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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 also soared beyond its consumer roots making notable strides across multiple sectors, culture, and data and analytics.
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.
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. Across these practice groups, the firm’s expertise spans content creation & production; corporate strategy; crisis management; data & analytics; DE&I strategy; employee engagement; influencer marketing; media relations & training; public affairs; social media; and social purpose.
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.
It’s been 18 months 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, in addition to new hires; Claire Koeneman as North America corporate communications practice lead and Tiffiny Bolden, global head of human resources. The firm’s most notable departure was its global healthcare lead Neera Chaudhary who joined Ketchum. Gary Rudnick remains president & COO and Fred Cook has transitioned to a chair emeritus role.
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.
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.
— Aarti Shah
The largest agency in the WPP public relations family, formed in 2018 by the merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Global chief executive Donna Imperato and North American president Chris Foster 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. 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.
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.
— Paul Holmes
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.
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.
Fleishman’s roots are in business-to-business and corporate communications, but today it is a genuine full-service agency.
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.
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.”
There was plenty of award-worthy work in 2020, ranging from 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
Real Chemistry was built for this moment. Its astonishing growth trajectory over the past decade and uncanny foresight has culminated during the pandemic as its edge in health innovation and digital analytics thrust Real Chemistry into a leadership role within the industry and beyond.
US offices include: San Francisco (HQ); Atlanta; Austin; Baltimore; Beverly Hills, CA; Boston; Chicago; Florham Park, NJ; Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis, MN; Montclair, NJ; New Hope, PA; New York, NY (3 locations); Pasadena, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; Wilmington, NC. Additional offices in the UK and EMEA.
The premise that Real Chemistry built its value proposition on has never been more relevant: data-driven healthcare that empowers better outcomes. Within these parameters, Real Chemistry has evolved its capabilities to reflect the changing healthcare landscape — rather than simply following PR trends. This culminated in the firm’s most recent rebrand to become Real Chemistry, described as a global health innovation company. But what, exactly, does that mean? The explanation is as alarming as it is inspiring: fusing data, analytics and the art of human interaction it can “know our audiences better than they know themselves.”
Real Chemistry has been working with nearly every company in the eye of the pandemic’s storm. That translated to tremendous business momentum with North America revenue landing at $334m — up more than 30% on an organic basis. This caps nearly 20 years of consecutive double-digit growth, including supercharged growth over the past five years that has seen the agency grow five times its 2015 revenue. The agency maintains margins that exceed 20% and 70% of its revenue comes from its top 30 clients. Real Chemistry grew its 1,500-person agency by more than 600 employees in 2020. Among that number, 350 were new hires.
Tapping into the ethos of its San Francisco roots, Real Chemistry calls itself a nearly $400m startup and, for employees, this includes a constantly evolving journey. “We went into this pandemic as one thing and came out another,” founder/CEO Jim Weiss says. He’s talking about the most recent rebrand but also a deeper revelation: the industry has fundamentally changed and the agencies that embrace this have an formidable advantage.
Real Chemistry works with 29 out of the top 30 pharmaceutical companies and counseled most healthcare companies at the center of the pandemic. In addition, Real Chemistry provided real-time crisis counseling for 15+ clients on DE&I. All 15 companies took action, including a $100 million commitment by a large client to promote “health equity solutions for Black people and other communities of color in the US.” The standout work that Real Chemistry can publicly promote include: launching Restylane Kysse lip filler during the Covid-19 pandemic as doctor offices closed and building a virtual customer experience for STAGR that took home honors for Best Digital Platform at the Innovation SABRE Awards. The agency also garnered more than 10 SABRE Award North America 2021 nominations.
— Aarti Shah
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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
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