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In 2014, a successful battle against kidney cancer prompted Alex Slater (a veteran of Glover Park and SKD Knickerbocker) to found Clyde Group as a purpose-driven firm with a specific focus on media relations and crisis communications. 2020 proved to be something of a watershed year for Clyde Group, with impressive growth and a slew of new initiatives focusing on such critical areas as DE&I, distributed working, pro bono activity and social impact.
Washington DC (HQ).
Clyde’s focus on crisis communications and media relations was broadened in 2020 by increased investment in creative and design, digital and thought leadership, the latter of which includes a partnership with global research firm Ipsos. The firm’s client portfolio spans corporate, healthcare, public sector, trade associations, education and financial services.
Clyde grew fee income by an impressive 35% in 2020, with headcount up from 18 to 31. There was new business from Bristol Myers Squibb, Yes on Proposition 22, NewsGuild-CWA, Mission: Readiness, George Mason University College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Instructure, Trevena, Monday Properties and Rhino, which join an existing client roster that features Navy Federal Credit Union, Sallie Mae, George Mason University School of Business, National Institutes of Health, National Industries for the Blind, Ipsos, The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Gearbox Entertainment, and Rover.
Founding partner Alex Slater is supported by partner/MD Aubrey Quinn, who has helped oversee considerable growth at the firm since 2016. Principal Anthony LaFauce leads the firm’s digital practice, while principal Matt House oversees the growing public affairs practice. Like many firms, Clyde stepped up employee wellbeing, development and retention programmes in 2020, including training, mental health and resilience training initiatives. The firm also invested in anti-racism training with an external consultant, made significant donations to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and formalized its Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Accountability (or IDEA) Group. Clyde has started benchmarking its DE&I progress, and has implemented its own version of the Rooney Role.
Clyde’s thought leadership activity includes a dedicated portal to help clients navigate the implications of Covid-19, conversations on racial justice and the political landscape. The firm’s partnership with Ipsos, meanwhile, whose data has informed the creation of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ new messaging guide on police reform, and the launch of the NOTIFY app, designed to reduce Covid-19 rates in senior living. Campaign highlights included a successful push to help local news outlets gain access to the Paycheck Protection Program; supporting Yes on Proposition 22’s successful campaign; and Mission: Readiness’ report on childhood obesity and its impact on military eligibility.
— Arun Sudhaman
Ron Berkowitz launched Berk in 1999 following a career as a sports reporter for WTOP in Washington. With a majority shareholding held by MikeWorldWide’s Michael Kempner, Berk has evolved into a consumer PR firm that is particularly adept at tapping into pop culture to drive business outcomes, with 24 staffers working across four offices.
New York (HQ) with offices in Boston, Charlotte, Los Angeles.
Berk works across numerous consumer verticals including sports and lifestyle, food and beverage, travel and tourism, and business/technology, for such clients as AMB Sports & Entertainment, Comcast, the NFL, Puma, the Cheesecake Factory, D’usse, Elegance Brands, and the Israel Ministry of Tourism. The firm is also known for providing reputation management services to entrepreneurs, athletes, celebrities and musicians, including Alex Rodriguez, Michael Rubin and Meghan Thee Stallion.
Despite the challenges posed to consumer brands in 2020, Berk submitted its best year ever, growing fee income by more than 30% to $5.7m. That was underpinned by new business from AMB Sports and Entertainment, Balance Athletica, BBQ Guys, Cavit Wine, Collectable, Comcast, MLS, Patreon and Weedmaps, along with numerous socially-focused efforts for existing clients such as Puma, Michael Rubin, Robert Kraft, the NFL and Meghan Thee Stallion.
Alongside Ron Berkowitz, Berk’s leadership team features COO/EVP Ryan Mucatel and SVP Marisa Carstens. Remote working challenges caused the firm to take a closer look at culture in 2020, resulting in numerous initiatives to help employees thrive while working at home. There was also a comprehensive training platform that focused on such topics as remote working, organization, mental health, unconscious bias and effective communication, and Berk established its first Diversity & Inclusion Council.
Berk’s commitment to social justice sees it spearheading national initiatives such as the REFORM Alliance and ‘Free Meek’ to address the injustices affecting disenfranchised Black and minority communities. Berk also worked on several prison reform programmes, with Yo Gotti, Kim Kardashian, Fat Joe and Common, and supported Roc Nation and the NFL’s Inspire change programme. Meanwhile, the firm’s client work reflects its superior pop culture sensibilities, including the Puma x J Cole RS Dreamer shoe drop (which sold out in 20 minutes); NFL’s Inspire Change initiatives; the ALL IN Challenge that raised $59.5m for nonprofits focusing on food insecurity; the REFORM Alliance; and, the release of Arthur Blank’s book, ‘Good Company’.
— Arun Sudhaman
Founded in 2015 by Ken Byers, a former Sony senior brand manager, and former Weber Shandwick senior VP Garland Harwood, Confidant refers to itself as a collective of “big agency defectors” bound by their shared goal of better serving clients with small, more dedicated teams.
New York (PR) and Nashville (creative).
Confidant's consumer focus spans owned, earned, and paid media. The firm's infrastructure is built to support strong in-house teams and more integrated storytelling. The firm guarantees its big-name clients (Amazon, Sony and Shake Shack among them) senior-level expertise, and does not hire entry-level employees. Instead, the firm leverages senior level generalist storytellers whose capabilities include media relations, creative and content development, culture marketing, reputation management, integrated campaigns, social media, brand strategy, design, advertising, video, digital and experiential.
Confidant’s numbers paint a very impressive picture. In 2020, revenue rose to $3.6m in 2020 from $2.4m — a 50% increase. The firm grew by three employees to 18. The surge in revenue was fueled by new assignments from key clients, as well as new wins. Hired by one Amazon division in 2017, Confidant by the end of 2020 was handling PR for six of them. New business came Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty, Pathwater, and chickpea-based food company Banza, which joined existing clients BarkBox, Shake Shack and Sony.
Confidant added new talent to its team in 2020, hiring Lydia Voles, a 30-year industry vet as the agency’s first chief of staff; corporate comms expert Bianca Illion; consumer lifestyle pro Jordan Sweat; and Matt Luzuriaga whose career in public relations includes supporting large global brands with corporate communications, integrated marketing campaigns, executive visibility and more.
Ensuring the well-being of Confidant’s team was of paramount importance throughout 2020, starting with the early days of the Covid pandemic when the agency’s staff stayed in near-constant communication despite physical distancing. Thursday evenings were reserved for virtual happy hours — no shop talk allowed. Every year, each staff member must participate in a Diversity and Inclusion training program, which can be completed online at their own pace. In the wake of the death of George Floyd and in celebration of Pride Month, the agency and staff (with company matches) donated nearly $10,000 to organizations that protect, serve and support the advancement of people of color and LGBTQIA+ individuals. In 2020, Confidant launched a partnership with Brooklyn Community Services (BCS), donating to the organization essential items for Brooklyn families and supporting BCS with PR work on a pro-bono basis.
Confidant bills itself as a generalist but has a long list of capabilities more akin to coalitions of creative firms than one small operation: PR & media relations, creative + content development, culture marketing, reputation management, and integrated campaigns. The firm’s offerings also include social media & influence, branded events, brand strategy, brand design & identity, advertising, video & photo production, digital & web development, and experiential marketing.
Yet that doesn’t come with diluted skill sets, as every team member of Confidant’s PR team is hands-on and holds deep expertise in media relations and a shared belief in the efficacy of integrated campaigns. Every team member is kept apprised of where business is at, allowing for better collaboration as needed at every stage of client work.
— Diana Marszalek
Jennifer Curley founded Curley Company in 2002 as a woman-owned, woman-led agency that has since been certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. The boutique agency no doubt benefited from its corporate, public affairs and crisis focus in 2020, when it registered explosive growth and broadened its offering in light of rising demand.
Washington DC (HQ).
Curley is best known for public and corporate affairs, crisis communications and digital, but its full-service nature includes in-house video and design capabilities, that are a notch above most boutique players, along with a new association practice (up 47% in 2020). That helped Curley diversify its client base in 2020, supported by specific investment in public affairs and digital.
Curley’s fee income grew by 63% in 2020 to almost $4m, from 13 employees that implemented a ‘Pivot by Curley’ offering to help clients quickly shift strategic direction during the pandemic. There was new business from BlackBerry, Colorectal Cancer Alliance, Inova Health System, Corn Refiners Association/Plant Based Products Council, International Foodservice Distributors Association, Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center, University of Nebraska Medical Center, U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association and the ICP/Natural Security/Wildlife Conservation Society. Curley’s existing client roster features Aspen Dental, Association for Property and Casualty Insurers, Consumer Data Industry Association, Future Privacy Forum, Grant Thornton Public Sector, New Markets Tax Credit Coalition, Public Affairs Council, and Stuttering Foundation.
Curley’s culture reflects a mindset of leadership and collaboration. The firm created a DE&I task force to develop employee training and ensure a clearer focus on social justice issues. Curley also joined the Diversity Action Alliance, and has made it a priority to hire women- and minority-owned vendors. That included a female-owned HR partner in 2020, along with a minority female-owned marketing firm. Curley also supports Dress for Success DC and GlobalWIN.
The firm’s ‘Pivot by Curley’ guide, helped support the agency’s marketing and thought leadership efforts, while the launch of the Association 100 newsletter also bolstered the new business pipeline. Campaign highlights included the Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s effort to stop people delaying screening and treatment; a digital advocacy initiative to support the Association for Property and Casualty Insurers’ federal/state policy priorities; impressive media outreach for the University of Nebraska Medical Center; and a fundraising drive for Wells College.
— Arun Sudhaman
Founded in 2017 by experienced healthcare PR freelancer Nicole Osmer, Health+Commerce made its mark by taking big-company best practices to help launch healthcare startups and innovative technologies.
San Francisco/Silicon Valley; Orange County, CA; Portland, OR; Boise, ID; Philadelphia.
In four years, Health + Commerce has built an impressive list of clients in the healthcare space, with a focus on disruptive innovators in the biotech and medical device fields. The firm works exclusively with companies focused on changing the standard of care with new therapies or technologies that make an impact for physicians and patients. The business model designed to accommodate startups — no monthly minimums and no long-term commitments.
Like many healthcare firms, the agency saw notable growth in 2020 — in this case, revenue was up 37% to $5.1m. The firm ended 2020 with 25 full-time employees, up from 16 in the prior year. Among the key clients driving its formidable growth: Teleflex, Sarepta, Stoke, Azura Medical, Johnson & Johnson (Auris Health), Shockwave Medical, Virtual Incision, Imperative Care. New clients include: Varian Medical Systems, Longeviti, Optellum, Signifier Medical, UroDev Medical, Sight Sciences, Endpoint Health, argenx, Springworks and Neurescue.
Health + Commerce has a refreshing philosophy that should not be remarkable in this industry, but is: to retain employees, treat them like adults and allow them to do their work on their own time. As part of this, Health + Commerce has particularly low billability targets for employees — no employee's billability target is more than 85%. The bonus plan targets 10% of each employee’s salary based on financial goals. The firm acknowledged a struggle with attracting diverse candidates but is making efforts to remedy this. Key leadership includes Nicole Osmer who founded the firm after an in-house role at Abbott; chief client officer Krysta Pellegrino; EVP Aimee Corso, who was a longtime veteran of WE.
Among its most notable work is with Moderna, a company that is now globally-known for its Covid-19 vaccine, to spotlight its cancer portfolio. Activities included messaging, in addition to corporate and executive social media. For MMI Robotics, the firm advises on messaging, media relations, social media strategy and content marketing.
— Aarti Shah
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