2019 Corporate/B2B PR Agencies of the Year, North America | Holmes Report

2019 Corporate/B2B PR Agencies of the Year

The 2019 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 70 finalists across 14 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are unveiled at the 2019 North American SABRE Awards on May 7 at Cipriani 42nd St in New York. 

Winner: Fahlgren Mortine (Eastport Holdings)

Throughout its 57-year history, Fahlgren Mortine has aimed to continually reinvent itself as a means of keeping pace with and serving clients as they undergo changes of their own. Rarely has that been more evident than in 2018, when, boasting 225 clients and 206 associates, the family-owned firm was sold to Eastport Holdings, which owns 16 other US PR, advertising and digital agencies, to further growth. Three months later, Fahlgren Mortine merged with fellow Eastport company SBC Advertising, creating a combined integrated marketing and communications agency under the Fahlgren Mortine brand. The result: Fahlgren Mortine is very much a hybrid business, rather than a firm focused on a single discipline. As such, the Columbus, Ohio-based agency believes it can offer clients the authenticity of PR coupled with the creativity of an ad agency and accountability of a digital shop.

The year was punctuated by the value of its work. On the heels of Hurricane Maria, the Discover Dominica Authority tapped Fahlgren Mortine to develop a tourism brand that would draw travelers to the relatively low-profile destination. The agency’s multichannel campaign differentiated Dominica from other destinations and let prospective visitors know that the island was a viable destination in 2018. The campaign included overhauling the Dominica organization’s website using video produced by local Dominicans, and expressed the inviting culture of the island. It showcased only activities that were available to tourists during the hurricane recovery period. The campaigns Fahlgren Mortine crafted for Kidde, the fire safety product company, and Fahlgren Mortine’s campaign for Columbia Gas of Ohio show the firm’s propensity for delivering messages in terms and ways that make a difference. The multifaceted campaign for Kidde, which was meant to remind Californians to replace aging carbon monoxide alarms, included distributing toolkits to fire departments and public safety officials; Fahlgren Mortine's campaign for Columbia Gas, built to promote energy efficiency, focused on how participating in Columbia Gas’ energy efficiency programs could save consumers money.

With that, Fahlgren Mortine’s revenue in 2018 grew 12% to $29.6m, fueled by its particular strengths serving clients in the tourism, economic development and B2B sectors (the revenue figure includes the company’s wholly owned subsidiary, Turner). New business jumped by 11% to $3.3 million with the addition of clients including J.M. Smucker Co., National Veteran’s Memorial and Museum, Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Ohio Lottery Commission, University at Buffalo and Value City Furniture / American Signature Inc. They join an impressive list of existing clients such as Cardinal Health, TravelNevada, Visit Myrtle Beach, Emerson, DHL, Dunkin’ and The Kroger Company. — DM



G&S Business Communications (Independent)

A 48-year-old agency with a heritage in agribusiness and manufacturing might not suggest a penchant for innovation, but G&S Business Communications continues to impress by successfully debunking perceptions — both for its clients and for itself — under the leadership of CEO Luke Lambert. Our 2018 Corporate/B2B PR Agency Year, G&S took a major step in furthering its creative flair and entrepreneurial culture (to say nothing of its scope) with its August acquisition of New York integrated PR firm CooperKatz. The move doubled the size of G&S’s New York office. G&S also immediately gained a healthcare practice and further expanded its professional services work. In 2019, G&S' plan is to leverage its expanded talent, experience and resources to accelerate global growth.

G&S reported 2018 revenue of $30.4m, an 11.7% increase over the prior year. Two consecutive years of double-digit growth and record-breaking revenue suggests the firm’s data-driven practices and campaigns are yielding results. G&S’ work for Dow Chemical at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang is among the year’s most notable, using one of the world’s most high-profile sporting events as a backdrop for a microtargeting campaign; G&S rolled out a highly successful ‘science behind the sport’ initiative that drew widespread interest demonstrating how Dow technologies are used in ice arenas, and by the US luge team. The firm’s #RootedinAg campaign for Syngenta fostered a connection between farmers and the agricultural chemical company by showcasing some of the hardest working people in agriculture.

Work like that reflects an offering that involves serious creative and strategic capabilities, for a client base that includes numerous major brands in the agribusiness and technology sectors. There has been consistent investment in data and analytics along with a credible commitment to diversity and inclusiveness in the agency’s culture across its New York, Chicago and Raleigh offices. G&S’ thought leadership also stands out, including its Global Street Fight conference, which gathers senior communicators to discuss the implications of a hyper-connected marketplace, and a sustainability study that polls the public on business efforts to communicate environmental, social and governance (ESG) actions. — DM

Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock (Independent) 

Founded in Nashville in 2006, Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock (JPCH) has grown to become one of the country’s top healthcare firms, with an additional hub in Chicago helping it deliver a sophisticated range of services that favour strategic positioning, issues/crisis navigation and change management. Led by president/CEO David Jarrard, COO Kevin Phillips, chief innovation officer Molly Cate and chief development officer Anne Hancock Toomey — the firm grew by 17% in 2018, thanks in part to a rich new business haul that included numerous high-profile healthcare organisations.

Specifically, JPCH has capitalised on its ability to navigate complex communications challenges as health systems have formed bigger alliances and hospitals become subject to higher transparency standards. JPCH’s own focus on predictive trends has helped it anticipate many of these issues, resulting in thought leadership and strategy efforts that result in a clear point of view and actionable recommendations to clients. 

Last year, JPCH launched a health services practice, a burgeoning area tied to private equity investing in non-acute care. In one year, its health services practice was responsible for approximately 20% of the firm’s revenue, bringing in 30 additional clients. JPCH is preparing to introduce a new thought leadership platform, which includes a digital publication called The Art of Change. It will include original content such as longform reported pieces, Q&As, infographics and videos that explore the skillset necessary to address the human, emotional component of change. — DM

Lambert (Independent)

Founded in Jeff Lambert’s basement in Grand Rapids, Lambert retains the scrappy underdog ethos that guided it on its journey from such humble beginning to becoming Michigan’s largest public relations firm, with fees of more than $10 million and offices in Grand Rapids, Detroit and state capital Lansing, as well as a newer presence in New York. The firm’s record of 20 straight years of growth is pretty impressive, but the 32% increase in fee income last year — at a time when the “rust belt” economy is not exactly booming — is even more so, especially with an improvement in profit margins thrown in, with half of the growth coming from the acquisition of financial communications specialist Owen Blicksilver PR and the rest coming organically.

In addition to Lambert, the leadership team includes Don Hunt, partner and 18-year veteran of the firm, recently promoted to president; Bill Nowling, former head of Finn Partners in Detroit and a veteran of Detroit’s bankruptcy and the Flint Water Task Force (arguably the two biggest crises in the region in recent years); Heather Lombardini, former fundraising head and chief of staff for House Republicans in Michigan; and Kristin Celauro, a Financial Dynamics and Sard Verbinnen executive who has led various M&A assignments. The firm’s culture — with progressive work from home, flextime and maternity leave policies, as well as a renewed emphasis on diversity — helped it become one of Crain's Coolest Companies to Work For in 2018.

The rebranding from Lambert Edwards & Associates to Lambert came with a new positioning as “the challenger agency for challenger brands,” a philosophy that’s reflected in the firm’s client list. There was new business from Green Giant Fresh, North American International Auto Show, Chemical Bank, Varroc Lighting, Belle Tire, New Holland Brewing, Stroh's, Kresge Foundation, and Neuropeak Pro in 2018, while the firm continues to work with Wolverine Worldwide/Merrell, Plackers, Spartan Motors, Pure Michigan Business, Spectrum Health, MooseTracks Ice Cream, Hillsdale College, Flint Community Schools, Colony Capital, and Huron Capital, for whom it provides a range of PR and IR services.

Lambert won the 2018 IR Magazine Small-Cap IR Program of the Year for its work on behalf of specialty vehicle maker Spartan Motors, driving national media and an increase in stock market value, and is nominated for SABRE Awards for its crisis work with Wolverine Worldwide, facing a developing environmental issue related to PFAs, which the EPA see as a major remediation issue; its #ShareALegend campaign for New Holland Brewing; and — perhaps most impressively — supporting adoption agency Bethany Christian Services on its refugee work, providing support to unaccompanied children crossing the US border and helping to reunify more than 5,000 immigrant children with their families. — PH

Prosek Partners (Independent)

The rare national mid-size independent with global capabilities, Prosek Partners is driven by the entrepreneurial nature on which it was founded. And consistent year-on-year growth continues to impress, with Prosek growing 15% in 2018 to crack the $50m barrier. Offering the global reach that comes with a London office and international network, Prosek has among its clients some of the financial and professional services industries’ most notable names — companies like Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Edward Jones, Prudential and Bridgewater. Over the last 12 months the list grew with the addition of new clients including KKR, Eldridge, Wellington Management, T.RowePrice, AQR, Baillie Gifford, BC Partners, General Atlantic, Canyon Capital and HPS Investment Partners.

The company’s expansion in 2018 focused again on its core expertise in financial services, B2B and professional services, with key growth in content marketing, private equity and hedge funds, and transaction services and special situations — the latter group growing 48% in 2018. There was also particular investment in talent, with a number of MDs joining the firm, including head of marketing Neil Goklani, ex-Barclays exec Dan Hunter and Edelman veterans Mike Geller and Nadia Damouni.  — AS