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

2018 North America Small 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: Day One Agency (Independent)

It’s relatively rare for an agency to leap from $6m to more than $11m in a single year without an acquisition — but that’s how robust Day One’s growth was in 2017. Even more impressive, 75% of this came from existing clients like American Express, Bacardi and Facebook (other existing clients include includes Comcast, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Nike, YouTube and Victoria's Secret). The growth was also fueled by some new additions, including Chipotle and Sonos.

The  firm also scaled its digital storytelling through its new influencer marketing offering NEON — which has already been used for clients Bacardi, Sonos, American Express and Nike. The offering seeks out niche artists, makers and thought leaders, who individually may have less followers, but collectively drive large scale engagement among the right people. The agency uses a cost per engagement model to determine ROI. Notable work includes a campaign for Chipotle’s Queso launch that was the most engaged Instagram campaign in Chipotle’s history with +400% increase in organic reach (the work won an Innovation SABRE Award). 

The firm’s memorable founding involved Josh Rosenberg, Brad Laney and Rob Longert going rogue from M Booth to launch Day One (and ultimately winning New Agency of the Year from us in 2016). The leadership team has, since, considerably expanded to include managing director, Jamie Falkowski and VP Laura Barganier. The firm has also added three other VPs bringing its leadership team to nine people. The agency also made a series of client-side hires from companies such as Viacom, Ford Motor Co., J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, Starwood Hotels and Coach. Day One boasts a 90% retention rate and also instituted a ‘Fresh Thinking Vacation Stipend’ after three years of service, an annual tech stipend, a speaker series and lots of client swag—from funding the team’s personal AMEX membership fees, to giving out customized Nike kicks, to weekly Bacardi happy hours. — AaS


dna Communications (Interpublic Group)

As the complexity of healthcare communications has increased, dna Communications has responded with a breadth of robust, multidimensional efforts that help clients navigate the intricacies of the system, while boosting advancements — and aiming to change lives by doing so. In the last 12 months, the healthcare agency has been steeped in some of the biggest issues facing stakeholders from pharmaceutical companies to healthcare providers and patients.

A major educational campaign surrounding the link between diabetes and heart disease, and treatment options for managing it, was just one of dna’s most effective 2017 campaigns, reaching millions and changing the diabetes conversation. Other key campaigns included highlighting how today’s environment requires physicians to think differently and be innovative in order to deliver the best care for HIV patients, and a multi-country generational survey among millennial and baby boomer women comparing attitudes on contraceptive choices.

With team members well-versed in science and research as well as strategic communications, dna takes a multidisciplinary approach to serving its roster of clients — companies like Boehringer Ingelheim, Lilly Novartis and Celgene among them. The firm is keenly aware that, despite being part of the same industry, the companies it works with are utterly different from one another, and therefore have specific needs in negotiating the healthcare sector’s ever-changing commercial, regulatory, scientific and communications landscape.

That approach has fueled dna’s growth trajectory, which continued in 2017. During the last 12 months, the agency expanded its client roster with the addition of European Society for Organ Transplantation, Indivior and Novo Nordisk. Accordingly, the agency’s staff also grew in 2017, increasing 35% to 70. Indeed overall revenue growth was up 40% to $12m, reflecting the success of the agency's thinking and capabilities. — DM


Havas Formula (Havas Group)

Since its 2014 acquisition by the Havas holding company, Havas Formula has made pitching its  stature as a mid-sized, client-focused agency part of its protocol in wooing clients. In doing so, the agency reaffirms that, despite now being part of something larger, it remains very much the agency Michael Olguin created 26 years ago, dedicated to helping ‘passion brands’ grow through top-tier client service. Havas remains so committed to its roots that it makes sure emergent and provocative brands comprise 20% of its client roster. In the last 12 months, that strategy resulted in Havas Formula expanding the range of companies with which it works, adding brands like Runa, High Brew and Parm Crisps to the mix.

Which in no way suggests that Havas Formula is stuck in the past. Quite the contrary, in fact, as the firm in 2017 celebrated its 25th anniversary year by hitting a number of hallmarks. During the last 12 months, Havas Formula grew beyond expectations, topping its “aggressive” revenue goal of $19m by $1m — cracking the $20m mark for the first time ever. That’s 17% topline growth, stemming in part by signing on new clients including RE/MAX, Sears Holding Group and Mike's Hard Lemonade. The year also saw Havas Formula launch a creative service division, bolstering its presentations and storytelling capabilities, and open an in-house content studio in its L.A. office. The firm also launched a new mobile application for its brand activation division, called Havas Street. The app manages all experiential data collected at the events the agency execute across 30+ markets, reducing the overhead labor needed to support large-scale programs and delivering best-in-class reporting to our clients.

So it’s little wonder that Havas Formula’s work in 2017 got noticed — and paid off in big ways for partner brands, which include companies like Dunkin' Donuts, Heineken USA and Schlage. The multifaceted campaign the firm created to drive attention to Jaguar Land Rover at the L.A. Auto Show garnered 2bn earned media impressions and 1,300 media placements in auto, lifestyle and national news media. Meanwhile, the Healthy Chica campaign helped Wonderful Pistachios tap into the Hispanic market, one of the agency's core strengths.— DM


In a year that was bookended by the Women’s March and #MeToo, InkHouse CEO Beth Monaghan had already established herself as one of the industry’s most tireless advocates for workplace equality. She has testified in front of both state and federal legislators advocating for paid leave, pay equity and other policies to foster workplace equality. This commitment to fairness is also reflected in an agency culture rooted in trust and freedom. Rather than relying on abstract concepts to encourage creativity, InkHouse builds this into its culture with perks like unlimited vacation, email banned outside of the hours and 7am and 7pm and weekly work-from-home days to focus on writing.

In 2017, revenues were up 9% to $16.4m —  and over the last five years InkHouse has seen 434% growth (2011 net fees were $3m). The 10-year-old firm now has 100 people across offices in Boston, San Francisco, Providence (opened in 2017) and New York (opened in 2017). EVP Nicole Bestard joined to lead New York. Clients include Raytheon, Salesforce, Toyota and Bentley University, plus new additions last year were Okta, John Hancock, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Rockland Trust, Lyndra, Sense Labs, Mass Technology Leadership Council, CollegeVine, Freight Farms, Quell, Women’s March, Honeywell and Applause, among others.

Notable work included planning for (what turned into) a historic global event, InkHouse worked with the Sister March Network to aggregate global march attendance through media relations and a communications program around Salesforce’s sustainability programs. InkHouse launched several new offerings in 2017: a hands-on messaging workshop QuickStart and GoodInk, a CSR offering to designed with the current challenges around trust in mind.  — AaS

rbb Communications (Independent)

Rbb's focus on ‘breakout brands’ has always given the Miami firm a distinctive positioning that it has leveraged to strong effect, but its efforts over the past couple of years reveal an agency that has successfully implemented an integrated model that works for a roster of national and global brands. That plan has been underpinned by a series of acquisitions — including digital firm Spiderboost and Out of the Blue Advertising — that helped the firm grow 29% in 2017 to $12m, with its 20% margin continuing to rank among the industry's best.

The firm’s new business performance provides ample proof of its integrated expansion, including such brands as Anthera Pharmaceuticals, Merck Serono, Sentara Healthcare, Brown & Brown Bureau Veritas, Embassy Suites by Hilton and Virgin Voyages. There is strength across travel and leisure, consumer and healthcare — supplemented by a specialist skills in digital, advertising and reputation/crisis management — with an existing client roster that includes Bank of America, Cleveland Clinic Florida, DHL Express, Florida Power & Light Company, Hampton by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Jackson Health System, Secrets Resorts & Spa/Dreams Resorts and VITAS Healthcare.

The firm remains led CEO Christine Barney, supported by president Lisa Ross, EVPs Tina Elmowitz and John Quinn and a number of new senior hires, including EVPs Srikant Ramaswami and Laura Guitar. And while Rbb has grown noticeably, its focus on workplace culture and diversity remains a competitive advantage, at an agency that is not only women-owned, but more diverse than most, and not shy about providing the statistics that underpin its case. 

Rbb’s though leadership continues to impress, including its first Health Innovation Symposium and the expansion of its ‘Idea Clouds’ ideation methodology. All of which paid with some standout work for Hampton by Hilton that focused on Hispanics, and for Homewood Suites that focused on men instead of women.  — AS