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

2018 North America New 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: CURA Strategies (Independent)

CURA Strategies cofounders Anne Woodbury and Jeff Valliere worked together at FleishmanHillard and its Washington, DC, subsidiary GMMB before going their separate ways—she to Togo Run and the offices of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, he to digital strategy firm Threespot and the Obama campaign. They reunited in January 2016 to launch a new firm that would focus on healthcare public affairs in the healthcare sector, helping to address some of the critical issues facing the healthcare sector in America and providing a voice to advocacy groups and causes with a stake in the big health policy debates.

That objective has been realized, with CURA’s 2017 projects including handling veterans’ health work for The Elizabeth Dole Foundation (supporting military caregivers), PsychArmor Institute, and MDxHealth, and coalition building activity for Advocates for Opioid Recovery. Other highlights included work on behalf of The National Diabetes Prevention Program, created by Congress and managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and winning a competitive pitch to become agency of record for the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session.

As a result, CURA has grown over the past couple of years to become a firm of 11 people, with 19 clients and fees of close to $2 million — all of that despite the fact that its largest client elected to take many of its communications activities in-house last year (a process CURA supported through the transition). In December, the firm expanded its offerings to include direct government relations with the addition of vice president Scott Leezer, formerly of The Federal Group. — PH


Brands2Life (Independent)

When Brands2Life decided to launch a US operation 12 months ago, the firm’s founders Giles Fraser and Sarah Scales knew better than most that success was hardly guaranteed. Credentials as one of the UK’s finest PR agencies counted for little in a US market that is littered with the carcasses of failed contenders from across the pond. Yet, one year in, Brands2Life may well be on the road to proving the naysayers wrong, delivering an encouraging start that has blended the best of its UK capabilities with a refreshing willingness to localise its offering in line with market expectations.

Under the oversight of US MD Rene Musech, Brands2Life’s San Francisco operation is working with nine technology clients, bringing in revenue of more than $500k from a team of seven. Assignments include Renault Silicon Valley Innovation Lab; thought leadership for Verizon Connect; executive profiling work for Tipalti; Internet of Things World media relations activity; supporting Celonis’ market growth and increasing US brand awareness for Thomsons Online Benefits. — AS


Cheer Partners (Independent)

With more than 20 years experience each in HR, communications and business, Cathleen Graham and Darcie Peck's new consultancy is dedicated to helping companies work through employee and talent-related issues. In the short time since launch, Cheer Partners has made big-league gains — signing on clients including Aetna and Juniper Networks; starting a joint venture with RF|Binder focusing on areas like employee engagement and diversity; and reporting $1.3m in revenue.

That kind of success shows that Graham, a veteran of HR and talent management, and Darcie, who has held senior finance roles, are on the right track in opening a shop that aims to help businesses succeed by having the right talent and culture, and the programs to sustain them. Cheer Partners' timing appears ideal, as companies are increasingly requiring expertise in such areas as employee engagement and internal communications, boosting diversity & inclusion and fostering a compelling company culture.

2018 is also off to a good start, with the firm's existing clients signing on for expanded services, more new assignments coming onboard and a joint venture inked with RF|Binder, called RFB|Cheer. The five-person operation’s promising start is testament to Graham and Peck’s ability to position and leverage their expertise in ways that attract and serve clients. One client’s diversity & inclusion program, for instance, includes training, focus groups, surveys, team building activities and holding salons featuring outside voices on the subject.


The Colony Project (Vision 7 International / BlueFocus )

At just two years old, The Colony Project aims to push the boundaries of communications, using 21st century tactics to promote the common good.  Earned-first, bilingual and decidedly Canadian, the agency specializes in social media strategy, content creation and influencer relations — and harnesses its expertise in those areas to help connect brands to otherwise untapped audiences. And, as part of Vision 7, the firm counts Cossette and Citizen Relations as well-connected sister agencies. 

The approach appears to be working. Since opening its doors in 2016, the Colony Project has doubled its revenue, hitting the C$1.3m mark in 2017. With offices in Toronto and Montreal, the agency’s team has tripled to 14 people during that time. It has also garnered a roster of impressive clients, inking deals with global brands including Hyundai, La Roche-Posay, Heinz Ketchup, the Guinness Book of World Records and Nando's as well as startups such as SoCIAL LITE Vodka.

The array of companies the Colony Project represents reflects the agency’s belief in not limiting its work to a specific sectoral focus. Its recent work for Hyundai, for instance, involved reaching untapped consumers through emotional storytelling, rather than automotive media relations. When the mummified human toe (yes, a real one) included in a Yukon hotel’s signature drink went missing, the Colony Project, sister agency Cossette and Tourism Yukon within 48 hours hatched a plan to retrieve it, including a social media campaign #MakeAToenation, to replace it. When the original was recovered, the campaign switched gears to focus on finding a backup toe for the Sourtoe Cocktail to make sure such a tragedy would never happen again. — DM

SourceCode Communications (Independent)

There’s hasn’t been a shortage of new tech firms hitting the market over the last few years. But it is notable when a new firm emerges and within a few months produces award-winning work combined with solid, and sustainable, business performance.

Former Hotwire execs Greg Mondshein and Becky Honeyman launched SourceCode last fall and reached $100K in recurring revenue within six months and have grown an average of 30.5% month-over-month with 60% profitability. The agency now has six full-time employees. This year, SourceCode was nominated for three In2 SABRE Awards and won the MicroMarketing category for its work with the dating app Hinge. The campaign was built around a pop-up store that celebrated relationship milestones for couples that have met on the app, which the judges called “a clever, affordable campaign that led to downloads in the crowded dating app space.”

Other clients across its five key sectors — mobile & telecommunications, consumer technology, advertising & marketing technology, IT & enterprise and financial technology — include Yotpo, Blis, Puls, Rachio, 37.5 Technology, PCI Pal, Adzuna, Zailab and Felix Gray & the LGBT Foundation. To tackle the talent issues, especially as a new firm, SourceCode offers unlimited vacation, full benefits and flexible working arrangements. — AaS