2021 Small PR Agencies of the Year, North America | PRovoke Media

2021 North America Small PR 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: Crosby (Independent)

Crosby is as rooted in the community it gets, starting with its inception in 1973 when Ralph Crosby bought three small tourist guides and grew a communications agency serving clients in his hometown, Annapolis Maryland. Today, under the watch of Ralph’s son Raymond, Crosby still has all the makings of a neighborhood shop, driven by a mission of serving healthcare and consumer clients dedicated to serving families — Kaiser Permanente, Shriners Hospitals for Children and Disabled Veterans among them.

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Annapolis MD (HQ) and Washington DC. 

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One of the country's leading healthcare players, Crosby provides integrated PR, digital, social media and brand communications services to public and private players in the sector alike. Of note, the firm is ranked as a Top 100 firm for federal government communications based on the volume of its GSA contracts, and is one of only a handful of agencies in the country with a dedicated military practice to serve this distinct consumer segment.

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

2020 was the most profitable year in Crosby’s nearly 50-year history, with fee income jumping from $23.3m in 2019 to $29.3m in 2020, representing 22% growth. The Washington Business Journal ranked Crosby the fourth largest PR firm in the greater DC area. With that came a growth in headcount, which rose from 85 at the start of the year to 99 and included the addition of two senior strategists. All of whom supported $3m in new business wins from Cybercrime Support Network, Telehealth.HHS.gov, Refuah Health, and the Santa Clara County California Department of Health. Other key clients include Kaiser Permanente, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), Disabled American Veterans, Energy Star, Organdonor.gov, Military OneSource, Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Social Security Administration, and Wallace Foundation. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Crosby added two new senior executives to its team in 2020, both of whom joined from Edelman. Megan Humphries was hired to oversee the firm’s health and federal government practices. Julia Krahe joined to build out Crosby’s PR, media relations and crisis communications capabilities and serve key clients. The firm tapped its own Lee Gatchel to support growth in designing and developing innovative digital properties and user experiences, as senior VP of experience design.

Crosby supported its employees personally and professionally from its shift to teleworking in late February on, promoting the availability of mental health services, remaining in constant contact through virtual meetings and surveys. The firm also made the transition to working at home easier by investing $325,000 in technology upgrades. Twice during the pandemic Crosby gave all staffers $200 in “Covid cash” for a personal or family splurge. The firm also continued its tradition of community support, giving all 99 employees $200 to donate to their charity of choice on top of donating $300,000 to local food banks and nonprofits. The banner year in business led to record cash bonuses. 

Crosby bolstered its D&I efforts, which include tracking progress through an annual affirmative action plan. The firm also now offers employees a six-part D&I training program. Crosby promotes open positions on key websites such as BlackCareers.org, AllHispanicjobs.com, AllLGBT.org, and participates in job fairs and recruits from HBUCs such as Howard and Morgan State universities. 

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Crosby’s hallmark 2020 work includes PSA campaign to support Disabled American Veterans in raising awareness of the free services it provides to veterans and their families. The print, broadcast, radio, and outdoor PSAs generated 10.4 billion and $107 million in donated media. The year’s other notable efforts included generating robust media coverage of pertinent health issues on behalf of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and driving donations to Shriners Hospitals through online engagement. 

Diana Marszalek



Finalists

 Day One (Independent)

Seven years ago Day One launched to be the agency that stops the world in its scroll. In less than a decade, the creative firm has landed a pile of awards and top-tier clients that prove it did more than make the world stop — it also made the world care and react with work that blends empathy and agility with culture-worthy thinking.

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New York (HQ), Los Angeles and Chicago (opened in June 2020).

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Day One has crafted its enviable niche as a premier consumer shop built around three centers of excellence that reflect the phases of storytelling: shape, share and fuel. The agency considers each pillar to be critical, staffing each equally. The result is work that blends PR, digital and social campaigns that are results-driven, and culture-worthy for top consumer brands.  

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While many of their competitors stalled or even took a hit in 2020, Day One grew by an outstanding 12% capping the year at $23.8m — with 37% of the growth coming from existing clients widening their wallets, a significant boon for an agency designed to go deeper with fewer clients. Day One’s lean, well-oiled operations mean despite its growth, it only added two additional team members. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Day One credits many dimensions of diversity for fueling its creativity. With this mindset, the agency is enhancing its DE&I initiatives across three pillars: recruit, advance, and retain/engage. The plan is to increase BIPOC representation to more than 40% and senior leadership to 25% by 2025, as well reducing BIPOC turnover by 10%. But the agency didn’t just start this work in 2020, its longstanding focus on the issue has led to BIPOC employees making up 37% of the workforce — up from 17% in 2018.

Co-founder Josh Rosenberg leads the firm as CEO alongside fellow entrepreneurs Brad Laney and Rob Longert. Also at the helm are managing director Jamie Falkowski, GM for Day One West Blake Cadwell, and EVP Heather Feit. New hires include SVPs Ashley Hurst and Gillian Kushner and director Taslima Parvin who is enhancing DE&I initiatives.  

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Day One’s key clients include an array of brands with a notable cultural imprint, among them: Abercrombie & Fitch, American Express, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Comcast, Facebook, Ferrara, Motorola and Nike. New additions include: Basil Hayden's; plus new Ferrara brands: Keebler, Mother's Cookies, Famous Amos, Funables; and Maserati.

With culture moving faster than ever in 2020, Day One showcased its agile trend-spotting by adding new products and services that hit the right notes for the moment. For instance, Tik Tok 101 is a primer on that platform that dramatically spiked during the pandemic; Remotely Creative supercharged creation when people were physically stuck; and its “Studio” Studio transformed homes into production studios for shooting Instgrams, Reels, and Trillers for clients. The agency’s Story School is a 5-week class with 30-minute lessons focused on developing and communicating great ideas.

The initiative that best embodies Day One’s bold approach to creativity is its “The Ones to Know” program that elevates underrepresented creators who are driving subculture trends — a response to the “sea of sameness” crowding the influencer/creator landscape. The agency’s investment in new thinking continues to pay-off. Day One nabbed nine Innovation SABRE Award nominations, as well as four wins including a Best in Show shortlist for Chipotle Wins The Super Bowl with TikTok Timeout. At the North America SABRE Awards, Day One has three campaigns on the shortlist.

Aarti Shah

Lambert (Independent)

Founded in Jeff Lambert’s basement in Grand Rapids, Lambert retains the scrappy underdog ethos that has guided its journey from such humble beginnings to becoming Michigan’s largest public relations firm. 

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In addition to Grand Rapids and Michigan cities Detroit and Lansing, there are offices in New York and now Houston, thanks to its December acquisition of the PR department of 9thWonder.

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An early adopter of the PR / IR model, Lambert is a key player in the investor relations, automotive and mobility and private equity sectors. 2020 saw considerable expansion, including the launch of fintech platform Tiicker, which allows public companies to reward individuals who own stock in their brands. The firm also backed Equalsign, a D&I-focused marketing and communications consultancy, and bolstered its creative and advertising capabilities with the acquisition of Fairly Painless Advertising and the PR division of 9thWonder.

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Lambert’s 29.5% growth in 2020 is impressive in and of itself, but particularly noteworthy given the year’s business challenges, from Covid-19 to the distressed rust belt economy. Lambert closed out the year as a $13.6m business, up from $10.5m in 2019. The firm’s headcount grew to 74 from 56. New business came from an array of companies — Beyond Type 1, Co-Diagnostics, Faurecia, Greenleaf Trust, Liberty SBF, Phillips 66 and Sumdog among them — which joined a roster already populated by the likes of Bell/Textron, Ranir/Perrigo, Huron Capital, Michigan Economic Development Corp., North American International Auto Show, Shyft Group and Wolverine Worldwide. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Rather than caving to Covid, Lambert made a conscious effort to weather 2020 optimistically, going so far to make it “positively legendary” for talent and clients, as well as the firm itself. The firm also supported the community through efforts including purchasing 1.2 million medical masks to support a non-profit organization struggling to serving 60 countries and the neediest. Lambert helped a consumer client raise $6 million to survive the pandemic and reignite their momentum. 2020 also marked Lambert making the commitment to becoming better allies to the Black community, and backing that up with action plans to support, cultivate, and advance team members and clients. Adding allyship to its core values, Lambert has launched a reimagined DE&I activation team to lead internal and external initiatives. Jeff Lambert, launched the firm’s not-for-profit arm, Americantbreathe.org, which so far has raised $250,000 to invest in Black and brown businesses and support other nonprofits.

In addition to Lambert, the leadership team includes partner and president Don Hunt, a 20-year veteran of the firm. In the last year, though, Lambert invigorated the team with new hires including chief growth officer Sarah Smith, who joined from Olympia Entertainment, and chief of staff Walter Ward, who joined from MorganFranklin. Chief brand strategist Kelli Coleman brings experience from a decade at GlobalHue, once the country’s largest minority-owned marketing & comms agency. 

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Jeff Lambert was determined to make 2020 a banner year regardless of Covid, and systematically did so through a string of launches and acquisitions that expanded capabilities — won him recognition from the business journal MiBiz, which named him executive Dealmaker of the Year. Fintech platform Tiicker, which Lambert launched in July, allows public companies to reward individuals who own stock in their brands. The firm helped launch Equalsign, a D&I-focused marketing and communications consultancy, as a minority investor. The firm bolstered its creative and advertising capabilities with the acquisition of the firm Fairly Painless Advertising. Buying the PR division of 9thWonder expanded Lambert’s geographical presence. The year’s key work included supporting the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan in its effort to secure government funding, and Detroit Public Schools in its return-to-school campaign. 

Diana Marszalek

Lippe Taylor (Independent)

A longtime player in the fashion and beauty business, Lippe Taylor has in recent years broadened its consumer portfolio, built up an impressive healthcare capability, and expanded its suite of digital tools, including sophistication analytics.

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From its headquarters office in New York (relocated to new downtown space in 2020), Lippe Taylor offers national programming. It shares space with its Shop PR subsidiary. The firm is also developing offices in Chicago and Los Angeles.

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Until relatively recently, Lippe Taylor was one of a number of New York consumer boutiques, keeping a low-profile and delivering solid earned media results for clients. But over the past decade, the firm has diversified its client portfolio—the healthcare practice is now a formidable player in its own right—and invested heavily in digital and social media capabilities and data and analytics, establishing itself as one of the market’s most forward-thinking brand builders. Last year also saw the addition of a corporate branding practice.

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After a strong start to the year, the second quarter saw Lippe Taylor lose about $1 million in fees from clients who shut down or cut back on PR work in the face of the pandemic. But management made a bet that the business would bounce back—there were no layoffs—and by the end of the summer it was clear that a recovery was underway: Lippe Taylor ended the year with fees up by about 10%, retaining almost all the firm’s key clients and seeing new business from brands such as Clarus, Flintstones Vitamins, Aleve and Aspirin, Nature Made, Phillips, Pinterest, Atkins, Quest Nutrition, Spectracide, and Zantac—many of them strengthening relationships with existing brand portfolios from companies like Bayer and Sanofi. Lippe Taylor ended the year with fees of around $23.5 million and a run rate that augurs well for 2021.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Not only did founder Maureen Lippe and CEO Paul Dyer elect not to lay people off in response to the crisis, they made a number of investments in people initiatives, introducing an unlimited paid time-off policy, mental health reimbursement, and a student loan repayment scheme, and relocated to new, larger office space in trendy downtown. Game nights and improv classes fostered a sense of togetherness even as people were forced apart. And diversity consultant Joe Colon was brought in to advise on a renewed commitment to diversity, accompanied by a $1 million pro bono commitment to social justice causes. 

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The latest addition to Lippe Taylor’s increasingly impressive suite of digital, data and analytics, and content creation capabilities, Media CoLab is a new approach to collaborative content development, with media partners and consumers. It sits alongside a new content studio that is developing integrated work across paid and earned channels. That’s driving creative work for clients like Midol, revitalizing a heritage brand with new storytelling, influencer marketing, organic social and newsjacking. The firm has also been developing an array of social content for clients like Aspirin, and expanded its capabilities into corporate branding work for Citi and executive positioning for its chief marketing officer Carla Hassan.

Paul Holmes

Walker Sands (Independent)

For 20 years, Walker Sands has expanded into new realms of B2B marketing, often challenging the boundaries of PR and communications. Two years ago Walker Sands rebranded as a B2B growth agency to reflect its broad offerings. 

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Chicago (HQ), Seattle, San Francisco

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The firm focuses on B2B tech with practice areas dedicated to AI, distribution and logistics, electronics, fintech, HR tech, IT services, insurance tech, marketing tech, professional services, retail, and others. Last year, the firm expanded its integrated creative offerings and refined its marketing strategy service.

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In 2020, Walker Sands marched on with its remarkable growth record with 6.5% growth, landing at $21.3m. This caps a five year span that resulted in triple-digit growth. Even amid rapid growth, Walker Sands champions an employee-first culture.

Key clients include an amazing number of new accounts, won amid a challenging backdrop. Among them, AmWins, Moxtra, Social Solutions, Provenir, DailyPay and Deltek, These join existing clients: 1WorldSync, Miller Heiman Group, Globant, Nintex, Entrust, Paylocity.

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When it comes diversity, equity and inclusion, Walker Sands focuses on a culture of inclusion across the talent lifecycle: attracting and recruiting to offboarding and re-deploying. In 2020, the firm hired a DEI consultant to develop a roadmap and KPIs. The firm is a mainstay on our Best Agencies to Work For list for its benefits and policies, like flexible PTO and expansive health insurance, among other policies. The agency turned up the volume on virtual get togethers during the pandemic. Transparency also came to the forefront with quarterly meetings to discuss the health of the business and town halls. The agency plans to allow remote working for the foreseeable future.

CEO Mike Santoro has succeeded founder Ken Gaebler. Santoro has overseen the firm’s growth from a 15-person boutique agency to an integrated marketing agency with 130 team members across offices in Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. Leadership also includes Dave Parro, partner and EVP of operations; Andrew Cross, partner and EVP of services; Allison Ward, partner and SVP of talent; and Mark Miller SVP of finance.  

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IT company Ensono needed a campaign that would associate its brand name with a social good initiative. After launching a successful data report in 2019, Walker Sands conducted Ensono’s second annual “Speak Up 2020: Redesigning Tech Conferences with Women in Mind” report centered on unconscious bias in conference design, as well as an expanded look at racial diversity. Enterprise learning and development platform NovoEd partnered with Walker Sands to refresh NovoEd’s verbal and visual identity, a website redesign and a PR program to build NovoEd’s media presence as an industry thought leader. 

Aarti Shah