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Hunter was founded in 1989 with a specialization in food and beverage PR and has expanded organically into adjacent categories in the years since to become one of the country's biggest pure play consumer firms.
New York (HQ).
In addition to F&B, Hunter's expertise includes health and beauty, home and lifestyle, travel and hospitality and retail. The firm's capabilities have evolved dramatically over the past decade to include a full suite of integrated consumer marketing services including brand strategy and planning; social and digital media; content creation for all mediums; and multicultural. Of note, Hunter now leads all marketing strategy and execution across owned, earned and paid channels for four clients. Over the past 12 months, the firm also expanded capabilities in three primary areas: brand and business strategy; crisis communications/issues management; and corporate communications — all of which is underpinned by a proprietary methodology it developed this year to help clients articulate their corporate and brand purpose and mission and build this into their strategic foundations and resulting programming.
Remarkably, Hunter defied pandemic challenges to grow fee income by 30% in 2020 to almost $32m, with headcount rising to 161 from 119 in 2019. That was down to expanded business across all major practice areas, including F&B (King's Hawaiian, Chicken of the Sea); home and lifestyle (Benjamin Moore, Burpee, Le Creuset), and health and beauty (Tytocare, Abbott Diagnostics). Hunter's existing client roster continues to feature Tabasco Pepper Sauce, the firm's first client from 1989, along with longstanding relationships with 3M (29 years), Church & Dwight (20 years), Johnson & Johnson (16 years), Diageo (14 years), Smithfield Foods (10 years), Pompeian (9 years), and Amazon (3 years), the last of which involved considerable service expansion to include devices, grocery, and corporate social media strategy and content.
Grace Leong, the firm's first employee 32 years ago, is CEO today, and runs the home and lifestyle business as well as a substantial portion of the food and beverage practice. Jon Lyon, with Hunter since 1994, leads the agency’s more culinary-focused food and beverage brands. Donetta Allen, who joined Hunter in 2000, founded the agency’s social, digital and influencer media practice in 2010. Gigi Garcîa Russo has been with the firm for 19 years and in addition to serving as the agency’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, oversees its extensive Amazon business as well as other fashion and lifestyle business. Erin Hanson returned to the firm in 2012 to lead its health and beauty practice.
Hunter added more than 40 staff to its roster in the past 12 months, including strategists and specialists in various practice areas to support both new business and organic growth. The firm traces its efforts to address the lack of diversity in the PR industry back to Barbara Hunter herself, who equalized pay between men and women as her very first move as chairwoman of D-A-Y in 1959. In 2020, Hunter addressed the need for more education, more advocacy, and more action – both internally and externally, creating an Anti-Racism Action Group which included three subcommittees focused on direct actions, advocacy and education. The firm has also implemented new mandatory unconscious bias and micro-aggression training for all staff and has doubled down on efforts to increase staff diversity. As a result, the proportion of non-white employees has grown by 5% since 2018 to 23%, almost double the industry average.
Hunter's proprietary purpose methodology has helped clients successfully navigate through plant closings, employee issues, supply chain challenges, food recalls, tariff threats, diversity and inclusion and the movement to address systemic racism, among others. The firm also added the SUZY platform to its suite of insights tools in late 2019, which was leveraged extensively throughout the pandemic for both client and agency-wide insights. For example, when Americans found themselves relying on their kitchens more than ever before, Hunter used SUZY to quantify how Covid-19 was impacting Americans’ food preferences and behaviors, resulting in the popular Hunter Food Study Special Report: America Gets Cooking.
Campaigns included three SABRE-nominated efforts: 'Scotch Painter's Tape Paints It Forward' which transformed rundown Brooklyn basketball courts for 3M, #ForTheGrams, Amazon Devices' effort to help families maintain holiday traditions while social distancing, and Scotch-Brite's 'Brand Holiday Gift Guide'. There were also notable initiatives for Johnnie Walker Black Label's Jane Walker women's equality programme, and helping Tequila Don Julio celebrate the bartenders and restaurant workers as the “hearts and souls” of Cinco de Mayo.
— Arun Sudhaman
Current Marketing was launched in 2006 as a boutique offering within the Interpubic family of agencies, and in 2019 merged with Creation, another IPG firm headquartered in the UK, to form Current Global.
Current Global has US offices in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and an international network that includes offices in London, Germany, India, China and Latin America.
While Current was known primarily as a consumer marketing specialist—consumer still accounts for 62% of revenues—it had developed expertise in healthcare and technology before the merger with Creation, which significantly expanded its corporate capabilities.
The momentum provided by the merger of Current and Creative proved too powerful for whatever headwinds may have resulted from the Covid crisis, and North American fee income was up by 30% in 2020, with 13% organic growth fueled in large part by an expanded corporate practice that helped companies with crisis and employee communications, adding a new string to the agency’s bow. There was new business from Covetrus, Enel, Impinj, Latch, Melissa & Doug, Orsted, Pfizer, Spark Cognition, Subway, and Wells Ice Cream, which joined a client roster that includes big brands such as Applebee's, Bloomberg Associates, Champion, The Clorox Company (five brands), FedEx, Novartis, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Papa John's, Radio Flyer, Shamrock Farms.
While others firms are playing catch-up when it comes to diverse talent at the senior level, Virginia Devlin and her leadership have made inclusion a priority in recent years, and so BIPOC talent makes up 32% of the firm’s senior VP and above talent—an impressive number. Key additions in 2020 included Lisa Shichijo, senior VP, healthcare; Neneh Diallo, senior VP, corporate; Alejandro Grau, VP, technology; Pegah Mariani Aviles, VP, healthcare; and Rebecca Roussell, VP, DEI communications. The firm was one of the first signatories to the Diversity and Action Alliance and one of the first to publicly share its data.
Current made news at the end of the year when it announced that it was committed to making all content and campaigns fully accessible to people of all abilities, including those with sight, hearing, speech and cognitive impairments—one of those initiatives that makes you wonder why all firms aren’t doing this. Beyond that, however, there was a year of impressive client work, from celebrating the history of Black barbecue for Kingsford Charcoal to supporting FedEx as the company promoted shopping and shipping early in a crazy Christmas period to handling new product launches for Papa John's and helping INRIX showcase its technology with a data driven story about how Covid was impacting travel patterns.
— Paul Holmes
Launched 24 years ago as a luxury, fashion and lifestyle PR firm by Elizabeth Harrison and Lara Shriftman, H&S had evolved into something quite different by 2021. At least part of that is down to ownership. After selling to Omnicom in 2003, the firm completed an MBO in 2020, buying back its independence but continuing to maintain key relationships with Omnicom agencies, notably Ketchum and BBDO.
New York (HQ) and Miami.
H&S retains a core focus on consumer, hospitality and lifestyle, but stands apart from many of its rivals by bringing an elevated level of cultural intelligence, particularly as it pertains to diversity and inclusion. For example, H&S partnered with SaaS player Reframe to improve corporate America’s urgently required ability to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture. That cross-cultural mindset permeates much of the firm’s offering, across fashion, technology, hospitality, entertainment, spirits, and food & beverage.
Unsurprisingly, 2020 proved a challenging year for H&S, not least because so many of its consumer-focused clients were adversely impacted by the pandemic, resulting in retainer and project cuts. The firm focused on its profit margin, kept its top clients, retained all of its senior leaders and, by the end of the year, had reached its revenue goals and reinstated bonuses. New business reflected H&S’ agility, including such names as Amazon, American Express, Capital Brands, Central Park Tower and Kering, which joined an existing client roster that features Bacardi Rum, Belvedere Vodka, Booking.com, Omega, Steinway & Sons, Volkswagen and Wacoal.
Elizabeth Harrison serves as CEO and the driving force at H&S, supported by chief brand officer Veronica Rodriguez. Of note, 70% of the firm’s leadership team are people of color, while the firm as a whole is 50% diverse, reflecting H&S’ commitment to DE&I. Employees are encouraged to join extracurricular activities that include Book Club and CSR programs. In the wake of #BLM, a group of diverse employees created Culture Club to offer their services to clients struggling to make sense of the new order in the wake of recent social injustice issues. Prior to Covid-19, the agency participated in an in-depth diversity training, sharing personal and professional challenges, while also bringing the agency together with words of support and commitment to do better. H&S also works with PENCIL to support project-based experiences for high school aged students that have expressed interest in working in the PR industry.
The firm’s thought leadership work includes its work with Reframe, which aims to transform corporate America culturally to reflect today’s diversity, and featured white papers and panel discussions. H&S’ marketing team relaunched its digital assets alongside the MBO, including an Instagram Live series called Coffee Break, which pairs H&S specialists with journalists, influencers and clients to share insights around their areas of expertise. Campaign highlights included Booking.com’s ‘Love Letters to America’; the extraordinary Color of Change Pedestal Project, which used A&R to transform Confederate statues; Bacardi Conga; and, ‘Book Your Resolution’ for Booking.com.
One of the leading independents on the New York marketplace for many years, M Booth was acquired by Next Fifteen (best known for its technology and digital capabilities) in 2009 and has been growing rapidly ever since.
M Booth offers national coverage from its headquarters office in New York and smaller satellite office in San Francisco, supported by parent company Next Fifteen’s global network.
While it is known primarily for its consumer work—largely due to strong creative work in sectors ranging from food to travel to financial services—M Booth has long had a formidable corporate capability, and in 2019 added a strong healthcare capability with the acquisition of the US operations of Health Unlimited (the former Cooney Waters). The firm has also been expanding digital and social, data and analytics and other content creation capabilities.
The pandemic hit M Booth clients hard, and the firm lost about $8 million in business, largely in the hard-hit travel and hospitality and retail sectors—traditional areas of strength. But the firm built back steadily over the course of the year, and ended 2020 above the $43 million mark, down just a few hundred thousand dollars from a record-setting 2019. The majority of that build-back revenue came from existing clients such as Beiersdorf, EY and Hood, while the firm also picked up new brands from Pepsi, 7-Eleven, and Bed, Bath & Beyond, as well as Maybelline, Coppertone, Federalist (Terlato Wines), Mercari, and Zen Business.
With chairman Margi Booth and chief executive Dale Bornstein at the helm, M Booth has a strong cadre of leadership talent—chief creative officer Adrianna Bevilaqua, chief insight and planning officer Bonnie Ulman, EVPs Jennifer Teitler (consumer marketing), Jon Paul Buchmeyer (brand marketing), Lauren Swartz (lifestyle), Matt Hantz (digital), Nancy Seliger (brand development and client experience), and Rich Goldblatt (corporate) and an impressively low turnover rate. That team has been supplemented by the healthcare group, led by Tim Bird and Karen Strauss.
Another driver of the firm’s remarkable recovery was the spirit of innovation, which saw the launch of new specialty teams focused on growth areas ranging from sustainability to diversity and inclusion; a new corporate group focused on culture and employee experience; and expanded digital and content capabilies—including the firm’s first TV commercial. The work was outstanding, with nine SABRE nominations, more than any other midsize agency. The firm’s work for Google for Education focused on the remote learning environment and the challenges that created for teachers and students. Partnering with M Booth Health, the firm launched the “Mask Up or Pack Up” campaign for Penn State. Other notable work ranged from a global breast cancer campaign for Estee Lauder to the “Forest of Hope” program for Tourism New Zealand.
— Paul Holmes
From its origins as a fashion and beauty specialist, Marina Maher Communications has grown to be one of the nation’s largest brand-building agencies, with strength in consumer and healthcare. It has remained a standalone agency within Omnicom since its acquisition a decade ago.
From its headquarters in New York, MMC handles national work, and through its MMK partnership with sister agency Ketchum it can provide international support.
Historically best known for its consumer brand-building capabilities, MMC has expanded into healthcare, now a substantial part of its overall revenues, and into digital and social media, enabling it to offer a modern, fully integrated next-generation capability.
Parent company Omnicom saw PR revenues decline by 4.2%, and while MMC was able to outperform the average it still saw revenues decline by low single digits in a challenging 2020. There were 15 new client wins over the course of the year, with a notable expansion of the healthcare practice into the biotech space. New additions included Allakos, Amgen, Anthem, Phathom Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, BioXcel, and Teva, and there was a corporate assignment from Johnson&Johnson. Those names join existing clients such as P&G, Aflac, Merck, Novartis, Eisai, and Coty.
The headline news on the people front was the elevation of Rema Vasan to president, just two years after joining MMC from MSL (although founder Marina Maher remains active and involved as CEO). There were new hires in 2020, most of them responding to, or driving, the firm’s new capabilities: Saveira Singh as executive director, digital innovation & storytelling; Mike Schaffer as group SVP, digital innovation; Brit Till as group creative director, content innovation; and Ivette Sanz Osso as managing director, business strategy. The firm also recorded 40% diversity in new hires, part of a commitment to greater inclusion that included new talent pipelines, partnerships with The Center and the Lagrant Foundation, and charitable donations.
MMC’s work was typically creative and impactful. It worked with Gillette’s Venus brand to connect with Gen Z consumers during the summer months, driving market share increases even as the pandemic impacted the personal care category. It helped Tide hijack a national conversation about hygiene to stress the importance of deep cleaning. It helped Head & Shoulders leverage Tik Tok to reach a new generation of consumers. And it created an outstanding influencer marketing campaign for Downy by solving influencers’ toughest laundry challenges. The latter effort showcased the power of MMC’s proprietary “Audiential” audience-first approach to influencer marketing, while the launch of the firm’s Makers’ Studio expanded its content capabilities, drawing on cultural trends to connect with consumers.
— Paul Holmes
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