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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.
We said, last year, that PAN had hit an impressive stride after more than two decades in operation. This year, the agency has continued to forge ahead, reaching new heights of achievement around its business performance, caliber of work and culture.
In 2017, PAN grew 14% to $17.7m with 78 people across offices in Boston, San Francisco, Orlando and New York (which was a new office in 2017). Twenty-eight new clients and an increase of more than 20% in new average deal size fueled the firm’s growth in 2017. New clients Alegeus Health, Outsystems, Acquia, Radial, NUorder, AppDirect, Nanigans, phononics, iBoss, SuccessFactors joined a portfolio that includes SAP, Perfecto, CloudBees, Fuze, Maestro Health, MediaMath, MobileIron and Nice. While firm’s 2015 purchase of Vantage Communications didn’t quite yield the Silicon Valley boost that was intended, bringing on West Coast PR veteran Phil Carpenter in early 2017 has certainly helped build PAN’s presence in San Francisco. It also opened a New York office in 2017.
In the competitive B2B media category at the Innovation SABREs, PAN impressively earned two nominations. One was for a feature story for Cogito in Inc. Magazine that showcased the company’s AI-driven empathy capabilities (the work has also been shortlisted for a Gold SABRE Award). And PAN took home the category trophy for “How SAP Ariba Technology is Stomping Out Modern Slavery” that was anchored in a the Fast Company that addresses how technology can help solve the modern slavery crisis. The judges called the work “brave — it shows how SAP Ariba is going beyond typical CSR and looking to combat human trafficking within supply chains.”
PAN president and CEO Phil Nardone has been at the helm since its founding in 1995. Other key executives are EVP Mark Nardone, EVP/MD Phil Carpenter and SVPs Lisa Astor and Darlene Doyle. The firm recently unveiled the “The Power of Voice,” a five-step guide that includes idea generation, market opportunities and engagement program building. In addition to other thought-leadership, PAN’s eBooks have 20% conversion rate. — AaS
The Bulleit Group (Independent)
The Bulleit Group is breaking from the tech boutique playbook that tends to rely on the insular Silicon Valley referral network. Instead, Bulleit has consistently sought corporate work from global companies beyond Northern California. Founded in 2012, the firm saw a whopping 55% growth in 2016. But after detecting some gaps in service, opted to scale growth to 9% in 2017 to $3.4M — and cement a foundation that optimizes client and employee satisfaction. This resulted in operating profit increasing by 5% last year.
The firm’s work with Google, Bloomberg and others to articulate their AI strategy, employer brand and innovation narratives has served a blueprint for developing expertise in these three areas across its clients. Its portfolio includes Google (Bulleit has grown the account since 2012 and now retains 10 divisions), LinkedIn, Bloomberg, Orbital Insight, Flexport, Halo Neuroscience — in addition to new wins Thor Trucks, Pipedrive, Hover, Lucid, Petuum, Plethora, LaunchDarkly and Andela, among others.
Bulleit earned three Innovation and one Gold SABRE nods this year. This includes its Instagram vs. Snapchat data-storytelling work for Jumpshot and its work for Orbital Insight around the Whole Foods acquisition announcement. The 15-person team is spread across offices in San Francisco, Nashville, Portland and Washington, DC with a focus on data-informed stories that move markets. New hires include the former press secretary for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and former head of communications at Clover Health Shelley Risk as SVP/General Manager for the San Francisco office. Co-founders Kyle Arteaga and Alex Hunter remain at the helm. — AaS
Highwire is on track to being a formidable mid-size tech player with offices in San Francisco, New York, Boston and Chicago. Founded a decade ago by Kathleen Gratehouse, Emily Borders and Carol Carrubba, the firm has become one of the fastest-growing tech independents, closing 2017 at $17m (up more than 20% from 2016) with 81 employees servicing clients like IBM Cloud, Atlassian, Twilio, GE and Darktrace, among others.
Earlier this year, Highwire made its first acquisition with Inner Circle Labs, bringing its revenue total close to $20m and growing the agency to nearly 100 people. Last year, the firm also expanded its content and social media services, which included hiring former NPR journalist and producer Tanner Latham. Other new hires include its first EVP Bob Finlayson (former Ketchum exec) and VPs Joe Ferrary, Mike Taylor, Meredith Klee, Mallory Cloutier and Melissa Roxas. Among its new clients are GE Ventures, Rubrik, Akamai, Appian and others.
Notable work includes re-launching Appian as an innovator in the low-code revolution (the work was shortlisted for an In2 SABRE Award). The campaign elevated Appian’s voice in the developer community by expanding its corporate and executive visibility efforts to non-traditional channels such as social media and podcasts. As a result of the work, Appian has been able to reach new audiences and expand awareness of the low-code revolution. — AaS
Chicago's Walker Sands continues to impress with respectable growth (about 8% in 2017) combined with award-winning work and an engaged culture. Revenues are up to $8.6M as the midwest B2B player looks to establish itself in San Francisco and Seattle.
This year, the sophistication of the 17-year-old firm’s integrated approach stood out — in particular, its work with B2B commerce platform CloudCraze. To keep CloudCraze’s prospects engaged through a six-month sales cycle, Walker Sands developed a strategy that included web, SEO, content marketing and PPC to drive qualified leads. The program resulted in a 51% increase in web traffic, a 100% increase in form submissions and nearly $3M in new business in Q2 2017. The work earned Walker Sands an Innovation SABRE trophy earlier this year.
For business insights platform Owler, Walker Sands developed the first National CEO Likability Study that resulted in a media blitz — plus companies such as Sprint, T-Mobile pledged to take action to improve their standing by introducing new company culture initiatives and becoming more active on Owler. Other clients include: CompTIA, G2 Crowd, Worldpay, Sprout Social, Grubhub, Miller Heiman (new), OpenX (new), Silicon Valley Bank (new), Showpad (new), Insureon (new) and Billtrust (new), among others.
The firm conducts its own research to impressive effect, including the State of Marketing Technology 2017 (which led to a speaking engagement with the American Marketing Association), the Future of Retail 2017 that is downloaded by most major retailers, including Amazon, Google, Walmart and Apple; and in 2017, the firm also rolled out Projext X, a proprietary tool to measure team bandwidth and individual utilization.
Mike Santoro has been president since 2008 and the management team includes COO Ellen Hanson, VP of digital services John Fairley and VP of brand strategy Dave Parro. — AaS
WE Communications (Independent)
WE Communications unveiled its new “Brands in Motion” research in July of last year, arguing that in today’s fast-moving world, traditional brand positioning is a thing of the past. Appropriately, WE itself appears to be on the move again, after a few years in which it appeared adrift—at least in terms of growth. Fee income was up by 8.4% globally — the best performance in the last five years, taking the firm above $110 million — fuelled by a resurgent health practice and robust growth in tech, with the San Francisco and New York offices leading the way, and the Seattle headquarters up 6%.
The new leadership talent added in recent years — Kass Sells and Alan Vandermolen, presidents of North America and international respectively — have brought a much-needed outside perspective, complementing founder Melissa Waggener-Zorkin’s vision for the agency, an unwavering commitment to collaborative culture and purpose (the latter apparent both in internal initiatives and work for clients). There were more additions in 2017, including Scott Friedman, formerly of Text 100 and APCO, as executive VP in the tech practice; Porter Novelli veteran Matthew Ashworth as GM in Seattle; Matt Trocchio of Shift as GM in Austin; and Kona Luseni Barrasso from Burson-Marsteller as senior VP in the New York tech practice.
In terms of new business, there were some impressive wins: McDonald’s retained WE to support its “experience group” (delivery, mobile ordering, table side service, and more), which speaks to the way in which WE’s longstanding consumer expertise is increasingly relevant to consumer brands. But there was also additional work from more traditional tech clients including AMD, Brother, Cisco, iRobot, Tabula Rasa and Trend Micro—all North American briefs. New global work came from FWD, Lenovo, Sennheiser and more. Strong examples of the work include supporting Honeywell’s aerospace division and its wireless offering; launching Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s new book Hit Refresh; holiday season promotional work for iRobot as it seeks to move beyond its flagship Roomba product; and corporate work for Cisco. — PH
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