2021 Global PR Agencies of the Year | PRovoke Media

2021 Global PR Agencies of the Year

The 2021 Global PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 500 submissions and (virtual) meetings with the best PR firms across North AmericaEMEAAsia-Pacific and LatAm.

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. 

 

Finalists

BCW (WPP)

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The largest agency in the WPP public relations family, formed in 2018 by the merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe. Burson-Marsteller was best known for its work in corporate and public affairs, while Cohn & Wolfe was a specialist in healthcare and consumer marketing—the synergy is what made the merger a sensible option for WPP. The combined firm remains strong in the corporate realm—including crisis and employee engagement—and in healthcare, areas that stood the firm in good stead over the past 12 months.

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Headquartered in New York, BCW has one of the largest global networks of any agency. Its North American operation includes 11 offices in the mainland US as well as a presence in Puerto Rico. BCW has around 1,000 staff in 22 offices across 12 European markets, as well as eight countries in the Middle East and an African network spanning 54 countries, 36 of which are BCW branded, making it one of the largest agencies in the EMEA region. There are more than 500 employees in Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong), and a similar number in India, along with smaller operations in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia), Australia and Japan. 

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Ranked the third largest PR agency in the world, BCW experienced a low single-digit decline in revenues last year, which means revenues are still well in excess of $700 million. Within EMEA, BCW’s businesses in Brussels and Turkey grew year on year, while in London – its largest market – revenues declined less than 2% thanks to growing income from healthcare, public affairs and crisis, putting it ahead of WPP peers and its network competitors. Middle East income was down 4%. In Asia-Pacific, 2020 revenue fell by just 1%, thanks to continued growth from China (+7%) and Hong Kong (+4%), with every other market either flat or declining.  Growth was driven by a broad cross-section of new clients from the US Olympic Committee, Dollar General, Raytheon, the Department of Veterans Affairs, George Washington University, and Shift4 Payments, as well as expanded assignments from long-tenured clients such as Bloomberg, Boehringer Ingelheim, Gilead, JBS, Kimberly Clark, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi, Unilever, and Waste Management. 

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Global chief executive Donna Imperato brought on a wealth of new talent in the wake of the merger—there was a particular focus on data and insights—and continued to strengthen the agency’s bench in 2020 with the likes of chief people officer Patty Enright, a veteran of Publicis; Edelman’s Kristena Lucky as North American brand solutions lead; and Wendy Naughton to lead the AstraZeneca account, although North America CEO Chris Foster departed for Omnicom this year. The Europe and Africa region led by Scott Wilson, and Asda’a BCW in the Middle East While the Asian leadership team has remained relatively stable, the merger has created new roles for many, with Stafford now supported by deputy president Polka Yu, and Joe Peng becoming chief digital officer.  Chief inclusion officer Carol Watson, meanwhile, spearheaded a new “destination inclusion” initiative designed to ensure that employees understood and embraced the firm’s commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion. 

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In addition to its own increasing commitment to diversity, BCW counseled a number of clients like Accenture, Bank of America, Hennessy and Tom’s of Maine on their own initiatives, and launched a new “polycultural” consulting unit, a data-driven practice that is taking multicultural marketing—internal and external—to a whole new level. Its work was apparent in a new “Baby Dove” campaign aimed at new mothers. The firm’s federal government solutions operation, meanwhile, has been at the forefront of countering the disinformation pandemic. And the healthcare practice was on the forefront of the year’s defining issue, managing internal communications and executive positioning for key clients, while continuing to lead in several other therapeutic categories. BCW topped our 2020 Global Creative Index, with some eye-catching campaigns for Lenovo, Trygg-Hansa and Aldi. 

Paul Holmes/Maja Pawinska Sims/Arun Sudhaman

Edelman (DJE Holdings)

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Edelman has been the world’s largest independent public relations agency since the wave of acquisitions that swept the industry in the 80s and 90s and saw its rivals fall into the hands of the giant ad agency holding groups. It has turned its independence into a source of competitive advantage, family ownership allowing more flexibility on profit margins and greater nimbleness, particularly in terms of new investments. It has a well-balanced portfolio that spans consumer and corporate, healthcare and tech, and has been at the forefront of the industry’s advance into digital and paid media and broader creative.

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Edelman is headquartered in New York, remains a market leader in Chicago, and operates an extensive network of 13 offices in the US and an additional five in Canada. Edelman is the largest full-service agency in the UK, which continues to account for about half of its total EMEA revenues, and has substantial offices in France (following its 2014 acquisition of Elan), Germany, Italy, Spain, Brussels and the Netherlands. The fast-growing Africa operations were recently combined with the established Middle Eastern offices to create a single unit in the developing markets. In Asia-Pacific, there are 1,100 staff across major operations in Greater China , Southeast Asia, Australia, Japan, Korea and India. Edelman now has about 400 employees in Latin America, making it a formidable competitor for regional business and in each of the major markets, and it consolidated that position during the past year, despite the pandemic.

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While Edelman’s revenues were down 5.7% during the calendar year, the picture for its fiscal year was much rosier, with growth in the low single digits. And while the consumer business suffered in 2020, there was growth elsewhere: financial communications was up 18% and the firm ranked 12th in terms of volume of M&A work in the US; business transformation work was up 17%, business-to-business marketing was up 15%, employee engagement was up 11%, sustainability and social impact work was up 10%. In EMEA, a more collaborative culture has taken root, and new business was impressive, with Miele, National Grid, Mitsubishi Power, Janssen and Bristol-Myers Squibb joining the regional client roster in 2020. And, in Asia-Pacific, a focus on bigger, more profitable clients saw 5.8% growth from Edelman’s top 30, including significant expansion from Mitsubishi, Ajinomoto, Singapore Tourism Board, PayPal, Tera Laval, Samsung, Pfizer, Microsoft and GSK.

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A major management restructuring early in 2021 saw the elevation of Lisa Osborne-Ross elevated to US president, with incumbent Russell Dubner taking on a new role chairing the Edelman Trust Institute, but there were other significant appointments in 2020, including Kirsty Graham, who joined from Pfizer as CEO of Edelman Public Affairs; Ogilvy veteran Michele Anderson, who was named vice chair, brand, US; former Chevron CCO Dave Samson, named vice chair, corporate affairs; Helga Ying from the International AIDS Society as global and US chair of purpose; and former GE communications chief Deirdre Latour to lead the New York office. EMEA remains led by CEO Ed Williams, while Stephen Kehoe has revamped the Asia-Pacific leadership team. In 2018, Edelman committed to reach 30% workforce diversity in the US by 2022—the firm is currently closing in on 27%.

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Edelman’s flagship thought leadership piece, the Trust Barometer, has grown in reach and influence over recent years—it now encompasses Africa as well as Europe and the Middle East, generating media coverage and opening boardroom doors. Meanwhile, the firm’s creative work continues to shine. Highlights included the “What’s Your Number?” government campaign from Germany, highlighting violence against women; Danone’s celebration of 100 years, led from France; IKEA’s “Buy Back Friday” initiative in the UK and Ireland; and the Starbucks “#whatsyourname” campaign supporting transgendered youth. 

Paul Holmes/Arun Sudhaman


FleishmanHillard (Omnicom PR Group)

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Founded in St Louis in 1946, FleishmanHillard grew from one of America’s best regional agencies into a national and then a global player before its acquisition by Omnicom in 1997. Fleishman’s roots are in business-to-business and corporate communications, but today it is a genuine full-service agency. 

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The firm remains a powerhouse in its native St Louis, as well as several other midwestern locations, but today is equally strong in New York and Washington, DC, and has a presence in 22 US markets—as well as Puerto Rico and Canada. In EMEA, Fleishman's footprint includes particularly strong operations in the UK, the Middle East, South Africa and Russia. In Asia, Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong) and North Asia (Tokyo, Seoul) together account for more than 350 people, while there are also significant operations in Australia, India (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore) and Southeast Asia (Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore). 

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FleishmanHillard was one of the few holding company agencies to show growth last year, aided by its strong corporate capabilities—which had appeared to drag on performance in a decade when brand marketing was driving the growth, but proved an asset in 2020—and by strong public affairs capabilities (including brands like GMMB), which experienced their usual election year bump. Secondary metrics were strong too: 96% of top clients were retained, $150 million of new business was added (including new clients like Allianz, Dropbox, March of Dimes, San Diego Zoo, Stitch Fix, USS, and Veritas), and the firm ended the year with 84 seven-figure clients, more than ever before. 

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Since John Saunders took over as global CEO in 2015, FH has steadied itself and returned to growth, and he has built a stable leadership team including Americas president JJ Carter, chief strategy officer Marjorie Benzkofer, chief practice officer Janise Murphy, and chief business development officer Della Sweetman. There were new additions in 2020 including global platform lead Emily Duban from Weber Shandwick, a host of talent brought in to strengthen the creative offering, and interim chief diversity and inclusion officer Whaewon Choi-Wiles, who is spearheading Saunders’ ambition to become “the most inclusive agency.” Meanwhile, Lynne-Anne Davis has led FleishmanHillard's Asia-Pacific operation for several years, while Jim Donaldson oversees EMEA. 

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Fleishman’s thought leadership offering is nothing if not active, including a variety of events, white papers, newsletters and research studies, across numerous offices, including the global Authenticity Gap research study and stakeholder engagement and AI trend intelligence. A new FHX virtual client experience platform, furthermore, has helped to elevate the firm’s intellectual firepower in collaboration with such clients as Amgen, BNY Mellon and Veritas, and has been supported by specific research into Covid-19 trends in several markets. That mindset is reflected in a string of impressive campaigns, including Fitbit’s “Escaping to the Future of Fit” brand-building to supporting the African American Policy Forum’s support for the #SayHerName campaign (memorializing Breonna Taylor) to promoting Lowe’s presence at New York Fashion Week to creating the newsroom of the future for Samsung. 

Paul Holmes/Arun Sudhaman

Golin (IPG Dxtra)

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Creative powerhouse Golin defied odds in 2020 with an awe-inspiring year fueled by a portfolio of clients — including Lego, Walmart and Nintendo — that also had record years. Golin has progressed far beyond its consumer roots — these days the IPG firm is expanding across practice areas that also include technology, healthcare and corporate, with the latter two seeing double-digit growth in 2020. 

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Golin’s North American footprint includes Atlanta, Chicago (HQ), Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington, DC. The firm's global network includes a very strong London operation, along with a smaller presence across Asia-Pacific, EMEA and LatAm. 

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North America grew by an impressive 6.3%, thanks to an appealing story during a period of profound challenge. The agency’s win rate averaged more than 70% at a time when the competition was clawing for new business. For accounts larger than $1m, Golin submitted an unblemished record, including major wins of General Mills, ADP, CDC, Deliveroo and J&J North American Skin. Many of the firm’s 2020 wins were driven out of the New York office with additional standout offices in Dallas and Canada. The new assignments join an existing client roster that features Cisco, Discover, Dow Chemical, Ferrero, McDonald's, Nintendo, PepsiCo, Texas Instruments, Toyota and Walmart. Golin’s Asia-Pacific revenue dipped slightly in 2020 to around $15m, but 2021 is forecast to return 10% growth. The firm’s China operations, which include the Golin and GolinMagic brands, were up 12%.

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It’s been almost two years since Matt Neale became Golin’s sole CEO and the agency’s leadership has been relatively stable since — with some notable moves: Ellen Ryan Mardiks was recently named Golin's global chairman, succeeding Fred Cook.  When it comes to culture, Golin has long been on the cutting-edge. In 2016, it led large agencies with its rollout of Life Time. Now with the concept of office life in flux, Golin has given up its Los Angeles and San Francisco leases in pursuit of a new model that would add hotspots to its work mix. But perhaps its most valuable culture asset over the past 12 months has been The Playbook – Golin’s step-by-step planning process designed to help create award-winning work by aligning strategy with the customer journey. The IP has streamlined how teams work with clients across practices, markets and regions. Also new, Golin deployed the Rooney Rule for recruitment, ensuring at least one Black candidate is a finalist for every senior position. Golin is also set to achieve EEO employment sector targets in 2021 and Census targets by 2025. 

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Golin activated Team Pixel – a network of specialists who represent various dimensions of diversity. Members of Team Pixel have a range of responsibilities including advising clients on their product launches, to reviewing advertising and messaging. During the pandemic, Golin supercharged its trend-watching and forecasting to help clients in this moment and as we crawl out of this crisis. Its “Business as Unusual” work explored macro-and-micro changes across aspects of post-pandemic life. Another critical piece of thought leadership came in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection. Golin partnered with Ipsos to commission original research, polling 2,010 US adults to direct businesses on how to communicate their response to the attack. 

When it comes to award-winning work, Golin garnered eight Gold SABRE finalists and three Innovation SABRE Awards this year, including for the visually-compelling 'Black Forest Plants the First Ever Virtual National Forest on Instagram' and 'Colors of the World' with Crayola. In Asia, the firm's work included standout campaigns for the Taiwan AIDS Society and Micron Technology.

Aarti Shah/Arun Sudhaman

Weber Shandwick (IPG Dxtra)

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Today’s Weber Shandwick was founded 20 years ago by the merger of Weber Shandwick (itself a merger of tech specialist Weber Group and acquisitive UK agency Shandwick) and BSMG Worldwide. The second largest public relations agency in the world, Weber Shandwick is a genuinely full-service firm, with a balanced portfolio across corporate and public affairs, consumer marketing—as well as sector strength in healthcare and technology—and an ecosystem of specialist brands in areas such as digital content and research.

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With 19 US offices and three in Canada, Weber Shandwick has strong coverage across North America, with strong offices in all the key markets, particularly its New York headquarters and its Washington, DC, operations. Weber Shandwick is a top three PR agency in the UK market, its largest operation in EMEA, but is among the market leaders in the Nordics, Germany, the Middle East and Africa. In Asia, there are around 900 staffers across a 10-market regional footprint that features major operations in Greater China, North Asia, Singapore and India.

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Like most of its peers, Weber Shandwick saw fees decline in the mid-single digits for the year, but it stabilized quickly, retained 96% of its top 50 clients, and by the end of the year had returned to growth, with healthcare, public affairs, and even the consumer practice leading the way. New business successes included the American Hospital Association, Gensler, Horizon Organic, Kerrygold, KitchenAid, LinkedIn, Lockheed Martin, and Shutterfly, while existing clients such as the CDC, Fannie Mae, GM, Pernod Ricard and Takeda all increased their business. In EMEA, the firm’s top 10 clients grew by 30%, and it retained all but one of the top 20—and there was growth in some key sectors (healthcare) and practice areas (corporate and public affairs, sustainability) as well as in digital and content creation and employee communications and change management. In Asia, 2020 revenues saw a single-digit decline, but 2021 has seen a solid recovery take root, bolstered by a 4% increase in revenue from Weber Shandwick’s top 40 clients, which include such names as Amazon, Novartis, the Gates Foundation, Nike, Samsung, IBM, J&J, Temasek, ExxonMobil, Daimler and Mastercard.

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The smooth transition from Harris Diamond to Andy Polansky to Gail Heimann has been facilitated by a strong leadership team, much of which has remained consistent throughout, refreshed with new talent as necessary. This year’s key additions included chief impact officer Sung Chang (a former MRM/McCann creative lead) and chief workforce innovations and operations officer Brian Offutt, whose first contribution was Juice—the agency’s plan for a NEW flexible workplace post-Covid. In Asia, Tyler Kim’s promotion to regional CEO has been accompanied by a string of leadership changes in recent months, including the expansion of Hong Kong chief Albert Shu’s remit to include Singapore in a new hub model that aims to consolidate the two office’s strengths. The firm also sought to increase diversity and operationalize inclusion, as well as making a $1 million commitment to pro bono anti-racism work, as well as donations to the National Urban League and Amnesty International.

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As might be expected, Weber Shandwick was active in all of the issues that defined the past year. It worked with Bud Light on a campaign to champion black-owned business and with IBM on its effort to showcase how technology can address issues ranging from climate change to racial justice. It helped the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with an initiative to give nurses a stronger voice during the pandemic, and helped the CDC counter vaccine misinformation. It also supported the US Postal Service amid concerns about election integrity and positioned General Motors as a leader in electric vehicles. The work was guided by insights gleaned from the firm’s thought leadership, from its “Covid-19 Recovery Report” to its reputation advisory on “Communicating in a Time of Racial Tension.” 

— Paul Holmes/ Arun Sudhaman