2018 Canadian PR Agencies of the Year | Holmes Report

2018 Canadian 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: Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

Amid a disappointing year for Weber Shandwick in terms of growth—revenues decline slightly—Canada was a bright spot, growing solidly once again, after five years of double-digit growth north of the border. The agency now has around 75 people across three offices (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, operating seamlessly as a single P&L) and is now believed to be among the top five firms in Canada. The firm has a leadership position in the corporate reputation and risk management spaces, and has developed a new product called Behaviour Modes, which helps map the different ways audiences engage with media. 

Weber Shandwick represents some of Canada’s most iconic brands, including the Royal Bank of Canada, Air Canada, Canadian Tire and Sport Chek. It has been agency of record in the English speaking territories for more than 30 years, and in 2017 expanded the brief to include all of Canada, including Quebec. The firm also leads consumer activations for Harley-Davidson Canada, citizenship and reputation management for RBC, digital creative for KPMG, influencer marketing for GM Canada, digital content for the Florida Department of Citrus in Canada, and serves as agency of record for Bayer CropScience. The healthcare practice supports brands such as AstraZeneca and Roche.

Highlights of the work include working with McDonald’s on the Canadian launch of its All-Day Breakfast menu and its 50th anniversary Big Mac with Bacon; supporting Roche Canada in a campaign to raise awareness of a rare and fatal lung disease in partnership with sprinter Andre De Grasse; helping Canadian Tire raise the profile of its in-house paint offering; promoting Air Canada’s loyalty program; and handling GM’s #BuickStyle campaign.—PH


Argyle Public Relationships (Independent)

Argyle has something of a unique status among Canadian PR firms. It is both one of its oldest, having started life in 1979, and one of its fastest-growing, following a management buyout in 2003. In the 15 years since, the firm has grown from just $1m in revenue to more than $8m today, with expertise across corporate, consumer, healthcare, public affairs and digital. The firm’s Public Relationships index also showcases its thinking to good effect, helping explain the longevity of its assignments for such clients as RBC, Saputo, Facebook, Instagram, a couple of major Canadian pension plans, GSK and Kal Tire. 

Growth of 8% during its last fiscal year demonstrates that Argyle has successfully rebounded from the loss of a seven-year mandate with a large government agency, one of its largest clients. Indeed, the public affairs unit replaced and soon outstripped the loss, new business in 2017 from UPS, AbbVie, Fasken Martineau, the Ontario Public Service Trust Pension Plan, Takeda, Dietitians of Canada and the City of Toronto.

Under the leadership of owner and CEO Daniel Tisch, Argyle possesses a strong senior team that includes consumer marketing SVP Alison George, healthcare SVP Rob McEwan and SVP Roanne Argyle. There is also a range of proprietary offerings that help distinguish the agency from its rivals, including an exclusive co-branded reputation management and measurement service with the Reputation Institute, and the aforementioned Public Relationship Index. And there has been a major effort to revamp the firm’s workplace practices to address junior-level turnover, resulting in a dramatic drop in junior staff departures.

Argyle’s work also shines. The firm’s CSR efforts for Ontario Pork have resulted in a three-year strategic plan that has won numerous awards, addressing consumers, retailers, policymakers and industry — resulting in improved awareness, industry buy-in and public support from policymakers. The SixtiesScoop class action lawsuit support, meanwhile, was named Campaign of the Year by the Canadian Public Relations Society, successfully ramping up political pressure and ensuring the government responded publicly to settle the claims. — AS 

Narrative (Tadiem Inc)

Narrative sees its mission in terms of creating stories that make a difference, the difference being anything from world peace to increased sneaker sales. The 10-year old agency, a division of Tadiem, does that by developing experiences across the real and digital worlds that influence consumer perceptions.

It’s a core process that starts with creative problem solving, a skill that permeates the agency and is reflected in its hires — photographers, influencers, journalists and coders as well as PR leaders. Narrative aims to take what the client wants —the story — and reimagine it in order to deliver its message in ways that make people care.  The story evolves again as those people share versions of it of their own. Narrative leverages the capabilities of sister ad agency Bensimon Byrne and digital and design firm OneMethod to its advantage in achieving the common goal of delivering results.

In the last year the agency has responded to the changes and challenges facing the industry by evolving its toolkit and technologies, while optimizing its team through restructuring to be equipped to deliver results against the range of new demands. It has also reaffirmed the two components of its results-focused approach to serving clients — strategy and harnessing the collective spirit of the agency in its efforts. The former involves delving deep to find what makes clients’ stories compelling. Narrative’s work in support of Casey House, the Canadian hospital for people with HIV/AIDS, revealed that there is still a stigma attached to eating with people who are HIV positive or have AIDS. The latter shows in Narrative’s product — stories that are relatable, interesting and often very human.

The agency’s success in doing that is reflected in its remarkable growth in 2017.  Without specifying earnings, Narrative reported a 92% rise in revenue in 2017, and nearly tripled its number of full-time employees. Powering that growth is significant new assignments from Nike, Salesforce and multiple new projects with Nestle Canada. — DM


Proof (Independent)

For independent Canadian firm Proof, 2017 was a year of soul-searching, as it embarked on a “brand discovery exercise” aimed at defining what the agency is at heart — and what it wants to be known for. Founded as Environics Communications by Bruce MacLellan in 1994, the firm confirmed through the process what has long been understood: that research, measurement and analytics are at the core of delivering service and results. That focus, which has been a decade in the making, is reflected in the new name the agency debuted in March: Proof. The firm’s experiential marketing and conference planning arm, formerly Free for All Marketing, was unified with a new name of its own — Proof Experiences.

Building on its stature as a fully Canadian-owned and focused firm, much of Proof’s efforts in 2017 aimed to bolster its position as a data-driven strategic agency, expanding and retooling its services in response to clients’ needs. Among the results is a new strategies and insight team, which starts all new client relationships to discuss and assess goals — and what it would take the achieve them. Expanding its creative staff enabled Proof to offer new kinds of campaigns, like the takeover of Toronto’s Castle Frank subway station to build buzz for Netflix’s The Punisher, whose protagonist is named Frank Castle. The agency’s second annual Proof CanTrust Index garnered widespread news coverage and sparked conversations. Through training, staff have improved their expertise in the sectors and clients they support; Employees who work with Loblaws, a Canadian supermarket chain and major client, for instance, delve deep into subjects like shopping basket size and product turnover.

The efforts paid off for Proof, which won roughly 70% of the business it pitched in 2017. Google Canada / YouTube, Accenture, Dell / EMC, Shopify, Health Canada and iRobot are among the new clients Proof added during the last 12 months. They join a robust roster of existing clients including Netflix, eBay/StubHub, Allstate Insurance, Loblaw Companies and TD Bank. That translated into good dollars and cents news, too. In 2017, Proof’s revenue cracked $20m for the first time in the agency’s history.

Veritas (MDC Partners)

Last year’s Canadian Agency of the Year continues its impressive progress, up 22% in 2017 to around $11m. 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 72 people across offices in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and New York, Veritas’ growth was powered by new business from Shaw Communications, T-Fal, Heart and Stroke Canada, ESET, Waze Canada, Moroccanoil, YMCA, Tina Brown, Sandoz and Volkswagen. They join a client roster that already includes Microsoft, Subway, Kijiji, Labatt, Church and Dwight, Tangerine Bank, Kimberly Clark, Audible, Fox Home Entertainment and Revlon.

The new business haul is impressive, but under president/CEO Krista Webster, it is Veritas' development into a credible creative contender that remains its calling card, bolstered by the hire of creative director Rob Dean. There is standout work for YMCA, Audible and Labatt — all of which showcases Veritas’ flair for creative influence. 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