Global Digital PR Agencies of the Year 2019 | Holmes Report

2019 Global Digital Agencies of the Year

The 2019 Global PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 450 submissions and face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across North AmericaEMEAAsia-Pacific and LatAm.

Analysis of all of the Winners and Finalists across specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are announced at the 2019 Global SABRE Awards, which take place at the PRovoke19 Global PR Summit in Washington, DC, on the evening of 23 October. 


Winner: Edelman (Global, DJE Holdings)

Much has been made, not surprisingly, of the travails faced by Edelman during 2018. Seeing fee income decline at the world’s largest PR firm — and the pacesetter when it comes to growth over the past decade — came as a shock to many industry observers. But whatever challenges the firm is facing in terms of growth, it’s important to remember that it has invested more than any other agency — with the possible exception of Weber Shandwick — in building out the kind of data and analytics and digital and social capabilities that will enable it to compete for creative briefs that span paid, earned, shared and owned channels and compete with advertising agencies to serve as the lead on creative briefs, and deliver the kind of ideas that can serve as platforms for everything a brand does.

Richard Edelman is justifiably proud of the 600 creatives and planners the firm has added over the past few years, and remains "undaunted" by the challenge of reinventing his firm into a truly integrated marketing services player. That goal is underpinned by Edelman's formidable digital practice, which now accounts for more than 20% of the firm’s global revenues — almost $200 million, a number that doesn’t take into account the vast majority of clients where “traditional” and digital and social PR now work seamlessly together.

All of which helps to explain why Edelman was shortlisted for Creative Agency of the Year in both North America and EMEA, while winning Asia-Pacific Digital Consultancy of the Year for the second consecutive year. Put simply, the firm's work continues to be among the best in the business, including such iconic campaigns as ‘All-American Family” for HP and giving legs to the Dove's “Real Beauty” effort by forming a production company with Shonda Rhimes. In EMEA, the integration of Swedish agency Deportivo has resulted in standout work for such clients as Knorr, Coop, HP, Domestos, Heineken and Asics. And in Asia-Pacific, Edelman’s market-leading data and analytics capabilities are demonstrated best by the predictive intelligence centre (EPIC) it has formed in conjunction with Singapore’s Economic Development Board, which followed up the impressive Shell Emotion Tracking campaign by winning a string of assignments from HP, Turner, EndowUs Insights and two healthcare clients. — AS


ICF Next (North America)

ICF took a considerable risk fixing what wasn’t broken when it decided to do away with its Olson Engage brand, and instead, pull all of its agencies under the ICF Next umbrella. After all, Olson Engage has been one of the most prolific producers of breakthrough creative work in the industry. The agency had much to show for this, for instance, racking up numerous awards for its show-stopping work, including being named our North America Consumer Agency of the Year last year.

The big move, which was finalized towards the end of 2018, has made Olson Engage part of an 1,700-person agency, worth more than $300m across offices in the US, Canada, Europe and India. More than half its revenue comes from PR services, which jumped to $157.8m in 2018, up from $150m. (PR revenue reflects work done by legacy Olson/Olson Engage, ICF Mostra, PulsePoint Group and We Are Vista, minus any media-buying, production and unrelated digital platform work.) Longtime Olson Engage head Bryan Specht moved into a groupwide role as the new organization’s chief growth and innovation officer and Tricia Ewald has moved into his role as head of brand engagement. Former IBM executive John Armstrong is leading the entire endeavor as president.

If the caliber of the work, however, remains consistent the combined entity should do just fine. This year alone, ICF Next garnered three SABRE Award nods and nearly 20 Innovation SABRE Award nominations (winning six of those categories). The firm's work shows a profound understanding of how to master and thrive in the incredibly crowded digital realm; this is why they are making a debut on the digital list. For instance, its Mayochup campaign for Heinz broke the record for the highest engagement ever on a Twitter poll, while also turning a condiment into a meme (the firm has previously achieved similar results for Starburst). For Jim Beam, ICF rode the personal assistant craze with an AI whiskey decanter that mimics tech rollouts. 

Other clients include: MillerCoors, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, BMW, Amtrak, Lloyd’s Banking Group, DowDupont, the European Commission and a long list of U.S. government agencies, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food & Drug Administration; new adds include, Driven Brands, Papa John’s and a large-scale, multidisciplinary engagement with Avanir Pharmaceuticals, among others. Interestingly, ICF Next resigned its work with Papa John’s after winning the brief last March when its controversial founder John Schnatter re-inserted himself into the business. — AaS

Lippe Taylor (US, Independent)

Lippe Taylor has made the journey from digital follower to digital leader in what must be record time. Make no mistake, the onetime fashion and beauty specialist has been a leader in its category — expanded to include marketing to women across multiple sectors — for at least a couple of decades. But it is only over the past couple of years that the founder and chief executive has transformed the firm — with the assistance of president Paul Dyer, hired from the digitally-savvy and analytics-obsessed W2O — into something quite different, a distinctly 21st century agency with digital at the center and analytics driving every strategy.

It’s in the latter space—which continues to confound many larger agencies — that Lippe Taylor is most clearly differentiated. Under the leadership of Naimul Huq (another W2O veteran), the firm has been developing proprietary algorithms, linguistics and semiotics tools that provide both qualitative and quantitative data and generate ideas using insights. Its Starling AI platform, for example, measures influence across seven metrics to go beyond reach and analyze impact and momentum. Its Hyapatia coding system, meanwhile, delivers to clients reports on key influencers, key topics and key messages.

So for Walmart’s, the firm was able to rank 20 million SKUs by their relevance to urban millennials and make recommendations about not only communications but product lines. Lippe Taylor was also able to streamline and coordinate social media for Intel across various business units; reinvigorate Herbalife’s YouTube and other video content; crafted digital and social strategy for J&J in the medical device space; and created online content for Nestlé skin health and Botox. The firm picked up analytics-only work from Pfizer, as well as social media assignments from Intel and Herbalife. It was named Agency of the Year by Digiday. And yet Dyer is clear that the firm has only completed four steps of what he sees as a six-step digital transformation, with investments in expanded digital infrastructure still to come.

That all contributed to 31% year-on-year growth—more than three times the industry average—ending the year with fees just below $20 million (that despite the fact that the FDA rejected two client applications, leading to significant lost business). There was new business to more than offset that from Lenovo, Citi, Johnson & Johnson’s Exuviance and NeoStrata brands, Jet, Proactiv, Agile Technologies, Gold Bond, Reckitt Benckiser, Bulldog, Sabatier, Philosophy, Kao, and most recently Godiva chocolates. It also expanded its business beyond the core consumer and healthcare sectors to include technology, financial services, and medical devices. — PH

Threepipe (UK, Independent)

Threepipe really got into its groove in 2018. The digital agency is the result of a merger between a consumer PR agency and a performance marketing agency, before acquiring a SEO agency and then, in 2018, creative agency Earnie. It’s now an independent, owner-managed agency of 90 people comprised of PR, social, SEO, outreach, creative and analytics experts.

As a result, in the past year CEO Farhad Koodoruth and sales and marketing director Jim Hawker have transformed the agency to offer clients dedicated teams of multichannel expertise, underpinned by rigorous planning (Threepipe’s three planners now work with all teams to ensure the right channel mix is in place, rather than automatically advocating an earned approach) and fast-turnaround, high-quality creative output. In the process they have achieved 20% growth for the third consecutive year, with 20% margins.

Retailers who are investing in digital to drive growth are a key focus for the agency, which works with the likes of Jack Wills, LK Bennett, Warehouse, Liberty London, Sweaty Betty and Nike. Sport is also prominent: Threepipe became the lead agency for the England & Wales Cricket Board, continued working with the NFL, and was appointed by the ICC as its media agency for the 2019 Cricket World Cup and by British Gymnastics to lead a brand refresh.

Loveday Langton joined from Hotwire as Threepipe’s first head of people, while Alistair Gammell, founder of Earnie, became head of creative. The agency also hired four developers to build its own tech stack to improve operational efficiency. Other home-grown tech innovation included a product to improve visibility and sales for Nike on retail sites (tested in the UK and being rolled out to eight international markets) and building an Amazon e-commerce solution to help clients maximise commercial opportunities, tested with Pepsi and Panasonic.

The agency is working with Jack Wills and Panasonic to create content that ensures high visibility for voice search results across Siri and Google Home, leading to a 248% increase in sales for Jack Wills’ coats, and a 132% increase in organic impressions for Panasonic’s Lumix cameras. And its award-winning campaign to raise the profile of the England Women's cricket team, across PR, creative, social and DOOH, led to 60% brand recall and an 833% uplift in searches for women's cricket. — MPS

W2O Group (US)

To put W2O’s astounding success into perspective, just three years ago the firm was named the Holmes Report’s midsize agency of the year. W2O is now the first agency to break into the large agency category in more than decade, capping 2018 with $177m in revenue and 22% organic growth.

What’s particularly interesting is how W2O doesn’t operate like the others in the category. For one, the firm operates under one P&L across its 15 global offices. And because founder/CEO Jim Weiss made the strategic decision, more than a decade ago, to place data and analytics at the center of its offering, the firm’s expertise in this area remains unparalleled across the industry.

Weiss says the key to growing consecutively is adding services that clients want. W2O has seen 15+ years of double-digit growth, while maintaining long-standing clients like Roche (since 2002), Genomic Health (since 2003), Pfizer (since 2006), Merck (since 2009), UnitedHealthcare (since 2014), AstraZeneca (since 2014) and abbvie (since 2014). In addition, W2O is now working with 24 of the top 25 pharma companies, has 35+ clients spending between $1m to $10m annually, 89 of its clients grew organically in 2018 — and the success milestones go on like this. 2018 was also a notable year when it came to the agency’s work, as it garnered 10 Innovation SABRE nominations and six at the SABRE Awards North America.

That’s not say there haven’t been necessary evolutions. Last year, Weiss named former COO and client services head Jenn Gottlieb as the agency’s president, giving her oversight of the firm’s three largest operating companies. Meanwhile, chief innovation officer Bob Pearson left in September and now works as a senior advisor. W2O also opened new offices in three cities — Washington, Atlanta and Zurich.

The firm is also at an impressive inflection point. W2O has met the financial goals set by Mountaingate Capital (the private equity firm that made an investment in the firm in 2016) two years ahead of schedule. What happens next will, certainly, shape the agency landscape for decades to come. — AaS