2020 Midsize PR Agencies of the Year, North America | PRovoke
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2020 North America Midsize 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: Finn Partners (Independent)

If it wasn’t for the unpredictable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we would be confident in stating that this will be the last year that Finn Partners is in consideration for our Midsize Agency of the Year honors. The 35% growth Finn enjoyed last year—half of it organic and half of it from acquisitions—took the firm to $120 million globally, with 800 employees now, and $100 million in North America. That’s the culmination of eight years of impressive growth since the firm spun off from sister agency Ruder Finn in 2011 with $24 million in fees and 150 people.

Acquisitions last year included two in North America—healthcare PR and IR boutique Lazar Partners and Boston-based digital and creative shop Small Army—adding to the deep pool of entrepreneurs who have found a home at Finn over the past few years. The organic growth, meanwhile, was fueled by new business successes from health-related clients Alkermes, National Rural Accountable Care Consortium, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center; consumer-facing brands like Frederick Wildman and 2K Games, and the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Founder and CEO Peter Finn is fond of pointing out that it is his agency’s culture—with a focus on “best place to work” status and “heart and conscience”—that has been central to its success in the acquisitions arena. It has also helped the firm attract some top talent, with sustainability lead Jane Madden and financial services head Ryan Barr joining late in 2018, and Porter Novelli veteran Kyle Farnham joining in 2019 to lead global consumer, while Amy Coles was named head of HR and talent.

Under the leadership of Gil Bashe, Kristie Kuhl, Michael Heinley and Tom Jones, the healthcare practice has rightfully earned many of firm’s recent accolades—Finn was our Healthcare Agency of the Year in 2018—and now accounts for about a third of revenues, with 120 people, more than 100 clients, and a distinctive position at the center of the complicated health ecosystem, where its understanding of the economics that drive the sector have been critical. But the consumer practice has also been performing strongly, with a team of 75 helping 2K Games promote its partnership with Make a Wish, Jack Daniels promote its Operation Ride Home initiative, and Bosch launch an integrated campaign for its cooking products. The real story, though, is the ability of all practices—especially health, consumer, and tech—to work together in collaboration and deliver seamless solutions without the obstacles associated with multiple P&Ls.—PH


Finalists

Allison+Partners (MDC Partners)

Allison + Partners had its best-ever year in 2019. This carries impressive weight, considering how Allison + Partners has been a mainstay on our Agencies of the Year list, consistently delivering high-quality work and solid business performance year-after-year. In 2019, global revenues soared nearly 18% just past $80m. In the United States, revenues jumped 11% to $64.5m.

It’s notable how long Allison + Partners’ clients — not only stick with the firm — but also grow their spend. In 2019, 66% of the agency’s growth was from existing clients, which also reflects the strength of its newer services including content development, media and presentation training and integrated marketing.

Long-standing clients that continued to grow into 2019 include: Danone, Deloitte Digital, PepsiCo, Progressive, Samsung, Seventh Generation and Toyota. Notable new wins include: Airbnb, American Airlines, AutoDesk, Colliers International, Persado, Qualcomm, and Visa. The majority of the agency’s top 20 clients are shared across geographies. Allison+Partners maintains a single P&L across its 30 offices worldwide.

Allison + Partners is producing more impressive work than ever. The agency’s work on Driscoll's Rosé Berry Limited Edition Summer Launch landed on the Best in Show list at the Innovation SABRE Awards —and resulted in tangible business impact for the berry producer. Its UL Close Before You Doze involved stunning creative that changed consumer behavior. The San Francisco-based agency is also working on bringing more awareness of the Chinese technology company Baidu in the United States. The agency has a longtime relationship with Impossible Foods, including handling a fully-integrated campaign as it became available in grocery stories.

The leadership team includes founder/CEO Scott Allison along with co-founders Andy Hardie Brown, global president Jonathan Heit, global All Told president Cathy Planchard and global president of corporate + Europe Matthew Della Croce. The group continues to prioritize attracting and retaining talent as a top priority, most recently by unveiling “Vision 2020,” an internal initiative that provides the framework of the covenant between the agency and its employees. — AaS

Imre (Independent)

Nearly three decades ago, David Imre opened a shop based on the seemingly simple, but often missed, premises of putting people first and listening to others. The firm’s success — up 52% in 2019 to $33m in revenue from 158 employees spanning 10 industries — reflects how those basic tenets are paying off, as does Imre’s commitment to producing top-tier work, fueled by a passion for creativity, strategic insight and emphasis on authenticity. The firm’s dual-emphasis on personal and professional has reaped benefits on all fronts — the creation of a client roster with the likes of 3M, John Deere, NFL Properties and Under Armour; a culture that’s led to an employee retention rate four times the industry average; and community improvement through a foundation that helps with time and money.

Bolstered by operations in Los Angeles, Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, Imre's remarkable run over the last 12 months saw an impressive list of new clients including Armstrong Flooring, Bausch Health US, Infiniti, L’Oreal and Pfizer. 27 years after launching the firm, David Imre, as CEO, is every bit a hands-on player in the firm’s daily operations, mentoring the company’s leaders as well as counseling clients. His support comes from Imre’s senior leadership team including president & partner Mark Eber, who oversees the firm’s daily operations; Crystalyn Stuart, partner & president of the agency’s Creators practice, an 80-person team experts in digital, creative, social, public relations, user experience, analytics and media strategy; and partner Jeff Smokler, who leads Imre’s life sciences and biotech arm, Imre Health. Imre hired a full-time recruiter in 2019 to meet the challenges of hiring talent. — DM

Ruder Finn (Independent)

Ruder Finn, Finn Partners and RF Binder became independent agencies in 2014, with the dissolution of what had been the Ruder Finn Group. Finn Partners had attracted the lion’s share of attention in the six years since its spinoff, thanks to a string of acquisitions and an impressive growth record, but Ruder Finn also has an compelling story to tell, having transformed itself with a sophisticated corporate offer (including the new RF Relate operation that blends social impact, sustainability, advocacy and public affairs), and an innovative digital capability (strengthened last year with RF Tech Lab, an incubator focused on the ways in which AI, robotics, voice and analytics tools can improve PR programming.

Last year saw strong growth of better than 10%, as Ruder Finn ended the year at around $78 million globally. There was one acquisition, SPI Group, a 30-person healthcare focused firm with expertise in employee experience, corporate branding and corporate reputation and clients such as Regeneron, LabCorp, Merck, Bayer and Pfizer, the latter two of which were existing Ruder Finn clients. SPI adds new capabilities to what is now a 250-person healthcare team that is innovating impressively: moving beyond storytelling to conversation, supplementing broad disease education campaigns with the creation of micro-communities, while retaining expertise in the consumerization of complex scientific information.

New business came from big name brands like EY, Harley-Davidson, Johnson&Johnson, Kohler, Marriott, MetLife, Schneider Electric, and Volvo, while there were expanded assignments from AstraZeneca, Bayer, Citi, L’Oreal, Pfizer, Sanofi and Subway. Outstanding work included a campaign to drive conversation around unresolved pain for Eli Lilly; the launch of Subway’s most successful limited time offer around Valentine’s Day; positioning the CEO of Sanofi as a thought innovator; and helping Schneider Electric rethink the future of energy.

There was an influx of talent too, with Christie Anbar joining from Syneos Health as head of global healthcare; Chris Montemurro from dna communications as executive VP in the healthcare practice; Brian Laird from EvolveMKD as head of social; and Evan McCaffrey from J&J as head of video—all following Rowan Benecke, who joined last year as chief growth officer after leadership roles at Burson-Marsteller and Text 100. But the bulk of the leadership team—CEO Kathy Bloomgarden, chief innovation officer Michael Schubert, chief strategy officer Keith Hughes, global technology lead Robin Kim—have been together for at least six years.—PH

Zeno Group (DJE Holdings)

Last year’s Midsize Agency of the Year, Zeno certainly was not resting on its laurels in 2019, which was another year of healthy double-digit growth. Fees were up 15% in North America, where the firm has 266 “Zenoids” or slightly more than half of its global workforce. It’s strange to remember that a decade ago, this $80 million fully integrated global firm, known for its “fearlessness,” was a domestic consumer boutique with no discernible identity.

One of the secrets to the firm’s success is a balanced portfolio across the consumer (new clients included Alaska Airlines, Carhart, Tinder), healthcare (Abbott, IBM Watson Health, Vertex), technology (Ceridian, Neato), and corporate (CBRE, Foxconn, Pearson)—and perhaps more significantly, its ability to deliver cross-disciplinary programs drawing on the strengths of two or more of those groups. One developing strength is the firm’s work in purpose, driven by managing director of purpose and impact Alison DaSilva (formerly of Cone and Porter Novelli), fueled in part by the firm’s new “Strength of Purpose” research.

Zeno has also been integrating cutting-edge data and analytics across the entire agency, with managing director of global strategy and insights Therese Caruso overseeing evolving capabilities that include media and market intelligence, content and channel analytics, audience and influencer analytics, and a burgeoning performance marketing capability. The firm’s award-winning campaigns demonstrates how this approach impacts its work—all driven by smart insights. SABRE recognition this year “This is Life” thought leadership for Lenovo; a March Madness campaign for Pizza Hut; the Cadbury Bunny Try Outs for Hershey; and the “jewel stool” for Buffalo Wild Wings (a collaboration with the Martin Agency).

While there was growth across all of the firm’s North American offices, a special shout-out for 2019 should go to the still-fledgling Canadian operation, which almost doubled in size, with expanded capabilities in branding, creative, paid media, and experiential, and new clients such as Electrify Canada, Glade, Windex and Ziploc, as well as an ongoing and expanding initiative for Turkey Farmers of Canada.—PH