2021 Global Public Affairs Agencies of the Year | PRovoke Media

2021 Global Public Affairs 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

Bully Pulpit Interactive (US/Independent)

Founded in 2009 by veterans of the previous year’s successful Obama presidential campaign, Bully Pulpit combines Washington policy smarts, Madison Avenue creative, and Silicon Valley tech savvy. Still perhaps best known for its political work—it continues to handle electoral campaigns—the firm has expanded well beyond that realm and now provides public affairs, issues management, and corporate reputation counsel to a broad range of companies, associations, and senior executives.

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Bully Pulpit has offices in Washington, DC (HQ), New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

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An election year will always provide a boost to a firm like Bully Pulpit—and in 2020 its extensive work for the Biden-Harris campaign undoubtedly helped its numbers—but even so, it grew from a little more than $30 million in 2019 to more than $43.6 million in 2020, an outstanding performance and testimony to the firm’s ability to help clients address the big challenges. New business came from corporate clients such as General Mills, Patagonia, S&P Global; progressive groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; and the Georgia Democratic Party, for which it handled the crucial Senate run-off.

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Founder and president Andrew Bleeker led digital marketing strategy on both Obama campaigns, having previously led the global digital practice at Hill+Knowlton, and many of the senior leaders at BPI worked on Obama campaigns or in the administration—including Ben LaBolt, who joined as partner when Bully Pulpit acquired The Incite Agency in 2016, and Paulette Aniskoff who led the White House office of public engagement. New additions in 2020 included former Obama press secretary and McDonald’s CCO Robert Gibbs as senior counsel, and Xochitl Hinojosa, a veteran of the Democrative National Committee as managing director.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

If there was a major headline-making story in 2020, Bully Pulpit was involved, from the presidential campaign and the Georgia run-off election to the Black Lives Matter movement (advising dozens of companies on how to take a stand on a powerful emotive issue and working with the ACLU and The Leadership Council) to the Covid-19 crisis, where it worked with AT&T to provide technology solutions to kids learning from home. BPI also worked with Walmart on its corporate reputation, and with leaders such as Indra Nooy and Michael Bloomberg. In all cases, the firm brought an intellectual approach that combines the substance of public affairs with the creativity of marketing and the data savvy of the tech sector—an approach that ought to deliver equally strong performance in non-election years.

Paul Holmes

Farner (DACH/Independent)

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Farner, now 67 years old, has been the Swiss market leader in corporate and public affairs for as long as anyone can remember, with seven offices in Switzerland: Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen, Lausanne, Geneva, Basel and Lugano. Yet Farner is not just a domestic heavyweight, but one of the best players in EMEA, as evidenced by its selection as one of PRovoke Media’s EMEA Consultancies of the Decade. The firm’s revenue has tripled over the past eight years, bolstered by some smart acquisitions, and an ambitious mindset that combines brand development, change management, PR, public affairs and data/commtech across brand communication, advertising and performance marketing. Key strengths include financial, healthcare and brand communication, while more than 30% of Farner’s mandates utilize at least two practices, reflecting its integrated capabilities. 

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Farner operates six offices in Switzerland: Zürich, Bern, St. Gallen, Lausanne, Basel and Chiasso.

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Fee income was up by 25% in 2020, clocking in at €33m from 200+ executives. That was partly helped by the 2019 acquisitions of Rod and DU DA, which underpinned the launch of a branding unit to support strong performances from Farner’s public affairs, corporate comms and change/transformation divisions — illustrated by mandates from the Swiss Confederation, and Covid-19 campaigns for the Federal Office of Public Health and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. 

Key clients include Bundesamt für Gesundheit (Federal Office of Public Health); PostFinance AG; Touring Club Schweiz TCS; Coop Genossenschaft; McDonald's Schweiz; auto-schweiz; Schweizerische Bundesbahnen SBB (Swiss federal railways); Staatsekretariat für Wirtschaft SECO (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs); Pfizer AG; JagdSchweiz. There was new business, meanwhile, from UBS; Ypsomed; Hirslanden AG (Hirslanden Private Hospital Group); Peugeot; Aproz Sources Minérales SA; Schweizer Obstverband Swissfruit; Swisstransplant; RUAG International Holding AG; "Wie geht’s Dir?" (public-private campaign raising awareness on mental health issues); Innoterra; and, Andermatt Swiss Alps. 

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Roman Geiser has led Farner since 2012, while key recent hires include CFO and head of management service Karin Ryser; and public affairs head Cécile Bachmann. The firm’s culture is supported by a pay equality guarantee which is regularly monitored by a credible third party, while there are also initiatives to improve work-life models, parental leave and female representation at a leadership level. Last year, for example, Rod founder Regula Bührer joined Farner’s board of directors, while also serving on the advisory board of the EqualVoice initiative, which aims to increase visibility of women in the media. 

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Farner’s Voice First Barometer continues to study the use of voice of assistants, in conjunction with the University of Lucerne and the Link Institute. Farner is also the the exclusive Swiss provider of training for behavioral marketing that follows the ‘Coglode method’. And, in 2020, the firm’s commstech practice developed two new products — ecoo, a blockchain-based digital platform to make earmarked funds in the form of coins or points easily available for transactions through a smartphone app. And PowerCoins, a gamification approach supported by Behavioral Insights to accelerate value change among employees of an organization. 

That kind of innovation helps to explain Farner’s impressive haul of nine Finalists at the EMEA SABRE Awards, including Ikea’s paternity leave campaign, UBS’ Women’s Wealth Academy, Covid-19 work for the Federal Office of Public Health and ‘Back to Business’ for SBB Swiss Federal Railway. 


Arun Sudhaman

Grayling (Huntsworth)

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Grayling owns more offices in Central and Eastern Europe than any other agency group and its operation in Russia and Ukraine goes from strength to strength. From its inception with just three staff members, to now a team of 54, Grayling Russia has almost doubled in size over the past 10 years. Originally specialising in corporate and financial PR, the team now provides a fully integrated offering spanning corporate comms, public affairs & GR, consumer & lifestyle brand PR, events, marketing communications and digital. Grayling’s efforts to strengthen connections between all its offices included elevating Ben Petter, previously head of Central and Eastern Europe, to European COO in 2020, which has already had a dramatic impact on the way the entire business is run. 

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Grayling has 26 wholly-owned offices across Europe, including in Moscow and Kyiv. 

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Grayling Russia achieved 8% revenue growth and 31% operating profit margin in 2020. The team has a particularly strong healthcare offer, working for Roche and AstraZeneca, as well as Mars and Pernod Ricard on the consumer side. And despite the many challenges of the past year, the retention of both clients and staff was successfully secured. Overall, Grayling achieved 4.8% growth in EMEA-wide income in 2020 and maintained a staff network of more than 400 people throughout the pandemic, 

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In 2020, Grayling made its biggest-ever commitment to agency-wide cultural initiatives to ensure that Grayling staff worldwide feel more connected to each other and the business, and that best practice and local understanding is shared seamlessly across markets. Grayling's global D&I policy is localised and tailored to suit each office’s culture and needs. For the Russian team, staff wellbeing and mutual support became the major business objective for 2020. The Moscow office received the highest score (5.74 on a scale of 1-6 vs a European average of 5.43) in Grayling’s employee survey which addressed the culture of the business and whether staff are perceived as friendly and accepting of everyone, regardless of gender, marital status, sexual orientation, age, ethnic origin, religion or disability. In Russia, 90% of Grayling's senior management team is female, so the agency plays a key role in promoting female leadership and educating on gender inequality and the gender pay gap in the communications industry – with Grayling’s own Eugenia Skobeleva one of the co-founders of GWPR (Global Women in PR) in Russia.

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Over the past three years Grayling Russia has established a flourishing healthcare practice, and also has its own brands and arts practice, advising international and local brands on how collaborations with art and culture can significantly impact their reputation and brand image. The turbulent Russian landscape means communications for brands can be challenging - the Grayling team continuously develops its creative offering, going beyond client briefs to find new ways to offer culturally meaningful solutions, as well as business results.


Maja Pawinska Sims

Hanover (Avenir Global)

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Hanover was founded 22 years ago by Charles Lewington, prime minister John Major’s former press secretary, who remains as CEO after selling the agency to Canadian group Avenir in 2019. The consultancy has grown to a heavyweight with true trusted advisor status, whose focus on providing strategic counsel to corporate clients, working with senior leaders to enhance recognition, reputation, and resilience and working with some of the world’s biggest businesses on the most complex global communications challenges came into its own during the pandemic: at one point, the agency’s teams were helping companies fight to save the livelihoods of a total of 500,000 employees.

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Hanover is headquartered in London, with offices in Brussels and Dublin, and has a Middle East operation based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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After revenue fell against budget by 30% in three months, the 171-strong agency ended the year with income up by 7.5% to £21.9 million, driven by new top-tier clients such as Uber Eats, Pizza Hut, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Disney and Pernod-Ricard which served, to some extent, as a bulwark against the challenges that Covid-19 brought. Hanover is particularly proud of the crisis PR and public affairs work it delivered to keep football, horse-racing, manufacturers, pubs and cruise ships alive during the year. The agency’s client roster also includes Facebook, Instagram, Sky, Goldman Sachs, Merck/MSD, Apple and Uber. Hanover’s corporate heartland, led by Gavin Megaw, grew by 20%, and healthcare was up 35% (90% of which was organic), working with half of the world’s leading pharma companies. Around £500,000 in healthcare income came directly from work on Covid testing, treatments and diagnostics. Hanover Middle East was up 28% to £2.6 million in revenue, Brussels grew by 56% and digital work grew 80%.

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Maintaining Hanover’s culture throughout the crisis and looking after its smart, sociable team was a priority. The agency enhanced its already comprehensive LiveSmart wellbeing programme, including support around stress, anxiety, bereavement and sleep, enabled everyone to shift working hours as needed and trained leaders to identify signs of burnout. As well as Zoom discussion groups on film and podcasts, exercise clubs, wine tasting, a virtual day at the races, awards and quizzes, Hanover created mechanisms for the team to talk about the ongoing situation with management.

The agency’s inclusion & diversity network, IN, promotes positive behaviours and practices around gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, working parents, LGBTQIA+, age, and mental health. Diversity expert Sereena Abbassi joined as a senior advisor to conduct workshops and a perception audit, and introduce working groups around recruitment, retention, progression, and representation. Currently, Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation is at 15% across the group and 12.5% in London. By the end of 2021, the agency is aiming for 20% representation across Group with a minimum of 15% in London, and a minimum 20% in London by end of 2022. Half of leadership positions are held by women. Major hires included Ceri Reed joining from BCW as managing director of Hanover’s brand communications agency The Playbook, replacing Andrew Baiden.

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When Covid-19 restrictions initially threatened the food delivery sector, Hanover worked with Pizza Hut Delivery to retain its licence to operate, implementing its first all-team-member internal communications programme, ensuring all team members recognised their responsibilities, were reassured on their own safety and understood how valued their service was in local communities. Pizza Hut’s general counsel for Europe told Hanover’s team that they “literally kept the business running in the first weeks of lockdown”. Last summer, the agency launched the Rewire initiative with the Royal Society of Arts to help clients evolve, with a focus on purpose, vision and culture; brand positioning; relationships with internal and external stakeholders; responses to political, regulatory, environmental and reputational challenges; and engagement and communications. The agency also continued to promote Hanover 360°, its EMEA offering for businesses looking to embed sustainability practices within commercial strategy, public affairs and communications.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Interel Group (Independent)

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Interel nearly doubled in size during the 12-year tenure of Frederik Lofthagen, both growing its base in Brussels—where it was founded—and expanding internationally, most notably through the 2017 acquisition of US advocacy firm Association Management Group in Washington, DC, a move that led to co-headquarters in the US capital and, it appears, a slight loss of focus. So when Lofthagen left the firm in June 2019, the new leadership team — helmed by Gregoire Poisson, former managing director of the EU public affairs practice — was quick to put the focus back on the core business, and Poisson is clear about the firm’s mission: “We want to be the leading European public affairs consultancy,” he says. With 169 new clients in 2020, and fee income up to €13.5 million, the firm has the chance of that coming to fruition.

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Interel is based in Brussels with offices in Paris, London, Berlin, Washington, Delhi, and Beijing.

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Interel had its best financial performance ever in 2020, during which fee income grew to €13.5 million, headcount was up to 114 and the firm won 169 new clients. It’s the kind of progress CEO Grégoire Poisson and COO Geoffrey Ghyoot set into motion when they took over the helm of the company in 2019, launching a growth plan predicated on building a dynamic team, working with clients in high-growth industries and having a strong pan-European presence. Bolstered by its network of indie public affairs firms, IGP, Interel landed new business from Addison Lee, Alpro, Cainiao, Diageo, Lockheed Martin, Reddit, Reckitt Benckiser, ServiceNow, Sherwin-Williams and Xiaomi — which join companies that were already on the roster such as Bristol Myers Squibb, Coca-Cola, Danone, Ecolab, Expedia, GW Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Netflix, and Pinterest. New hires include Heiko Weiss, who joined as managing director of Interel Germany, and Mario Creatura, who head of digital in the UK.

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Interel has spent the last 12 months investing in its best defense against Covid-19: its people. When the world went virtual, the firm better equipped employees to succeed by providing each one of them training in digital public affairs. Layoffs were averted. And, with calls for diversification getting louder, Interel threw its support behind the Women in Interel Network, or WIN, whose goal is making Interel more diverse. 

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In 2020, Interel doubled down on helping clients survive Covid — and succeed post-pandemic, the latter of which led to the creation of a stimulus package tracker, which identifies special funding for businesses. Interel played a big role in ensuring the Belgian film industry’s survival by crafting a multi-faceted campaign that resulted in government officials reopening the country’s movie houses last July. The agency’s co-crafted Bristol Meyers Squibb’s Blood and Beyond initiative, the aim of which was to raise awareness of the impact of blood transfusion on patients and support networks and healthcare systems, all with the goal of improving patient outcomes through blood management and innovation. 

Diana Marszalek