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Winner: FTI Strategic Communications (FTI Consulting)
The strategic communications segment of FTI Consulting’s business saw very healthy 8.8% growth in 2019, fueled by a particularly strong fourth quarter; a solid core of crisis communications, public affairs, capital markets communications and special situations such as M&A and bankruptcy and restructuring; as well as growth in specialist areas such as litigation support. Strategic communications now accounts for $243 million of the parent company’s advisory business, which also includes corporate finance and restructuring, economic consulting, and forensic and litigation services and which grew large enough to join the Fortune 1000 last year.
Mark McCall took charge of the strategic communications segment in September 2017, and the two years seen then have seen impressive growth (last year’s growth was preceded by a 16% jump in 2018). To keep that going, the firm has invested in talent, bringing in expertise in financial services, healthcare public affairs, technology, shareholder activism, digital communications, and research. Key additions include Colleen Hsia, formerly global head of marketing at Jane Street, as lead of the financial services practice in the Americas; Rodolfo Araujo, former a member of the special situations research team at ISS, as head of corporate governance and activism; and Sonja Nesbit, from Arena Fox, to lead public affairs in the healthcare and life sciences sector.
A longtime leader in the mergers and acquisitions space, FTI was in the top five advisors to M&A globally, according to mergermarket, handling 177 deals over the course of the year. The firm’s restructuring team also worked on more than 350 sales, debt-to-equity swaps, equity wipe-outs, and cross-border filings. Other highlights included advising on the IPO of Virgin Galactic, the world’s first space company. Cigna, meanwhile, retained FTI after announcing its $67 billion acquisition of Express Scripts to support the shareholder and regulatory approvals process and coordinate communications to key stakeholders. And FTI advised Argo Group in its defense against an aggressive approach from activist hedge fund Voce Capital.—PH
Dukas Linden Public Relations (Independent)
Since Richard Dukas launched the firm 18 years ago, Dukas Linden has made media relations the centerpiece of its work, proving the value of traditional tactics — and traditional media. Focused exclusively on financial services since the 2008 recession, Dukas Linden’s clients are regulars in the sectors’ key news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Bloomberg and CNBC among them, a testament to the firm’s overarching belief that personal relationships with the likes of reporters and television producers matter. DLPR's dedicated broadcast team secures 500-600 segments year on top-tier financial networks, bolstered by its robust media training and executive coaching offerings. President Seth Linden brings expertise in the arena, having worked as a Capitol Hill broadcast journalist before joining the agency a dozen years ago.
2019 saw Dukas Linden break the $6m mark for the first time, with year-over-year revenue rising 17% to $6.3m, with support from its 24-person team. The lift was fueled by bringing on new clients including MetLife Investment Management, Duff & Phelps, AT Kearney and ARIS Capital Group, adding to a roster that includes Raymond James, Neuberger Berman, Robeco Global, Adams Street Partners, ARK-Invest and Eisner Amper LLP. Particularly notable is the firm’s decade-long support of Raymond James, effectively changing the perception of the Florida-based firm from a regional player to the nationally known financial services and wealth advisory companies it is today. Also in 2019, DLPR launched a dedicated crisis and transactional group, adding to its existing range of services. — DM
Group Gordon (Independent)
Group Gordon has a reputation as one of the industry’s good guys, both in terms of the clients it represents—a roster of philanthropies, foundations and socially responsible businesses—and in terms of its own employee culture, which has earned it a spot on our Best Boutique Agencies to Work For list in each of the past five years. As a result, it perhaps does not get enough credit for its performance, which has seen it to grow by an average of 10% over the past five years and build a client roster that includes a number of progressive non-profits and socially responsible businesses, while providing corporate and public affairs advice to companies in the professional services, financial services, real estate and education sectors.
Corporate clients include AssetMark, which investment solutions provider for financial advisors; Union Square Hospitality Group, creator of landmark restaurants Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, and Union Square Café; law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel; and Shake Shack. In the nonprofit space, GG represents Columbia University Medical Center; Here to Here, an initiative of the James and Judith Dimon Foundation; Enterprise Community Partners, which focused on national affordable housing; and the NFL Players Association. There was new business last year from law firm Herrick Feinstein; Calexico, a fast-casual Cal-Mex restaurant chain; Control Risks, the global security consulting firm; and Unilever, which retained GG for CSR work.
The firm continues to be led by principal and CEO Michael Gordon and president Jeremy Robinson-Leon, a 13-year veteran, and has been expanding its offerings. Particularly well known for the quality of its writing and media relations capabilities, it has also added expertise in thought leadership, content development, and social media, with an expanded content marketing studio, including data visualizations, original research, collateral, and video. Interesting work includes partnering with United Neighborhood Housing on a campaign to close the salary gap between early childhood educators in settlement houses and those in public schools; supporting Public Health Solutions, the largest public health nonprofit serving New York City, on a campaign to combat the use of menthol cigarette and flavored e-cigarettes in African-American communities; and engaging with the NFLPA to elevate The Trust, which provides a community of support for former NFL players to ensure success in life after football.—PH
Prosek Partners (Independent)
Prosek Partners was founded in 1991 with the vision that the financial services sector would one day “wake up and smell the marketing” and the expectation that Prosek would be the firm to provide the needed advice. It established itself as a leader in the sector quickly, with particular expertise in the kind of thought leadership that fit well with the industry’s conservative values. But since the 2008 financial crisis, with the sector facing reputation challenges, financial services marketing took off in a big way and Prosek has seen its revenues soaring—up another 15% last year to slightly more than $58 million.
One significant factor has been Prosek’s expansion into the hard-to-crack “special situations” business under the leadership of Andy Merrill and Mickey Mandelbaum, ranking among the top 20 public relations advisors to mergers and acquisitions in North America last year by mergermarket. In the fall, the firm added another area of expertise, launching an HR special situations practice group dealing with the employee impact of mergers, managed by Karen Niovitch Davis, partner and chief human resources officer. Another new addition was Fiona Laffan, who joined to head the new London office after serving as group corporate communications director at Lloyds Banking Group.
Prosek currently advises clients with more than $26 trillion in client assets across the US, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, providing an array of offerings including brand strategy, digital, creative services, content marketing and web development capabilities in addition to its more traditional earned media capabilities. Key clients include Bloomberg, BNY Mellon, Citi, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Edward Jones, Prudential, Bridgewater, Franklin Templeton Investments, Aberdeen Standard Investments, Silicon Valley Bank, and there was new business fromQED Investors, Carlyle, Millennium Capital, Macquarie Investments, Winslow Capital, The Colony Group, Canyon Partners, The Colony Group, Searchlight Capital, and FTV Capital. The firm was also named Best PR Company by Private Equity Wire in its inaugural Private Equity Wire USA Awards.—PH
Founded in 2015 by CEO Dan Simon and president Binna Kim, who previously led the US offices of Cognito, and with a leadership team that includes fellow Cognito alums Ishviene Arora (COO) and Ali Wells (chief creative officer), Vested got off to an explosive start—earning our New Agency of the Year honors in 2017—and has not looked back since. It grew by another 25% last year, ending 2019 with fee income of $9.2 million and a client list that includes the likes of American Express, Citi, RBC Capital Markets, Clarity Money, Morgan Stanley, Morningstar, Bloomberg, Acrisure, Grayscale, Peerstreet, JC Flowers, SEI, DTCC, and Diebold Nixdorf. It has expanded to include offices in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and London.
One of the things that sets Vested apart is its focus on the financial and professional services sector, where it has real in-depth expertise. Another is its forward-thinking ability to expand its offerings beyond the traditional. It has launched Caliber Corporate Advisers, a sister agency specializing in PR and marketing for financial services companies; Scribe, a content agency that focuses on fintech startups; and perhaps most notably Qwoted, a free expert platform focused on financial reporting and designed to help business journalists write better stories faster. Originally developed inside of Vested, Qwoted is now a separate entity with users from news organizations including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, Fortune and numerous rival PR firms.
Vested supported Grayscale Investments’ #DropGold campaign, launched to ignite a discussion around gold versus bitcoin, challenging the notion that gold is a stalwart investment and misperceptions that bitcoin is not. It worked with real estate marketplace lending firm Peer Street on a campaign that went beyond traditional media to include influencer marketing. And for retail lending and savings bank Masthaven, Vested worked on a branding and positioning strategy to appeal to both retail customers and brokers. More recently, the firm has responded to the Covid-19 crisis with some impressive thought leadership on topics ranging from crisis communications to employee health.—PH
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