.

Analysis of all of the Winners and Finalists across specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are announced at the 2018 Global SABRE Awards, which take place at the PRovoke18 Global PR Summit in Washington, DC, on the evening of 24 October. 

Winner: Sard Verbinnen & Co (US, Independent)

This time two years ago, the financial communications specialist was making headlines of its own. In the midst of talks to sell a 40% stake to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital, the firm was hit by a number of high-profile departures — former hedge fund practice leader Jonathan Gasthaltar was the most high-profile — that raised questions in the mainstream media. But after 18 months of the new ownership structure, George Sard and Paul Verbinnen’s firm looks stronger than ever, with a team of 175 people across seven offices, and a leadership position on the 2017 mergermarket ranking of PR advisors to M&A (about half of the firm’s business).

Sard Verbinnen handled 248 deals globally, worth a combined $386 billion, and was also number one in terms of both volume and value in the US. Among the highlights, the firm has been working with Bayer on its pending acquisition of Monsanto, with Qualcomm on its defense against Broadcom, with Samsung on its acquisition of Harman, with ADP in its defense against activist Pershing Square Capital, with Delphi on the spinoff of its Powertrain business, with Scottrade on its acquisition by TD Ameritrade and with Intel on its acquisition of Mobileye. It also handled the initial offering of Best, Inc., the largest IPO by a Chinese company in 2017.

But deals are only half of the picture at SVC these days. The firm also provided crisis communications support for the board of directors at Wells Fargo; advised on the chapter 11 restructuring at Avaya; and handled CEO transition issues at Ralph Lauren. The firm also added an office in Houston, focused on the energy sector;launched a corporate governance advisory services business, Strategic Governance Advisors, led by Chris Cernich, former managing director for M&A at ISS; leveraged its 2016 acquisition ARC Research to ensure a data-driven approach; and expanded its video, digital and social media capabilities — increasingly relevant in proxy contests against activist investors. — PH


Adfactors (Asia-Pacific, Independent)

Long regarded by Indian market watchers as the best corporate and financial specialist in the market, Adfactors has diversified its offering to a remarkable extent in recent years, helping it to net the $5m Tata mandate from Edelman in the year’s biggest account shift. The firm’s creative prowess has grown commensurate with that expansion, helping Adfactors become one of the most successful PR firms at the South Asian and Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards over the past three years, thanks to assignments for State Bank of India, Mahindra & Mahindra, Vodafone and Godrej.

The mammoth Tata assignment was just one of number of big wins in 2017, with others including Essar Group, Apollo Hospitals, Samsung India, ACC Ambuja, Bajaj Electricals. The firm also continues to work for energy and infrastructure conglomerate Adani Group, Bombay Stock Exchange, Citibank, ICICI Bank, Infosys, Jet Airways, Mahindra Group, State Bank of India and Vodafone India — a veritable who’s who of Indian market leaders and giant multinationals, to whom it provides public and investor relations' services at a high level.

With 2017 fee income of close to $28 million — following 16% growth — Adfactors ranks among the top 75 PR agencies in our global ranking of PR firms, and is the largest Indian firm on the list. It now has 600 people in 13 Indian offices, with overseas outposts in Singapore, Sri Lanka, and the UAE. And its investment in new services is second to none, focusing on training and development, human resources, and digital transformation.

Notable campaign highlights included When Jailbirds Sang, a campaign for Godrej that used former criminals to help sell locking solutions; a tech-fuelled campaign to protect children on behalf of Vodafone; and helping OYO successfully lower the GST on budget hotels. — AS

Headland Consultancy (UK, Independent)

Headland was founded on the belief that, too often, clients are offered a false choice between strategy and delivery. Launched in 2005 by Gavin Anderson veterans Chris Salt and Howard Lee, the firm brought on board former Fishburn Hedges CEO Neil Hedges and COO Dan Mines in 2012 to expand its corporate capabilities, and has rarely looked back since — developing its offering into one that combines commercial acumen and creative talent across financial, corporate and public affairs to impressive effect.

Indeed, 2017 represented something of a watershed for Headland, with the firm surging by 51% to £7m in fee income, and headcount up from 40 to 55. There was significant new business from Lidl, Three Mobile, TSB, Mulberry, Aggreko, Aegon, eToro, Toys ‘R’ Us, Iberdrola and Arthritis Research UK, joining an existing client roster that features PepsiCo, UBS, Deloitte, New Look, Danone, Grosvenor, McColl’s, London Luton Airport, Ardian and MUFG.

Managing all of that growth can be a tricky proposition, but Headland has aimed to strike a balance between client service and topline expansion, recruiting selectively and opting to turn down some briefs. A specialist-heavy leadership team helps; in addition to Salt and Hedges, there is former Tesco government affairs head Simon Burton, financial specialist Lucy Leah and campaigning expert Dan Smith. In 2017, key hires included Stephen Malthouse (from Tulchan); Andy Rivett-Carnac (from Brunswick); former sell-side analyst Ian Shackleton; and Carley Sparrow from Teneo Blue Rubicon.

Headland’s work reflects the focus on integrating strategy and delivery. The firm position McColl’s leadership team as experts on the convenience market, helping garner unanimous ‘buy’ recommendations, an enlarged sell-side following, and a share price that doubled. For UBS, Headland has developed an award-winning global campaign that positions the bank as experts on billionaires. And for PepsiCo, the firm has supported its transformation towards sustainability and healthier products amid considerable political scepticism, spanning sensitive announcements and relationship building that ultimate secured public endorsements from the DEFRA Secretary of State and the Food and Farming Minister. — AS

G&S Communications (US, Independent)

A 47-year-old agency with a heritage in agribusiness and manufacturing might not suggest a penchant for innovation, but G&S has been successfully debunking perceptions — both for clients and itself — for several years now under the leadership of CEO Luke Lambert. Today, G&S is a highly-focused B2B agency that combines impressive thought leadership with the kind of creative flair that reflects its risk-taking, entrepreneurial culture. 

Growth of 13% to $27m in 2017 suggests that the firm is firing on all cylinders, best demonstrated by an eye-catching string of campaigns. For Syngenta, the firm devised a TV-centered campaign to celebrate women in agriculture by aligning the company with the FarmHer movement, helping to increase non-customer affinity and click-throughs. For Coronal Energy, there was a powerful effort to integrate communications strategy with the solar developer’s value chain. And, for Sodexo, the firm developed an integrated effort that showcased sustainability within the company’s food supply chain.

Work like this reflects an offering that involves serious creative and strategic capabilities, for a client base that includes numerous major brands in the agribusiness and technology sectors. There has been consistent investment in data and analytics along with a credible commitment to diversity and inclusiveness in the agency’s culture across its New York, Chicago and Raleigh offices. 

G&S’ thought leadership also stands out, including its Global Street Fight conference, which gathers senior communicators to discuss the implications of a hyper-connected marketplace, and a sustainability study that polls the public on business efforts to communicate environmental, social and governance (ESG) actions. — AS

Newgate Communications (Global, Porta)

It wouldn’t be quite right to say that it has all been smooth sailing since Citigate veteran and Porta Group founder David Wright launched Newgate Communications seven years ago — the past few months have seen the departures in quick succession of Porta CEO Steffan Williams and Newgate leader Gavin Devine — but it is reasonable to claim that the Asia-Pacific operations have been perhaps the most consistently successful part of the operation, expanding geographically, rising in the Mergermarket rankings of advisors to M&A transactions, and earning the respect of longer-established competitors in the region.

The firm launched its Hong Kong operations in early 2013, under the leadership of former Kreab Gavin Anderson exec Richard Barton, tapped another KGA veteran Terrence Foo to expand into Singapore a few months later, recruited a team of 20 from Gavin Anderson to launch in Australia the same year, expanded into mainland China with a Beijing office in 2014, and added a Shanghai presence under Asia-Pacific co-founder Grace Zhang earlier this year. Much of that leadership team is still in place — Barton, Australian managing director Brian Tyson, Foo, and Sue Vercoe, who leads the research group out of Sydney — and were joined last year by 25-year veteran Raj Seth as partner in Hong Kong and Clarence Fu, who brings two decades of corporate and financial experience to Singapore.

The Asia-Pacific operation contributed about $23 million of Newgate’s 2017 PR fee income, about half of the $47 million total, and grew by about 37%, with new business coming from Hillhouse (China's largest asset management group), global consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, and e-commerce company Pinduoduo in Greater China; electrical distributor Endeavour Energy, travel company Expedia, and GOLDOC (the Brisbane-hosted Commonwealth Games) in Australia; and IHH Healthcare Berhad, Azalea Asset Management, Cromwell European REIT and Super Group in Singapore.

As is often the case, the financial transaction work — high-value, high-margin assignments in a super-competitive space — were the most eye-catching, with Newgate coming in at number five in Asia (excluding Japan) in terms of the volume of transactions worked (23) last year and number three in terms of the value of those transactions. Other highlights included Newgate Hong Kong's work with AIG and its Director's & Officer's Insurance product, and PR for Pinduoduo's NASDAQ IPO; Newgate Australia’s work with Sydney Metro, Australia's largest public transport project; and Newgate Singapore’s IPO campaign and stakeholder plan for Cromwell European REIT. From M&A to IR to strategic corporate communications, Newgate is now firmly established in the front rank of Asia-Pacific consultancies. — PH