2018 Boutique PR Agencies of the Year, North America | Holmes Report

2018 North America Boutique PR Agencies of the Year

Our 2018 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 2018 North American SABRE Awards, at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York on May 1.

Winner: C+C (Independent)

Seattle's C+C has grown impressively over the last decade focusing on campaigns that change behavior. Since its founding in 2005, C+C has built its agency around “doing good work,” in particular for social issues in the private and public sectors. This expertise has proved lucrative, revenues are up 23% to $9.9m and the team has expanded to 67 people across offices in Seattle, Boston and Portland.

Over the last year, the firm invested heavily in new services with 25% of its staff now specialists in either creative, content or video. C+C also houses a multicultural division that is integrated from the start for all clients and has delivered 10% of the agency’s revenue. Founders Julie Colehour and Bryan Cohen have strategically managed growth to ensure the firm maintains a strong, engaged culture— turnover was 8% in 2017  and of the 16 employees that joined C+C during its first five years, 80% are still with the agency. Last year, the agency also added a director of people and culture. In addition to the founders, the firm’s leaders include office heads Cindy Jolicoeur and Suzette Riley.

This year C+C has earned four Gold SABRE and five Innovation SABRE nominations (and two wins in the latter category). The “Official Card of Sounders FC Fans” work for BECU resulted in 52,000+ credit card signups on the back of smart creative. Other notable work includes content creation for Alaska Airlines as it chased the eclipse with a special charter flight; and “On the Road, Off the Phone” for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission which showed a 13% reduction in distracted driving.

Other clients include Puget Sound Energy, Google, U.S. Department of Energy, Central Co-op, Columbia Gas (new), San Francisco Fire Credit Union (new), Massachusetts Community Colleges (new), Slalom Consulting (new) and Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op (new), among others. — AaS


Bospar (Independent)

Tech PR veteran Chris Boehlke parted ways with Grayling in 2014 after selling her shop Phase Two Strategies to the Huntsworth-owned firm in the years prior. Since then, she’s kept a relatively low-profile as she’s grown and expanded her second second entrepreneurial effort, Bospar with fellow principals Curtis Sparrer, Tricia Heinrich and Tom Carpenter.

In three years, the tech shop has grown to $3.7 million with 22 people – while also making a 20% or more in profit. Most notably, Bospar  is disrupting the conventional industry thinking that a brick-and-mortar office becomes inevitable after a certain size. Rather, Bospar manages to be a 100% virtual agency by implementing technology, training and processes designed specifically for a virtual workforce — including teaching senior staff how to manage remote teams and conduct virtual whiteboarding. From Bospar’s perspective, the agency “moved PR’s center of gravity to be far closer to the firm’s staff and clients than traditional models allow.”           

Bospar launched in 2015 with two core clients: consumer cash-back website Ebates and big data analytics company 1010data. Both are clients still today, in addition to Cambium, Conversica, Neurala, NodeSource, Postman, PrescribeWellness —as well as new clients Alfresco, Ceres Imaging, Express VPN, Varo Money and others spanned across sectors that include  AI, APIs, blockchain, cloud, data analytics, mobile banking, security, procurement, VPNs and WiFi. Bospar also prioritizes business impact metrics when launching and evaluating campaigns, these include tracking website visits, product demo requests, new membership subscriptions, software installs and other growth trajectory markers. Bospar was shortlisted for one Silver and one Gold SABRE Award this year. — AaS   

INK Communications Co. (Independent)

2017 was the inaugural year in in INKs' five-year strategic growth plan, a roadmap to the agency’s future driven by the type of work the firm wants to do, the kind of brands with which it wants to work and the overarching goal of growing 30% year-over-year growth for the duration. And, by the time the year wrapped up, INK had handily achieved its goals.

The Austin-based agency signed on new clients including Whole Foods 365, Verizon, Rackspace and CoreLogic. The firm embarked on internal development, restructuring its communications staff into teams of specialists organized to work together on integrated communications programs, increasing our quality and impact for clients, as well as increasing our ability to grow and train in our specializations. A research and insights team was created. INK moved into a new headquarters, debuted a new website and opened in New York.  The Denver office it launched in 2016 expanded, capitalizing on being in a location that, like Austin, provided INK with direct lines to startups and large companies alike, while establishing a geographic footprint that differentiates from the large New York, Chicago and California agencies.  Financially, the company topped its goal, growing 36% over the previous year into a $4.5m operation.

All of which occurred without INK straying from its founding principle: Good work with good people makes for a good life. It’s a tenet reflected in the agency’s offerings and output, which start with an audience-fueled strategy aimed at producing results that matter. While the agency works with clients across sectors, it is committed to working with organizations it trusts and respects. The 'good life' results from CEO Starr Million Baker’s commitment to maintain a workplace that employees find challenging but also enjoyable. INK’s 1BHF (read: one big happy family) culture is rooted in the idea that, regardless of geographical divides, INK’s 40-plus staffers are all-in and all together. Practically, that translates to working across offices, across accounts and across specialties.

Founded 14 years ago as a tech-based agency, INK has since gained a foothold in the clean energy space, working with clients across the sector. A leader in next-gen communications, INK also produces two podcast series, The Good Stuff & The Noise. The agency’s blog reflects its thought leadership efforts, including a recent series on the clean energy industry. — DM

Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock (Independent)

Founded in Nashville in 2006, Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock (JPCH) has grown to become one of the country’s top healthcare firms, with an additional hub in Chicago helping it deliver a sophisticated range of services that favours strategic positioning, issues/crisis navigation and change management. Led by president/CEO David Jarrard, COO Kevin Phillips, chief innovation officer Molly Cate and chief development officer Anne Hancock Toomey — the firm grew by an impressive 18.5% in 2017, thanks in part to a rich new business haul that included numerous high-profile healthcare organisations.

Specifically, JPCH has capitalised on its ability to navigate complex communications challenges as health systems have formed bigger alliances and hospitals become subject to higher transparency standards. JPCH’s own focus on predictive trends has helped it anticipate many of these issues, resulting in thought leadership and strategy efforts that result in a clear point of view and actionable recommendations to clients. 

Examples of that approach come from a number of the firm’s campaigns, including a major change management effort for a health system; helping a national hospital company navigate a ’60 Minutes’ takedown; and positioning efforts for health companies that resulted in measurable revenue growth. — AS

Kyne (Independent)

David Kyne founded his eponymously-titled communications firm in 2009 in a bid to focus on connecting public and private sector organisations to address unmet healthcare needs. Headquartered in Dublin, the firm’s operations in New York and Los Angeles are led by Maureen Byrne and Wendy Woods-Williams, respectively, supplemented by the arrival of SVP Darcy Sawatzki to lead its US public health business. 

And while much of Kyne’s work is global in scope, it is the firm’s US clients that appear to be powering its eye-catching work. For example, Kyne has partnered with The Carter Center  to help end endemic transmission of Guinea worm disease in four remaining countries, thanks to a creative behaviour change campaign that involves music, radio, video and social drama. Kyne also helped conceptualize My Life, Our Future, a US program that provides free genetic testing to people with hemophilia, a rare bleeding disorder, and has built the world’s largest hemophilia genetic research repository.

Work like that helps to explain Kyne’s stellar growth in 2017, up almost 63% to $9.6m. There was new business from Relypsa and the World Federation of Hemophilia, joining a client list that also includes AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, CDC Foundation, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, Seqirus and the Carter Center. The firm’s though leadership approach also underpins its growth, showcased by David Kyne’s work on the CDC Foundation Corporate Roundtable. To help manage the growth, the firm has upped investment in data mining and software, as part of a thorough audit of its staffing and technology capabilities. — AS