2020 Boutique PR Agencies of the Year, North America | PRovoke
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2020 North America Boutique PR Agencies of the Year

The 2020 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 64 finalists across 13 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Winners are unveiled at the North American SABRE Awards ceremony, which will take place on Thursday May 28 as the first virtual awards dinner since the competition launched 20 years ago. You can find the 2020 SABRE Awards North America finalists here.

Winner: Bospar (Independent)

In the age of coronavirus, Bospar’s operating model is proving to be remarkably prescient. It remains unseen whether the current crisis will become the tipping point for virtual agency models — but we know being distributed hasn’t hindered Bospar’s remarkable five-year trajectory. The tech shop has grown to $6m with 30 people – up from$4.7m in the year prior.

The leadership team—  tech PR veteran Chris Boehlke who co-founded Bospar with Curtis Sparrer, and also in-house veterans Tricia Heinrich and Tom Carpenter as principals —  initially worked together on Boehlke’s first entrepreneurial venture launched shortly after the 2000 tech bust. But when she sold that firm, the team parted ways. In 2015, the band came back together but with a new insight: be bold and start with a virtual model. It’s a model that every agency is familiar with now: everyone at Bospar operates virtually, so there is no such thing as “remote.” Unsurprisingly, this has been a boon from a recruiting perspective — opening talent pathways to people regardless of geography.

Much of the agency’s recent success has been powered by new business, which accounts for more than $2m in revenue from clients, including Unisys (which signed Bospar on as AOR after one project), Healthline, Antworks, Business Warrior, GetUpside, ModelN, Riskified, Snow Software, Ware2Go, Yellowbrick, Zensar. Meanwhile, the firm also enjoyed nearly $400K in organic growth fueled by existing clients like Cambium Networks, Ceres Imaging, Conversica, Marqeta, Reflektive, SleepCycle, among others.

Bospar won an Innovation SABRE Award for its work with Unisys in which the agency secured top-tier broadcast coverage for Unisys’ annual security index — a feat that Unisys had never achieved until bringing Bospar on board. Unisys was so proud of the "get" that it changed its homepage to feature the Fox News interview and Unisys asked Bospar to become its AOR, the agency's first publicly-traded client on the NYSE. Last year, Cambium Networks also asked Bospar to lead its IPO, another first for the five-year-old agency. — AaS


Finalists

Adam Ritchie Brand Direction (Independent)

There are countless boutique PR firms in North America, but Adam Ritchie’s outfit must be one of the few that focuses its efforts on creating new products and services for clients, rather than just promoting whatever they get handed. Founded in 2007, Ritchie’s work has helped introduce children to STEM careers, turned hackers into cyber defenders, cut thermal pollution, greened urban areas, built followings for social entrepreneurs, launched social media brands, educated parents on child passenger safety and supported women reentering the workforce. 

In 2019, net revenue more than doubled as the firm added new business from Jacuzzi, Life Alive and SUMR Brands. But it is Adam Ritchie’s work that really sets the firm apart. For Boston rock band The Lights Out, Ritchie launched the world’s first studio album on cans of craft beer, turning the digital into the drinkable and selling out every unit. For Life Alive, the firm converted influencers into a series of menu items across the brand’s organic cafes. And for baby gear brand Summer Infant, the M.O.M. Squad was developed to transform real-life mothers into a team of pregnant comic book superheroes, sparking double-digit sales growth.

All of the funky stuff shouldn’t obscure the firm’s ability to handle crisis and issues work, either, with Ritchie supporting a major international brand during a factory fire in 2019, while also managing a voluntary product recall with the Consumer Products Safety Commission and a significant international staff reduction for another client. Ritchie’s non-traditional take on PR extends to thought leadership as well, including a pro bono speaking tour on ‘Invention in PR’ that has spanned nearly 50 universities to date. — AS

LDWW (Independent)

LDWW’s status as one of the industry’s leading hybrids — combining the creativity of a hot consumer shop with the strategic savvy of a corporate communications firm — continues to pay off handsomely for founder Ken Luce and a team that has now swelled to 31 people since it was launched seven years ago. LDWW grew at a healthy pace in 2019, with fee income up 19% as it closes in on $10m, reflecting how LDWW’s offering perfectly matches a thriving Dallas marketplace that remains overlooked by bigger firms.

LDWW’s focus on client service demonstrates one of the core advantages of its boutique offering, along with expertise that ranges from earned media to paid content. Key accounts (drawn from public sources as the agency remains cagey about disclosing its work) include the Carnival Corporation, Bell, the NFL’s Football Matters initiative, GameStop, Lyft, Texas Tech University, DFW International Airport and Greyhound — reflecting LDWW’s status as one of the few crisis management leaders with genuine consumer marketing credentials.

 The firm’s campaign work has always been a standout feature of its offering, demonstrated again in 2019 by three SABRE nominations — two of which included Carnival Corporation, a client that is likely to be more busy than most in 2020. — AS

Max Borges Agency (Independent)

For most of its 17 years in business, Max Borges Agency has been known for its ability deliver impressive media relations results for clients in the consumer technology clients, for doing the nuts-and-bolts that most clients care deeply about better than pretty much any of its competitors, and for running its business in a strategic, results-oriented way. The approach was successful—more than 10 years of 20% growth, 700 consumer tech brands served, 2000 products launched, and profits significantly above the industry average—and helps MBA win out in its sector against far larger competitors.

Building on its deep industry expertise, founder and CEO Max Borges has emphasized the things that set his firm apart from the competition. The firm has its own broadcast studio, Tech Launchpad, with a host, Megan Harris, who has appeared on network television, and a track record of providing tech content for clients. The firm hosts an annual Media Preview event that showcases clients’ products to invited journalists. It has a 24/7 presence at CES, as well as a “war room” in its Florida headquarters that monitors trending stories. And it has an agency intelligence offer that draws on more than 10 years of accumulated client data to deliver both higher productivity and stronger results. That allows MBA to deliver strong metrics.

As a result of all that, MBA has a client list that includes Roland, KANO, AT&T, Cricket, Sound United, DJI, and Misfit, with new business in 2019 coming from OfferUp, ExpressVPN, Hisense, Fossil, and Skagen. High-profile client work included data storytelling and newsjacking for buyback service Decluttr; State Farm’s incursion into e-gaming; and helping fashion brand Fossil sell out its new smartwatch in one week; and crowdfunding and branding for Sphero, a company known for its Star Wars-themed STEM gadgets. Growth for the year was better than 20%, with Max Borges ending the year with $9.4 million in fees and a team of close to 50.—PH

SourceCode Communications (Independent)

Last year’s new agency winner, SourceCode continues to impress with its award-winning work and its noteworthy business performance. Former Hotwire execs Greg Mondshein and Becky Honeyman launched SourceCode in the fall of 2017 and hit $3.5m in 2019 — more than doubling last year’s revenue ($1.7m).

The firm is especially good at humanizing consumer technology and injecting empathy into its storytelling. For instance, take its ‘Be First’ campaign with Everlast to reinvent the iconic brand, engage a new kind of consumer and insert the brand into cultural conversations. The work featured stories of athletes who have become trailblazers. For the breastpump company, Elvie, SourceCode helped raise $42 million Series B funding with strategic messaging and inventive launch ideas. SourceCode also recently invested in its own creative process, the StoryHub, to guide the development of multichannel brand narratives that elicit emotional connections with audiences. Other clients include: WePay, Handshake, Cambridge Mobile Telematics, Cloudreach, Pindrop, Accedian, and Lightstep.

Like many modern agencies, SourceCode offers unlimited vacation and flexible work practices for its 22 employees. The agency also allows for parental leave up to one year — a rarity among agencies in the boutique category.  — AaS