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Analysis of all of the Winners and Finalists across specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are announced at the 2021 Global SABRE Awards, which took place virtually at the 2021 PRovokeGlobal Summit on 27 October.
Zeno was founded (as PR21) in 1999 as a classic conflict brand. The firm changed its name to Zeno in 2004, but the modern Zeno was not really born until 2009 when Barby Siegel took over as CEO and reshaped the firm as an independent agency with its own identity and culture.
With its headquarters in New York, Zeno has additional offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC, as well as a small but impressive Canadian operation. There’s a strong London office (the former 3Monkeys), and an expanding Asian operation, across Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia and mainland China.
The US still accounts for about $71 million of Zeno’s $86 million in global revenues, and accounted for almost all of its growth in 2020—with North American revenues up by a hugely impressive 13% in the year of Covid, when most of its peers were struggling. There was new business from the likes of Alaska Airlines, Ancestry, Cinnabon, Crate & Barrel, Hyatt, Michaels, Neato, Sealed Air and Univision. Perhaps most remarkably, the firm’s travel sector work was up by better than 200% and there was 50% growth in the retail sector—two of the niches hardest hit by the pandemic turning to Zeno to help them through the crisis. In Asia, Zeno’s data and analytics capabilities helped it win a string of major new business assignments, including regional duties for Lenovo, UPS, Goodyear, Amadeus, Ikea Singapore, FIS and Yorkshire Tea in Australia.
Siegel’s senior leadership team is full of familiar faces, veterans of the agency who have been with her through her 11-year tenure at the helm. But there was plenty of new talent added last year, including Cone and Porter Novelli veteran Alison DaSilva, heading the firm’s new approach to purpose and impact, and Sandra Saias, from Ogilvy, as head of global integrated communications. The firm also made a renewed commitment to diversity in 2020, with the appointment of a special advisor on diversity issues, diverse candidates accounting for more than third of its new hires from the second quarter on; and a pledge to be transparent about diversity numbers going forward (an area where many larger agencies still fall short).
Looking for the reason Zeno outperformed its peers in 2020, it’s difficult to ignore the ways it has strengthened its strategic capabilities: investing in industry-leading data and analytics, blending paid and earned solutions and corporate and consumer work to deliver strategic counsel at the high-end of the value chain. Examples included the firm’s work for Lenovo, a new positioning emphasizing the power of empathy (not a traditional value of the tech sector); crisis communications for Hyatt, helping the company reach out to internal and external stakeholders; working with Ancestry to bring families closer together at a time when many were further apart than ever; and launching a Halloween safety campaign for Hershey that drove a sales increase in a year when a big decline was a very real fear. A lot of the work is underpinned by insights derived from Zeno’s “human project” thought leadership.
— Paul Holmes
The firm that began on a cluttered kitchen table in 2005 with the mission “do good work” has flourished into a fast-growing agency built on integrated social issues communications for both public and private sector clients. The heart of C+C’s work is around doing good work for a client mix that is 55% private sector and 45% public sector. In 2019, the agency crafted a purpose statement: take care of people and the planet. The work is anchored in behavior change strategy to tackle issues including energy efficiency, sexual health, traffic safety, sexual violence prevention and more.
Seattle (HQ), Portland, Boston
C+C has grown an average of 15% per year since its inception, including 14% growth in 2020 to finish the year at $12.7m. The agency, which consists of 75 people, delivered integrated work for clients, which included growing its creative, content and digital teams. More than 80% of clients have been with the firm for more than five years and no one client is more than 20% of its overall revenue.
After the pandemic hit, C+C clients including REI, Alaska Airlines and King County Metro dramatically cut budgets. At that point, co-founder Julie Colehour asked her contact at Washington State Department of Health if they needed help with Covid. DOH hired C+C to help with all Covid communications. The account started around $100K and by the end of the summer was a multimillion dollar assignment. This work, single-handedly, filled gaps left by others amid the crisis.
With its people-first culture, the firm committed to staff that its goal for 2020 was to keep everyone employed, but expect a bumpy ride. C+C also supported staff that wanted to move permanently away from office locations and have found that switching to a 100% virtual model broke down many of the geographic silos that once existed. To address uncertainty from the pandemic, protests, election and failed insurrection, C+C doubled down on living values of openness, transparency and empathy. And at the end of 2020, the firm offered a 50% increase in all performance bonuses.
In 2016, C+C created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team with the mission to dismantle the effects of unconscious bias and actively work against systemic racism. The desired end goal is to create an environment at C+C that attracts diverse talent, provides equitable advancement opportunities, and values and respects employees’ unique perspectives, cultures and beliefs with a variety of initiatives, training, and incentives. C+C also publicly posts its diversity data on its website.
The agency’s success is built on a cross-functional structure, integrating creative, content and multicultural strategy across its portfolio. One area the firm identifies as its differentiation is transcreation – the process of developing concepts in partnership with the multicultural team, rather than the traditional model of concept first, translation later. For instance, for its work for DOH, C+C ensured the campaign was accessible to every Washingtonian by transcreating materials into 36 languages and creating customized approaches for the Black/African American and LGBTQ+ communities. This thinking resulted in four Innovation SABRE Award nominations and five SABRE Award North America shortlists.
— Aarti Shah
It was the first full year of Engine’s corporate heavyweight MHP and creative consumer hotshop Mischief working together as one agency with two brands, after a period of upheaval and uncertainty across the Engine group as it restructured its operations. Despite some cynicism about whether blending two very different cultures – suits vs. sneakers – would work (and some shedding of talent in the process), Engine MHP+Mischief has become an intriguingly successful proposition with ambitions to become a top 10 UK agency. The leadership team, including CEO Alex Bigg, deputy CEO Nick Barron, head of brand and reputation Rachel Bower and Mischief MD Greg Jones, found their combined sweet spot for 2020 was a modern, creative approach to corporate communications, as businesses and brands needed to communicate with different audiences in new ways.
Engine MHP+Mischief is based in London.
After a few sleepless nights last March, Engine MHP+Mischief grew its top-line by 5% in 2020 to £27.7 million. In 2020 the agency won more than 50 new clients, including Coinbase, Curve, IWG, MundiPharma, Samsung, and South Western Railway, who joined Asda, AstraZeneca, Atos, Coca Cola, E.ON, FreeNow, Huawei, JD Sports, Lego, Nationwide, RSPCA and Unilever on the roster. Areas of strength included consumer comms, corporate reputation, brand strategy, crisis and issues management, capital markets, public affairs, health and financial services.
Since the two agencies – with a total of 190 employees – had only just moved into shared offices when the UK went into lockdown, 2020 required real focus on building a joint team and culture while working virtually. There were no redundancies or furloughs, promotions and pay rises were honoured, and the agency continued to hire. Initiatives to support and inspire ranged from “beat burnout days” to Thirsty Thursday Zoom drinks. The leadership team stepped up their pastoral roles to check in on their people and make them feel valued, ensuring home set-ups were as good as possible, appointing mentors and “postcode champions” so colleagues who lived near each other could go for a walk, as well as being transparent about what was happening with the business. As a result, 95% of the team said they felt positive about how they had been supported. The agency benchmarked representation of Black, Asian and ethnic minorities for the first time and found it was 11%, with a target of 20% across the business. It now uses blind CVs and balanced shortlists, and works with the Taylor Bennett Foundation.
The agency’s work is underpinned by a great deal of intellectual firepower and behavioural science, with new thinking captured in IP such as the new Networked Age Guide to Communicating in a Polarised World. The team is particularly proud of its work that was directly related to the pandemic, from helping Gilead tell the story around its Remdesivir antiviral treatment and tackling the impact of the pandemic on cancer diagnosis and care, to helping businesses keep the lights on and supporting the British Business Bank with distribution of government bailouts. The capital markets team handled communications around the biggest retail story of the year, the breakup of Arcadia. Consumer work included a SABRE nominated campaign for E.ON persuading national media outlets to change their weather forecasts to include air quality data and brokering a partnership between Lego and the National Trust to encourage outdoor play.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Provoke’s 2019 New Agency of the Year, Era was born through the March 2019 merger of leading Myanmar PR firm Echo and digital agency RevoTech, ushering in the concept of integrated communications in Myanmar. The goal: combining traditional PR and technology to develop integrated campaigns that enable clients to better, and more creatively, reach today’s complex and connected consumers. The idea is working. Era in less than three years has grown into a $2m company, making it Myanmar’s largest agency. Era’s leaders don’t take the responsibility that comes with that lightly, launching initiatives that support the industry and the firm’s home country. The firm sponsors an exchange program for Myanmar citizens interested in a PR career; funds efforts to see journalists detained by the military released; and, through media relations, encourages international companies and investors to not pull out of Myanmar when its people need them most.
Era has offices in Yangon, Myanmar and Singapore.
In less than three years Era has grown to $2m in revenue, with fee income rising in 2020 an impressive 33% from the year before, making it Myanmar’s largest agency. The firm sustains a 89-person team to handle its growing workload from new clients including Johnson & Johnson (lead agency), Unilever, Mastercard, Abbott, Myanmar Garment Factory Workers Association, Heineken, Shiseido and KFC. New clients joined a roster already populated by the likes of Coca-Cola, Unilever (other brands), Singapore Tourism Board, Myanma Posts & Telecommunications, Samsung, Microsoft and Google.
You can’t overstate Era’s commitment to people, shown internally through its commitment to employees and externally through its activist bent that includes everything from supporting next-gen talent and funding the release of detained journalists to calling on the international community to continue to do business in Myanmar despite the military regimes’ abuses. Leadership is far from traditional. Ko Min Gaung is a songwriter and poet in addition to creative director and known for pushing the boundaries in a market that’s not always accepting. Su Shwe Yee Htun, director of marketing integrations, is transgender and, as Era says, “a geek at heart.” Managing director Anthony Larmon, who was Echo’s longtime leader, now focuses on client service. Members of Myanmar ‘s ethnic minorities or marginalized communities are members of Era’s workforce. Era recently reimbursed employees’ money lost to a 25% pay cut during Covid (senior leadership took a 50% cut and Larmon 100%), which boosted morale amidst the uncertainties of Covid and the military coup. Era was the first agency in the market to actively take a stance against supporting military owned businesses. Its actions drove organic reach of 100,000 and drew hundreds of comments and shares from staff, peers and clients including Unilever and KFC in support of the move.
Era’s powerful Save Our Seafarers campaign for Uniteam Marine is among the year’s most highly regarded public affairs initiatives, landing on more than a dozen SABRE Award shortlists. Conducted mostly on Facebook, Era put in the public spotlight the plight of Myanmar’s seafarers, who couldn’t work during Covid because they weren’t deemed essential workers, leaving some stranded on ships. Era’s work driving labor law awareness among garment factory workers also is on multiple SABRE shortlists. So is the firm’s brand work, notably including its Chicken Dance campaign for KFC that offered a modern take on a traditional children’s dance. Era also started offering clients new services in response to Covid, including crisis management and internal communications.
— Diana Marszalek
Norway’s Nucleus was founded in 2000 and brings a distinctly creative take to its work, helping it emerge as an impressive player in both the boardroom and the awards-show circuit. The firm employs 31 people, and works across consumer, corporate and technology, with particular expertise in employer branding, employee engagement for such clients as Academy, Aktiv, Hennig-Olsen Is, Aker Solutions, Elfag, Atkins and Norsk Gjenvinning.
Nucleus is based in Oslo.
With a national lockdown crippling the economy, Nucleus experienced a 30% drop in turnover, but responded by stepping up sales efforts rather than shedding staff. An impressive new business drive helped ensure that turnover rose by 28% last year, while fee income eventually dropped by less than 10% for the year, with headcount expanding. New clients included Aker Solutions (the firm’s biggest ever account win), Norec, the Norwegian Coastal Administration, Berry Alloc, Netatmo, Serit, Ruter, Kyowa Kirin, Geberit, and the Planning and Building services of Oslo, which join an existing roster that features Kesko, Element Logic, Norwegian council for road safety, Oslo municipality, Sony, Lenovo, Doctors Without Borders, Telenor, Statnett and Atkins.
The firm is led by chairman Atle Hommersand, CEO Axel Revheim, and co-owner Kyrre Edquist-Hansen, who also oversees content marketing, media and creative. Key hires included senior advisors Mah-Rukh Ali, Tine Venaas and Gerg Huus, as Nucleus stepped up its media, sustainability and healthcare credentials, while launching new practices focused on digital media training and visual content. The firm’s focus on diversity also stands out, in terms of both age (25 to 62) and gender (50:50), and is supported by enlightened parental leave policies. And, it has set clear targets for leadership gender balance and overall ethnic minority representation, which it is committed to meeting.
Nucleus’ work has attracted impressive award show recognition, and demonstrates a highly creative flair for driving serious business outcomes. The SABRE-nominated #PowerTheChange campaign for Aker Solutions, for example, involved the development of a brand narrative and movie as part of a merger and brand launch, representing the biggest, most complex campaign that Nucleus has so far undertaken. There were further SABRE nominations for ‘No Limits for Hennig-Olsen and ‘My Gift’ for Medicins Sans Frontieres.
— Arun Sudhaman
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