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Winner: Hotwire (Enero Group)
It’s been four years since Hotwire bought Eastwick Communications to accelerate the UK-based company’s US expansion. There are so many technology acquisitions that ultimately fall short of expectations, the success stories — like this one — standout. It helps that Eastwick founder Barbara Bates was elevated to Hotwire’s global CEO in 2017, allowing her to infuse the entire agency with the ethos and mindset that made Eastwick so successful at the epicenter of technology.
With Bates at the helm, the size of the business has more than doubled — revenue has grown by 114% and headcount by 81% with many top-tier clients coming on board. In 2019, global revenues were up 13.5% to $42m. US growth exceeded this at 23% as revenues soared to $18.5m, up from $15m. Growth was fueled by new clients: Adobe, Casper, OkCupid, Pinterest, among others that joined the existing roster with Amazon Kindle, Eaton, Facebook, Linkedin, McAfee, NetApp, and Qualcomm.
For McAfee, Hotwire works on the long-running “most dangerous celebrity” campaign. The “Making Masturbation Mainstream” campaign with plusOne resulted in an astounding sales boost and also won Hotwire an the Innovation SABRE Award for best new company launch.
Bates has been a leader in building more progressive agency work cultures. This year, the agency launched a global Employee Value Proposition, which has resulted in an increased retention rate to 84%. The agency maintains a “work from anywhere” results-oriented culture and provides sabbatical to employees after four years. The leadership team also includes US CEO Heather Kernahan, global CFO Adrian Talbot, chief strategy officer Chris Paxton, and chief development officer Andy West. The agency has also produced standout thought-leadership centered around Generation Alpha and High Stakes Leadership Reports, which has delivered more than 500 marketing qualified leads. — AaS
The Bulleit Group (Independent)
Last year’s technology agency of the year winner had more measured — yet notable — success in 2019 with 9% growth, landing at nearly $6m. Much of the growth can be attributed to Bulleit doubling-down on its unique market position: bringing sci-fi to life. This forward-looking mindset means the agency goes beyond the dizzying minutia of speeds and feeds — and instead imagines and inspires its work around the impact and possibility of technology.
The agency’s narrative-driven process involves research, interviews, curation, drafting and planning to create a messaging framework that can scale and adapt to changing business goals. This way of thinking landed many new clients in 2019, including Facebook-CTRL-Labs, Airbus, Palo Alto Networks, City of London, Salesforce, Zoox, Berkeley Lights, Brain Corp, and Distributed Bio. The new wins join an existing roster that includes Google, Microsoft, Bloomberg, PGV, Bridgewater, Flexport, Veo Robotics, PlugPower and Collective Health.
Like many San Francisco agencies, the area’s talent crunch has prompted Bulleit to build outposts in Nashville, Washington DC, New York, and to allow remote employees throughout the country. The agency’s new health/biotech practice is flourishing and now represents nearly one-third of its overall revenue.
Notable campaigns include working with Airbus on its A3 Ventures and Innovation division and partnering with the City of London to represent the Lord Mayor's push to build closer ties with cities and the venture community. Its work with Zoox used speaking opportunities to turn the company’s fortunes and make it a major-league player in autonomous vehicles nabbed Bulleit an Innovation SABRE Awards earlier this year. Co-founders Kyle Arteaga and Alex Hunter remain at the helm. — AaS
There are a few PR firms in Silicon Valley that are known for consistently good work and strong leadership. Highwire is among them. Last year, the formidable tech shop successfully rebounded after a challenging 2018. And going into 2020, the agency continues to transform its offerings and skills around digital.
In the last 12 months, during Highwire’s ‘year of digital transformation,’ the leadership developed and conducted immersive training programs that explored the evolving nature of digital — including the web, social platforms (organic and paid), SEO, SEM, content, influencers, and more. But transformation is more than learning new skills, it’s perhaps even more about shifting mindsets and building accountability. Highwire focused on all of these things, and while the transition is still ongoing, digital revenue grew by 44% last year. The effort resulted in new client wins, including iRhythm, Splunk, ABB, Boomi, Thomo Bravo and others, along with two SABRE nominations in 2020. Overall revenue is up nearly 10% to $19.6m.
Highwire’s security practice represents 14 leading cybersecurity companies across the United States from disruptive startups such as Endgame, Darktrace and Bugcrowd to mid-size companies such as Trustwave and Veracode to public companies Qualys and Akamai and leading industry coalitions such as CTA. Highwire’s largest practice area — enterprise technology — includes startups Descartes Labs, Rubrik; as well as public companies like Twilio, Splunk, Appian and Cloudera, as well as global brands such as GE Power and Wi-Fi Alliance.
Founders Kathleen Gratehouse, Emily Borders and Carol Carrubba, recently added new leadership to the agency: Text100 veteran Carolina Binstadt now runs the San Francisco office, Boston-based SVP Shannon Murphy is expanding the healthcare technology practice, and Kim Paone has been promoted to GM of New York, where her remit includes expanding the agency's regional presence among sectors from media to fintech, as well as startups. — AaS
The Hoffman Agency (Independent)
The Hoffman Agency’s approach to its work is “there’s a better way.” And while that can easily seem like an empty platitude, when it comes to Hoffman — it’s not. Over the years, the time-honored technology boutique has consistently surprised Innovation SABRE judges with its scrappy, inventive — and effective — solutions for clients. This year, its website work with the City of Fremont transformed the staid Fremont Police Department website with a more modern, personable, and conversational tone. "This should be what all government entities are doing," one judge said.
Its creative work has resulted in strong business performance. Revenues in North America grew 15% in 2019 with the year ending close to $5m. The agency has worked with three of its largest clients — Nokia (previously Alcatel-Lucent), Nautilus and the City of Fremont for over seven years. And 63% of revenue comes from clients who they have worked with for two years or longer. Among its new clients in 2019 was Snap, which Hoffman worked with to launch a global survey. Another new client, Syniverse (previously GTE Telecommunications) took to Twitter to sing the agency’s praises. Notably, Hoffman’s success came amid a leadership transition as US head Steve Burkhart retired and the Bateman Group’s Syreeta Mussante joined as head of the region.
CEO/founder Lou Hoffman is also one of the industry’s most prolific thinkers — continuously producing smart thought-leadership, especially around storytelling. Most recently this has been distilled in an elegant reminder that “the story is always there.” — AaS
Method Communications (Chime Group)
It’s been 10 years since Method Communications arrived on the tech PR scene. In those days, its model of operating in Salt Lake City and San Francisco was still considered an anomaly when the industry was so heavily tilted towards Silicon Valley and New York. But founders David Parkinson and Jacob Moon ultimately proved the value of distributing talent and building a more balanced client portfolio.
A notable milestone for the agency was in 2018 when the UK holding group Chime Communications bought Method, opening the agency to global assignments and opportunities to build an integrated offering that spans continents. Given how insular Silicon Valley can be, many firms that come from other markets fail to ever gain momentum in the Bay Area. Yet Method Communications continues to ascend, growing 12.5% in 2019 — one of its best years yet — reaching $13.5m.
The firm has built its brand around serving “unicorns” or companies with billion dollar valuations, noting that two-thirds of its clients are currently in that category. Its roster includes tech giants and innovators, including Facebook (new), Workplace from Facebook, Adyen, Lucid, PagerDuty, Confluent (new), Domo, OneLogin, Freshworks, SurveyMonkey (new), Quicken (new), 1Password (new), Vivint Smart Home, Podium, Galileo (new), Confluent (new), Credit Sesame (new), Genomatica (new), among others.
Method has been central to driving media around several noteworthy transactions last year, among them: PagerDuty’s IPO, Qualtrics’ acquisition by SAP and Vivint Smart Home reverse merger. Along with Parkinson and Moon, Method’s leadership includes COO Heather England (who is credited for growing profit 121% over her five years at the firm), fintech practice lead Beth Haiken, marketing services head Jenni Holladay. Two notable hires also parted ways with the firm recently: EVP Stephen Corsi and GM Jeremy Woolf.
With nearly 70 employees across its offices in Salt Lake City, San Francisco, New York and London, Method took some notable strides around its culture and benefits offerings this year. The company introduced "Method Anywhere” which empowers employees to work from anywhere, any time — no questions asked. The agency also expanded its parental leave policies. — AaS
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