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

2018 Creative 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: Ketchum (Omnicom Group)

The shortlist for Creative Agency of the Year has traditionally been dominated by independent and midsize firms, a reflection of the widespread notion that there is some sort of inverse relationship between size and creativity, that small agencies are more capable of delivering big, bold ideas while their larger competitors are more likely to offer a “safe pair of hands” and the conservative approach that implies.

Ketchum would appear to refute that hypothesis. The Omnicom-owned agency has consistently earned more SABRE nominations than any other agency, including this year, which saw the firm and its various units (employee engagement specialist Daggerwing and integrated creative shop Interfuse) notch up 15 finalists between them, ranging from “The Spotted Cheetah,” a restaurant serving Cheetos-inspired menu items (a formidable follow up to last year’s Cheetos Museum) and the introduction of Tostitos Party Safe Bags—both for Frito-Lay — to the Handle With Care campaign for Gillette to representing Wendy’s during its “Twitter Beef” to heavier corporate and issues fare for GE Digital, H&R Block, IBM and The Truth Initiative.

All this creativity is not an accident. It’s the result of a corporate culture that celebrates big ideas at every opportunity, and a process that now integrates earned, shared, owned and a growing amount of paid work; a bespoke approach to influencer marketing that balances reach, relevance and resonance.  In this past year, Ketchum elevated its global president, Barri Rafferty to global CEO. Her vision is to transform the firm — which has faced significant challenges with the loss of signature clients like IBM and FedEx over the last few years — into a more client-centric multi-disciplinary agency. — PH/AaS


Coyne PR (Independent)

If we had a category for Comeback Agency of the Year, Coyne PR would be among the strong contenders, bouncing back after a couple of difficult years with growth (up from $27 million to $28 million); new business (additions like clothing retailer Catherines, Einstein Bros Bagels, Finlandia cheese, Lane Bryant, Massage Envy, the MLB Players Association, and The Container Store) and award nominations — seven SABRE finalists.

It’s the latter performance that earns the New Jersey firm a place on our Creative Agency of the Year list. Highlights include “Taking Timberland Beyond the Boot” for the progressive and inventive footwear company; the launch of virtual reality “experience centers” for IMAX; and in the sport marketing category — where the firm excels — some forward-looking work for the International Speedway Corporation. Beyond the consumer space, though, there was work for Pfizer’s pediatric portfolio, honouring school nurses, and for Pacira Pharmaceuticals addressing the opioid crisis.

Since its founding in 1991, Coyne has been inspired by founder Tom Coyne’s philosophy: "Our mission is not to be the best agency, but the best one to work for. If we are the best place to work, we will retain the best people,” he says. “If we have the best people, we will attract the best clients. If we have the best people and clients, how can we not be the best agency?" That means a people-centric culture than foster collaboration and creativity, now supplemented by new capabilities in digital and social, and a focus on improved client service, all of which has helped it to its best year ever. — PH

LDWW (Independent)

The Holmes Report’s Global Creative Index analyzes finalists and winners from more than 25 PR, digital and marketing awards programs around the world, awarding points for each win and ultimately producing a ranking of those firms that are 'pound for pound' the most creative in the world. Dallas-based LDWW, founded in 2013 by former Weber Shandwick and Hill+Knowlton exec Ken Luce, has finished in the top five for each of the past two years, and looks like it could be on track to make it three in a row this year, having earned seven SABRE nominations this year — an impressive haul for any agency, but a remarkable one for an agency with a team of just 20.

LDWW is an interesting hybrid. It’s a PR firm, yes, but given that it was born only five years ago it’s a very 21stcentury kind of PR firm, as comfortable producing paid content as it is in the earned media realm, and combining the creativity of a hot consumer shop with the strategic savvy of a corporate communications firm (crisis management is a core strength). It grew at a healthy pace in 2016, with fee income topping $7m for the first time, and new business from Pure Company and Vivid Seat as well as a host of local clients.

The diversity of the firm’s work—from crisis to corporate to content to consumer, is reflected in its awards-nominated campaigns: post-hurricane crisis communications for Omni Hotels in Houston; helping Whitefish Energy counter fake news around its facilities in Puerto Rico; helping Carnival Corporation rally the industry to show “the Caribbean is open” after the hurricane there; the content-driven “Big 12 Champions for Life” campaign for the athletics conference; innovative marketing at CES for Carnival Corporation’s Ocean Medallion; and a local “Real Life Women Superheroes” campaign for Studio Movie Grill. — PH


M Booth (Next15)

Only Edelman, Ketchum and Weber Shandwick — three of the world’s five largest public relations firms in 2017 — earned more SABRE awards nominations than M Booth last year, an indication of the extent to which the New York-based firm punches above its weight in terms of great creative work, although its worth pointing out that after doubling in size over the past four years under the leadership of Margi Booth and Dale Bornstein (including another year of 20% growth in 2017) M Booth is no minnow, with fee income just a tad short of $34 million.

What that means is that M Booth now has the critical mass to handle even the largest of clients in North America, and the resources to deliver all those capabilities expected from a 21st century PR firm, including digital and creative capabilities to match those of its largest competitors, and innovative offerings in content creation — the firm produced 150 separate pieces of content for Google each week, and delivers everything from paid campaigns to work that integrates voice-activated systems like Alexa — and data and analytics. At the same time, M Booth continues to dive deep into popular culture to make sure its creativity really connects with target consumers.

As a result, the firm’s insight-driven creative work has been earning a record number of plaudits, from bringing hip hop architecture to camps nationwide on behalf of Autodesk to challenging the food industry on added sugar on behalf of Panera Bread; from a Thanksgiving campaign on behalf of Morton Salt that created brand lift for the most commodity of products to celebrating Estée Lauder’s long commitment to breast cancer awareness; from the “Donate a Photo” influencer program for Johnson & Johnson to “Pay With Honesty, Get Honest Tea” for Coca-Cola’s progressive tea brand. — PH

(Interpublic Group)

MullenLowe has earned its spot as an award show favorite, consistently showcasing inspired and innovative work for clients like American Greetings and JetBlue. This year, the integrated IPG-shop, once again, has delivered work that’s garnering accolades for its emotion-centered campaigns.

The “Encourage Everyday Connections” campaign for American Greetings used powerful stories around issues like infertility to encourage people to connect. Innovation SABRE judges, who named the work Best in Brand Film, lauded the campaign for “beautiful, moving videos that use everyday moments to provoke conversation and increase purchase consideration especially for a new generation.” And its “Bites at 30,000 Feet” campaign for JetBlue demonstrated how strategic MullenLowe’s work can be by leveraging influencers with the most impact.

Last year, MullenLowe took home the Creative Agency of the Year award from the Holmes Report in North America and globally. This year, it has racked up five Gold SABRE and eight Innovation SABRE nominations, in addition to Cannes Lions, Shorty Awards, Effies and other award recognition.

MullenLowe operates 10 offices around the world, including Boston, New York, Los Angeles and North Carolina with 875 employees and more than a billion dollar in fee income across all of its advertising and communications services. In addition to American Greetings and JetBlue, other clients include Feld Entertainment, Olympus, Pepsi North America Nutrition, Capital One, Rexona/Unilever (new), Talbot’s (new) and FTD Companies (new), among others.

The firm calls its integrated offering “hyperbundled,” which spans across digital, storytelling, advertising, communications and marketing. Managing partner Sheila Leyne has been at the helm of the firm’s PR/social group for 25 years, SVP Kelly Burke leads the food and beverage portfolio, SVP Jaclyn Ruelle leads global PR creative; and SVP Sara Gottman joined last October leading consumer. — AaS