2021 Public Affairs Agencies of the Year, North America | PRovoke Media

2021 Public Affairs Agencies of the Year

The 2021 North America PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 150 submissions and 50 virtual meetings with the best PR firms across the US and Canada. 

Winners were unveiled at the North American SABRE Awards ceremony, at which Zeno was named Overall Agency of the Year and Bully Pulpit Interactive won Specialist Agency of the Year. Analysis of all winners and finalists across 13 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Separately, you can find the 2021 SABRE Awards North America winners here.
 

Winner: Bully Pulpit Interactive (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.

aoy-location-iconLocations

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

aoy-focus-iconFocus

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. Its capabilities include the full range of paid, earned, shared and owned media, delivered in a seamless, integrated, channel-neutral approach.

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

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.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

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

 

Finalists

Global Strategy Group (Independent)

Founded in 1995, Global Strategy Group has its roots in political polling, particularly in the New York market. But while research remains a core part of the business, GSG has developed into a full-service public affairs firm with a national reach.

aoy-location-iconLocations

Global Strategy Group is headquartered in New York, with additional offices in Washington, DC; Hartford, Conn.; Denver, Chicago, and Seattle, WA. It works with clients in all 50 states.

aoy-focus-iconFocus

GSG’s primary focus is public affairs, on the national, state and local level, but it also works on progressive political campaigns and with issues organizations, and has a strong corporate reputation practice. All of that is supported by the kind of robust research capability one would expect from a firm with its roots in polling.

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

A blockbuster political season drove another year of growth for GSG in 2020, with campaign work (five US Senate candidates including heavily contested seats in Georgia and North Carolina, and more than 40 House candidates) supplemented by new business from Apollo Global Management, the Black Economic Alliance, Color of Change, the Equal Justice Initiative, Paid Leave for All, and Tyson Food, while the firm continues to work with key corporate clients such as Comcast NBC Universal, ConEdison, ESPN, H&R Block, MGM Casinos, Pfizer, T-Mobile and Uber, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

The long-tenured leadership team is led by founding partners Jon Silvan (CEO), 
Jefrey Pollock (president), managing director of corporate and public affairs Tanya Meck, director of research Nick Gourevitch, and Jim Papa, who leads the Washington, DC, office. A key addition in 2020 was Jackie Cannon, a veteran of Glover Park who joined as senior vice president, research. In a difficult work environment, the firm took steps to enhance employee communication, connectivity, and wellness, from targeted morale boosting initiatives such as its QuaranTEAM meetings, and a host of virtual staff events. The firm also placed a renewed emphasis on cultural competency training and practice.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Once again, GSG was involved in a host of major issues. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the firm partnered with Paid Leave for All on a campaign to advocate for paid family and medical leave for all Americans and conducted research for ESPN to help understand consumer perceptions about the return of live sports. On the racial justice front, the firm worked with Color of Change to highlight racial disparities in the economic impact of the pandemic, and worked with the Black Economic Alliance to elevate its voices in the wake of the George Floyd killing. And through the election, the firm worked with Priorities USA, which is the largest Democratic Party Super PAC. Other high-profile work included a focused public affairs campaign to protect and promote Tyson Foods’ reputation in DC and nationally.

Paul Holmes

Kivvit (Independent)

Kivvit was created in October of 2014 through the merger of ASGK Public Strategies and M Public Affairs, with the goal of bringing the tenacity—and results-orientation—of political campaigns into corporate and nonprofit sectors and has grown to become one of America’s largest public affairs consultancies.

aoy-location-iconLocations

Kivvit has operations across the United States, with offices in Chicago (HQ), Miami, New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC.

aoy-focus-iconFocus

Kivvit is best known for public affairs and issues management work with a variety of clients in the non-profit sector, labor organizations, and higher education, as well as a growing number of corporations, as well as for its outstanding digital operations—including an investment in proprietary data and analytics that powers its campaigns and enables it to demonstrate real business impact.

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

Fee income was up modestly for the year (about 3%), but Kivvit invested significant resources in new talent and in the technology infrastructure that is critical to its work, driving a 98% increase in digital revenues. It also picked up a number of new clients, including issues-driven organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety, Wheels Up, the National Education Association, the Council on Criminal Justice; government agencies such as the New Jersey Department of Health, Illinois Department of Human Services (for work related to the 2020 Census), and the Chicago Board of Elections; and corporate clients such as Scotts and the Goldman Sachs Foundation. They join a client roster that includes Anheuser-Busch, Google, Tesla and more.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Led by managing directors Eric Sedler (who founded Kivvit’s predecessor firms in partnership with Democratic political consultant David Axelrod) and Maggie Moran, supported by Zach Silber as chief innovation officer and Stephan Miller, who joined from 202 Strategies last year as chief brand strategist. Other new additions in 2020 included former New York Governor David Paterson as senior advisor; Kristin Ferrer as director of digital operations; and Kelly Meissgeier as director of digital strategy. Team-building was a priority throughout the year, with an emphasis on supporting the mental and physical well-being of employees during the lockdown, and on increasing diversity and inclusion.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

As the US faced twin crises in the Covid pandemic and the justified anger that followed the murder of George Floyd, Kivvit’s ability to provide real-time data and insights to its clients proved invaluable, but the firm also acted on its own, partnering with New Jersey’s largest news outlet to provide vital coronavirus data to ordinary citizens in the state, and with this publication to examine the digital drivers of Black Lives Matter engagement. Its work for clients, meanwhile, generated seven SABRE nominations for work on the Illinois Census, Educators for Joe, and The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. Elsewhere, Kivvit broked ground on the Obama Presidential Center after a five year campaign, passed cannabis legalization in New Jersey, and mobilized bipartisan support for environmental ballot measures in Michigan and Texas, demonstrating the breadth of its capabilities as never before.

Paul Holmes

Marathon Strategies (Independent)

Marathon Strategies was founded in 2008 by Phil Singer, a veteran of high-profile political campaigns and has grown to more than 40 people working on a variety of campaigns ranging from influencing policy to applying insights.  

aoy-location-iconLocations

Washington DC (HQ), New York, Albany

aoy-focus-iconFocus

Marathon’s mission is to deliver influence at speed with intelligence. The firm prides itself on acting quickly while also asking challenging and thoughtful questions that often lead to big ideas, all with hands-on senior management.  The team includes communications professionals, campaign operatives, crisis managers, journalists, researchers, digital experts, graphic designers, and television producers. The agency’s practice areas include national, local, and international public affairs; reputation and issues management; research and investigations; digital advocacy; and creative campaigns.

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

Despite the challenges of 2020, revenues were up more than 14% to $14.4m. Even so, the firm did implement a hiring freeze to protect the existing team. Moreover, Marathon retained nearly all of its clients, adding more than two dozen new accounts along the way. Among the new wins: The Food Industry Association, Randstad US & Randstad Technologies Group, Ocean Power Technologies, among many others. The new wins join existing clients that include Walmart, Airlines for America and the Consulate of Japan, among others. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, Marathon Strategies focused on three areas to overcome the challenges: protect our people and ensure business continuity; identify innovative ways to support clients; and leverage the PR industry’s strengths to help businesses, charities, and others manage the crisis.

In addition to the hiring freeze, leadership prioritized transparency and communication, while also addressing issues employees faced, such as offering flexibility with child care. There were also virtual socializing and talent shows, as well as continued learning and development. The firm has not established diverse hiring metrics, but is making efforts to recruit more diverse candidates.

Key staff include managing director & founder Phil Singer who has worked for Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry; managing director & COO Jane Hardey; research managing director Ray Hernandez; chief creative officer Jim Scott Polsinelli; Alison Reemer, managing director client service. New hires include NBC News alum Natalie Cucchiara.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

During the pandemic, Marathon put a premium on innovation that could leverage the PR industry’s strengths to support clients and do good amid the crisis. This sparked Covid-19 Covered, a free newsletter and website helping clients make decisions amid a changing regulatory landscape while connecting corporate resources to charities in need. Other thought-leadership includes Meet the Freshmen to provide an overview of the positions that incoming members of Congress have on many issues including antitrust, Big Tech and Wall Street; and Marathon Insights that focuses on reputation management through an online intelligence program that helps clients stay ahead of what’s being said about them.

Notable work includes taking up a 22-year fight for American victims of the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa that resulted in Congress passing legislation. For Walmart, Marathon embarked on a voter education initiative; and the Cannabis Information Project promoted the industry’s benefits as lawmakers decided which businesses would remain open. This work won a 2021 PRovoke Innovation SABRE Award. The agency also has three campaigns nominated for the 2021 North American SABRE Awards.

Aarti Shah

ROKK Solutions (Independent)

Six-year-old bipartisan public affairs shop ROKK Solutions is led by founding partners Rodell Mollineau and Ron Bonjean, both of whom bring considerable political, public affairs and crisis communications experience. The firm now numbers 30+ associates and is 50% minority owned.

aoy-location-iconLocations

Washington DC (HQ).

aoy-focus-iconFocus

ROKK’s public affairs expertise spans financial services, technology, public health, trade, and transportation,  influencing policy on a local, state, and national level. Most recently the firm has expanded its digital and paid media practice under SVP Rachel Winer, and MD Lindsay Singleton launched a social impact communications offering, which aims to help clients build stronger community relationships. 

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

ROKK’s new business has included Anheuser Busch, Delta Airlines, Gap, Southern Company, Astellas, Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, Medline Industries, Centerline Logistics, Alethea Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers, which join an existing roster that features 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, International Franchise Association, Civic Responsibility Project, SmarterSafer, Amway and Electronic Payments Coalition. In particular there has been a notable uptick in CSR, crisis and digital integration work. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Mollineau and Bonjean oversee a team that includes new partner Kristen Hawn, newly-promoted MD Lindsay Singleton, and new digital SVP Rachel Winer. The firm is 50% minority-owned, 75% female and 25% people of color, and runs a number of internal professional development programmes, including the School of ROKK, for staff. ROKK supports the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition on a pro-bono basis, while Hawn and Singleton launched Women who ROKK in 2019, in a bid to elevate women in communications in the nation’s capital. 

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

ROKK partners with research partner Engagious on thought leadership activity, most notably 2020’s ‘Back to Normal Barometer’ which also involved the Sports and Leisure Research Group to paint a picture of consumer perception in the travel and leisure space during the pandemic. That study helped bring in 12 major trade associations as new clients. Other campaign highlights included the Doctor Patient Unity campaign for Envision Healthcare, turning the tide on the surprise medical billing issue and slowing proposed legislation. 

Arun Sudhaman