2020 Small PR Agencies of the Year, North America | PRovoke
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2020 North America Small 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: RBB Communications (Independent)

It is easy to forget, amid RBB’s emergence as one of the industry’s most consistently successful small players, that the Miami firm carries with it a distinguished background since it was founded Bruce Rubin Associates in 1975. After being acquired by Weber Shandwick in 1997, Christine Barney and Lisa Ross completed an MBO in 2001; 20 years later, RBB is a business that can be as proud of its impressive growth as its laudable employee culture. 

In 2019, RBB grew by 15% to $16m, reflecting its ability to deliver integrated services for a roster of national and global brands. That plan has been underpinned by a series of acquisitions — including 2019 experiential purchase Zicomm and previous buys digital firms Spiderboost and Out of the Blue Advertising. The firm’s new business performance provides ample proof of its integrated expansion, including such brands as Neste, Merz Institute of Advanced Aesthetics, Primrose Schools, Lyft, HBO Latin America, G4S, Tempo by Hilton and Kolter Homes — joining an existing roster that features Hilton, Bank of America, DHL Express, AMResorts, Florida Power & Light Company, Disney on Ice, Related Group and Cleveland Clinic Florida

There is strength across travel and leisure, consumer and healthcare — bolstered by the addition of specialist talent such as ECD Ruth Olegnowicz and digital SVP Billy Boulia, who join a leadership team that includes Barney, Ross and EVP Tina Elmowitz, alongside nine other minority partners. And while Rbb has grown noticeably, its focus on workplace culture and diversity remains a competitive advantage at an agency that is not only women-owned, but more diverse than most — 58% Hispanic, 37% white and 5% multiracial, black or Asian.

The firm’s work earned it a SABRE nomination in 2020 for Downtown Doral, and there were also excellent campaign efforts for Jackson UCC and Hilton. — AS


Finalists

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. That continued to be evident in 2019 — the first full year after the then- family-owned firm was sold to Eastport Holdings, which owns 16 other US PR, advertising and digital agencies, to further growth and, three months later, 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. Highlights of the agency’s work into 2019 include supported Major League Baseball’s National All-Star Game with hundreds of local and national interviews, driving 10-year highs in ticket sales and attendance; developing a global workplace safety program for Parker Hannifin in 50 countries that resulted in a 20% reduction in reported injuries and 22%  reduction in lost hours; helping Columbia Gas save consumers $39m in lifetime energy savings — the equivalent of removing 5,906 cars from the road in a year; and creating a content strategy for Balloon Time that expanded brand relevance among diverse audiences and increased conversion rate by 106%.

Fahlgren Mortine’s revenue in 2019 hit $29.5m and, having won 65 of 99 new business pitches, its new business revenue rose 73% to $5.7m. New clients include Abercrombie & Fitch, American Signature/Value City Furniture, BIC Consumer Products, Bob Evans Restaurant,  National Veterans Memorial and Museum,  The J.M. Smucker Company, The Ohio Lottery Commission, and the University of Kentucky, joining a roster of existing clients that includes  Bed Bath & Beyond, Cardinal Health,  DHL Supply Chain, Dunkin’ Donuts and Emerson. — DM

Lippe Taylor (Independent)

Lippe Taylor restructured its leadership team earlier this year, with founder Maureen Lippe ceding her CEO position to agency president Paul Dyer (she will remain actively involved as chairman), consumer practice lead Tracy Naden assuming the newly created role of chief engagement officer, chief integration officer Lori Rubinson elevated to the newly created position of chief client officer, and  Marissa McKeon promoted to chief financial officer. Two things are significant: first, all of the new senior roles were filled by internal appointees (57% of current VPs and SVPs were promoted from within too) and second, it was part of new client engagement strategy that ensures every team has client service and business acumen, writing, research and planning capabilities.

The latter is now a unique strength of Lippe Taylor, where 2018 was the year of analytics and 2019 saw the continued expansion and refinement of the Hypatia measurement platform, which enables earned media performance measurement (an area where the firm, despite its investment in digital and social, continues to excel), competitive benchmarking, and media trend forecasting. But there has also been a significant investment in creative with new talent including James Buont (ex-McCann), Edwin Poche (ex-Edelman), Nicole Weltman and Kathleen Baumer (ex-Laundry Service), and Jeremy Simon (ex-Attention Global) and a new approach to integrated campaigns that “listens before it speaks.”

The impact is evidence in the firm’s work, such as pop culture newsjacking for Ancestry, after Lippe Taylor discovered that Tom Hanks and Mr Rogers (the character he portrayed in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) shared DNA—a campaign that showcased the insights generated by the firm’s data as well as its enhanced creative capabilities. Elsewhere, there was a TikTok-based influencer stunt for Mucinex; branding work for Silhouette Instalift; social content, paid media and more for Mentor; and a purpose driven campaign for Proactiv that also helped to rehabilitate Kendall Jenner’s image.

The firm has now doubled in size over the past five years, ending 2019 with fee income of just under $22 million. The consumer practice led the way, up 37% for the year (and doubling in size over the past two years). There was new business from Ancestry, Bayer, Godiva, Midol, and Nestle Health Science, with organic growth from brands such as Advil, Allegra, Dulcolax, GloFish, Jergens, Mucinex, and Zantac. There was geographic expansion too, with a new office in Minneapolis, headed by fomer Carmichael Lynch Relate exec Emily Buchanan, and feet on the ground in Boston too.—PH

PAN Communications (Independent)

After more than two decades in operation, PAN continues to impress. 2018’s Technology Agency of the Year winner, the agency in 2019 continued to forge ahead, reaching new levels of progress around its business performance, caliber of work and culture. In 2019, PAN’s fee income rose 13% to $22.4m, up from $19.8m in 2018, operating with 148 people across offices in Boston, San Francisco, Orlando, New York and London, following its mid-year acquisition of Capella PR. New clients fueled the firm’s growth in 2019. New clients including Absolute Software, Amdocs, BMC, Micro Focus, NTT Data, PointClickCare and Quorom Software joined a portfolio that incudes SAP, CloudBees, Radial, Cogito and Mimecast.

Serving B2B tech and healthcare brands, PAN’s successes are rooted in matching its people-first culture with a deep commitment to delivering value to clients that extends beyond the marketing department to the entire organization. PAN employees keep a close pulse on industry-wide and vertical-specific trends that impact clients, so the business can adjust services offerings quickly. For example, PAN has brought creative services, social and digital management and analytics and content development experts under a single roof, reducing the lead-time from opportunity identification to brand action.

Over the last 12 months, PAN has continued in its tradition in opening up dialogue and ideas with agency peers, as well as internal marketers, creating a steady stream of thought leadership content. This included the 6th Annual Content Fitness Report, which surveys 100+ marketers on their content marketing challenges and pain points, and the annual CMO Predictions series, which consolidates insight and expertise from leading industry minds to set the tone for marketers trying to keep pace in an ever-changing market. PAN’s most recent contribution to conversation is the exploration of X-Tech, which PAN defines as verticals such fintech, insurtech, ecotech and legaltech, which can speak to new audiences and connect with customers as individuals. — DM

 

Praytell (Project)

Praytell has been on a year-over-year roll since Andy Pray founded the firm with two employees in 2013 — and continued that winning streak in 2019. Praytell saw 50 new business wins last year, lifting its revenue more than 15% to $21.2m. Last year, Praytell secured assignments from Danone, Pernod Ricard, Open Table, ADT, StubHub, No Kid Hungry and Mars Petcare brands, joining long-termers Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, Zappos, Tito’s Vodka, Google Waze and MAC Cosmetics. The firm also scored its first global account, the result of Praytell’s work building a network of like-minded, independent PR firms around the world. Longtime partner Beth Cleveland was promoted to global president.

While growing new offerings — talent & influencers, paid performance and content distribution services among them — Praytell in 2019 also continued to excel in its biggest practice areas, including food & beverage, spirits, wine & beer, CSR and consumer. Today the firm is among the largest craft beer agencies in the business, representing more than 13 Anheuser-Busch brands. All of which is a testament to Pray’s firm commitment to making sure conditions are right for his team to thrive; The firm’s robust investment in its employees, from a generous benefits package and D&I efforts to annual trips to Camp Praytell, resulted in an impressive 95%  retention rate. — DM