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Icon Agency was founded in Melbourne in 2002 by innovative husband and wife team Joanne Painter and Christopher Dodds. Their vision was to combine the disciplines of PR, digital marketing and advertising into a new, connected model of creatively-led communications. After expanding from its consumer PR beginnings to government and corporate PR, the firm now operates at the forefront of modern PR, helping clients adapt to disruptions such as digital transformation, big data, influencer marketing and the experience economy. The agency has developed particular specialisms in deep web and digital marketing, as well as multi-channel behaviour change and social marketing, including data-driven, creative integrated campaigns to counter violent extremism, and ‘Counter Communications’, an emerging field of PR practice focused on addressing misinformation and fake news. As it enters its third decade, Icon has introduced a new brand positioning, ‘For People, with Purpose’, reflecting its ambition to make a positive impact on people’s lives and the planet. In 2021, Icon opened a new headquarters in Sydney, and introductions included the launch of a secure forms product, a new webinar and podcast service, The Content Garden – a dedicated video, content and film production studio – and I-Chat - an AI-driven chatbot to improve citizen communications.
Icon's 80 staff work across offices in three Australian cities: Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.
Icon has emerged from the Covid era as one of the largest independent communications agencies in Australia. After a strong performance in 2020, growth accelerated over 2021 thanks to a slew of wins and strong growth across its content, digital, health and government communication practices, resulting in revenues up 84% to A$15m and gross profits up 75%. Overall, the volume of new business over 2021 more than doubled, including Icon’s biggest ever account win: an AUD$9.4m government project in health and ageing. Other new clients included more government departments and construction firm Hansen Yuncken, who joined a roster including Mondelez, Schneider Electric, ADP, Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation, the University of Melbourne and software firm Airwallex.
Icon grew from 58 to 80 staff in 2021 and the agency achieved gender parity across the business and the leadership team. Icon also introduced a positive discrimination policy to attract and retain more women in traditionally male-dominated disciplines such as web development and creative, as well as more people of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Asian descent. While multiculturalism has always been a cornerstone of the agency (it manages the Australian Government’s countering violent Islamic extremism program), it has doubled-down on diversity commitments, continuing to build its Chinese-speaking team, and is on target to achieve 40% of staff from international, culturally and/or linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, including SE Asia, the UK and New Zealand, by 2025.
Painter and Dodds are supported by a leadership team including director of integrated client services Hazel Tiernan, COO Gerard Roche, and director of sales Rob Cleeve, who played a major role in the agency’s new business success. New hires included director of communications and PR Fiona Forbes, creative director Andrew North, and director of people and culture Karen Leung. As well as introducing an ultra-flex workplace model, Icon faced down the great resignation by allowing employees to work from anywhere in Australia, and overseas for up to two months a year. It also introduced an employee assistance program to support the team’s mental health and wellness, including counseling, meditation, workshops and training.
In 2021, the agency introduced its Icon EDM platform for sharing best practice campaigns, company news, market insights and customer interviews and started a reputation blog. Standout work over the year included SABRE-shortlisted campaigns for CARE Australia, a Dubai Expo campaign for the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and integrated stillbirth public awareness and behaviour change campaign for the Still Six Lives Consortium. Icon also developed a multi-channel counter-communications campaign for the Department of Home Affairs to counter the risk of right-wing violent extremism, designed to engage young Australian men before they become radicalised.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Eight 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.
Day One has offices in New York (HQ), Los Angeles, Chicago and Portland, Oregon.
As an earned creative agency, Day One is built around three pillars of storytelling excellence: Shape, Share & Fuel – all core to its creative process. In the past year, however, the firm has also doubled down on developing new and expanding existing offerings to meet clients’ audiences where they are at. New service offerings include Day One Studios, dedicated to all things social storytelling and production; AskGenZ, a platform that allows users to submit questions and get responses from GenZers within 24 hours; and Ones To Know, a dedicated resource designed to elevate underrepresented creators who are driving subculture trends. In 2021, being responsive to rapid change allowed Day One to continue to adapt and focus on growing its retained roster of some of the world’s biggest brands like American Express, Nike, Meta, Chipotle, Ferrara and Maserati. New business from Walmart and Beam Suntory contributed to Day One growing by nearly 50% into a $35 million, 150-person business.
With a remote-hybrid workforce spread across the country, Day One created programming throughout 2021 to keep colleagues connected. The agency launched Fresh Thinking Fridays as a means of addressing burnout by inviting teams to recharge starting at 1 p.m. on Fridays. The agency gave each employee $200 to outfit their workspace with gear from new client Walmart, and another $100 to buy pants worthy of wearing to work. After formalizing its DEI mission and vision in 2019, Day One remains focused on building greater DEI practices across three areas: recruit, engage and advance, resulting in a 46% BIPOC team. At least 50% of candidates for jobs at all levels are BIPOC. To advance existing BIPOC employees into leadership positions, Day One supports them with individualized career paths and support from senior leaders. In 2021, BIPOC representation on Day One’s senior leadership was 21%, its creative department was 54% BIPOC representation and overall female workforce was 73%. Co-founder Josh Rosenberg leads the firm as CEO alongside fellow entrepreneurs Brad Laney and Rob Longert.
Day One programs like American Express’ Takeout Tuesday to support restaurant workers and a Chipotle job fair on Discord which helped bring thousands of people back to the workforce after lockdown had real-life positive impact on people who needed the help. Day One also continued to pioneer trends on new social platforms for clients; the agency recently helped Chipotle to become the first restaurant brand to open a virtual restaurant location on Roblox. Day One’s thought leadership activities include publishing its annual Predictionary — part prediction, part dictionary, with the words agency leaders think will shape and define the upcoming year. The Predictionary sheds light on how brands can tap into these trends and connect to what’s happening in culture.
— Diana Marszalek
The world’s largest public relations firm, and the only independent, family-owned firm in the top tier, Edelman was founded in Chicago in 1952 and has grown to become a global powerhouse. In recent years, with digital and social media driving much of the PR industry’s growth, attention has been focused on Edelman’s strong consumer portfolio, which catapulted it into the number one spot, and its creative credentials, which were strengthened with the addition of experts in paid media, digital content creation, and data and analytics.
Edelman is headquartered in New York, remains a market leader in Chicago, and operates an extensive network of 13 offices in the US and an additional five in Canada, as well as Latin America. Edelman is the largest full-service agency in the UK, which continues to account for about half of its total EMEA revenues, and has substantial offices in France (following its 2014 acquisition of Elan), Germany, Italy, Spain, Brussels and the Netherlands. The fast-growing Africa operations were recently combined with the established Middle Eastern offices to create a single unit in the developing markets. There are 1,200 people across major operations in Greater China, Southeast Asia, Australia, Japan, Korea, and India—enough to give Edelman one of the largest Asia-Pacific footprints among the multinational agencies.
After a decade during which it outperformed its peers consistently to become the world’s largest public relations business, Edelman hit a wall in 2020, down by close to 6% as the pandemic took its toll. But 2021 saw a return to form: global fee income was up by 17.2%, the US by 15.5% and Canada by a little over 17%. In EMEA, fee income surged from just under $170 million to almost $210 million (a 23% increase)—the payoff from a new organizational design that emphasizes integration and a more interconnected approach to offices in the region. In Asia, there was growth of 11% to around $107 million, with the two largest practices—healthcare and technology—each contributing more than 25% of regional revenues. Top clients—a group that includes AstraZeneca, HP, Microsoft, Samsung, and Unilever—were up by about 18% on the year, while new business came from the likes of Avis Budget Group, SodaStream, American Egg Board, Sports Illustrated, and Miller Lite.
New talent included Felicitas Olschewski, most recently global director of digital strategy and innovation at Adidas, as head of digital, EMEA, along with a host of other hires designed to cement the firm’s digital first positioning, while in North America key additions included Christoph Becker as global chair of integration from his own consultancy gyro; and Brent Nelsen as global head of innovation and strategy from Publicis. The firm is also taking a flexible approach to return-to-office, emphasizing “presence with purpose,” which essentially means come to the office if there’s a reason—cultural, creative, of just for fellowship. On the talent front, important additions included Deborah Lehr, founder and chief executive of acquisition Basilinna, leading Edelman Global Advisory; Christoph Becker as global chair of integration from his own consultancy gyro; and Brent Nelsen as global head of innovation and strategy from Publicis.
Edelman’s digital work spans a wide variety of paid, earned, shared and owned content creation, with highlights from the past 12 months including the artwork for Halo Infinite, which helped Microsoft go from inauspicious early reviews for the game to an exhibit of artwork at the Saatchi Gallery; the “bodyright” campaign for the UN, highlighting the fact that companies have more right over the use of their copyrights than people do over their own body image; the “Unspoken Curriculum” campaign drawing attention to unequal treatment of Black students for the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation’ the “Axe Dogecan” work for the Unilever brand; the “Listen to Pain” campaign, focused on neuropathic pain for client Viatris, using innovative technology to create ambient music that allowed people to “hear” what the pain feels like to sufferers;and #LetHerGrow, a Thai campaign that used social media to address the restrictive rules surrounding girls’ hair — including forced haircuts — on behalf of Unilever’s Dove brand.
— Paul Holmes
Many public relations firms have been scrambling—in the wake of seismic events such as Brexit and the pandemic, and the accompanying tidal wave of disinformation—to incorporate behavioral science into their capabilities. Shayoni Lynn’s firm was launched three years ago with behavioral science at its core, pledging to put data, science and experimentation at the heart of creative communications and to design and deliver campaigns that tangibly improve and save lives. Lynn herself brought strong credentials to the new business. In addition to serving as chair of PRCA Wales, she served as communications manager for Cardiff University and associate lecturer at its School of Journalism, Media and Culture.
Lynn is based in Cardiff, but was founded as a remote workplace even before the pandemic and has people based in England, Scotland and Wales..
In just two years, Lynn has firmly positioned itself as a leader in behavioural science communications, being named PRCA New Consultancy of the Year 2020 and receiving the CIPR New Consultancy of the Year Mark of Excellence in 2021. In 2021, the firm enjoyed a breakthrough year: even on a relatively modest base of £365,000, an 800% increase in revenues is quite an achievement and Lynn ended the year at £2.6 million. Key clients include NHS South East London/Our Healthier South East London ICS; Thrive LDN; the Office of the Public Guardian; and the The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, while new business came from NHS England & Improvement, the Welsh Government, Public Health Dorset, Hertfordshire Local Resilience Forum, Royal Borough of Greenwich Council, Public Health Wales, Wystle, the Jockey Club, Cavendish Square Group and Swindon Borough Council.
Founder and CEO Shayoni Lynn is one of just 12% of senior PR and communications leaders from ethnically diverse backgrounds and serves as chair of PRCA Cymru and a PRCA Council member, as well as vice-chair for CIPR’s #BIinPR panel. To focus on managing growth and building the business the right way, she has turned to big agency veterans including David Gallagher (ex-Omnicom) , Stephen Waddington (ex-Ketchum), and Andy West (ex-Hotwire) to serve on an advisory board. Established as a virtual agency with people were based in England, Scotland and Wales, lynn has always had diversity in talent and experience and was not hindered by the move to remote work.
In September 2021, Lynn launched The Misinformation Cell, the UK’s first dedicated anti-disinformation service for PR and communications, which now works with a number of clients including public health agencies, local authorities and sporting organisations to combat mis and disinformation. The Cell is working pro-bono to support colleagues in Ukraine (via the Ukraine Communications Support Network) and has provided cutting-edge intelligence and recommendations to fight Kremlin disinformation. The firm’s approach also means that every campaign is rooted in real outcomes (not volume of coverage), so results focus on behavior: an 805% increase in response rates towards a tenant survey for a housing association, securing 362 responses (baseline 40) in four weeks; a 131% increase in self-referrals from residents accessing Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services for a Clinical Commissioning Group; a 78% improvement in COVID-19 vaccination rates for key audiences for an Integrated Care System.
— Paul Holmes
Ogilvy’s ability to blend PR and digital continues to impress in Asia-Pacific, where regional president Emily Poon has ushered in a disruptive focus on influence and technology across all of its operations. Andreanne Leclerc oversees a social team that numbers 400+ executives across the region, including expertise across social media, influencer marketing, content/context, social commerce, paid and realtime marketing. The firm’s position within the broader Ogilvy group gives it access not only to PR and creative expertise, but also to media and brand capabilities and delivery/tech skills — a combination that has proven particularly useful for its influencer marketing unit.
Ogilvy’s digital operations encompass its key Asia-Pacific markets of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Shanghai, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Sydney. There are 250+ people across the agency’s various content/context hubs in the region, including major centers in Manila, China and India, providing a variety of rapid newsroom and intelligence monitoring services.
The firm’s AI influencer unit has moved from virtual influencers to brand advocates, attracting assignments from VP Bank, Dove, Clear, Huawei, Unilever, MSD and Sabeco, while its influencer marketing work includes a $1m regional campaign for EBay and content/context work for Durex, KFC, Google, eBay, AIA, JLR, and several more. An end-to-end social offering, meanwhile, includes work across social listening, strategy, CRM, social commerce and paid, for such clients as AIA, DFS, Nestlé, Seek Asia, Huggies, Huami, KFC, HSBC, MSD, Google, Cadbury and Volkswagen.
In addition to Poon and Leclerc, several of Ogilvy PR’s key leaders also play prominent roles in their S&P team, with Vietnam head DieuCam Nguyen overseeing AI influence at a regional level, for example. The unit remains highly regarded for its depth of digital/social training, which is supplemented by deep partnerships with Google, Meta and TikTok — which include considerable training and workshops across the region. Ogilvy’s workplace efforts, furthermore, includes the 30-for-30 female leadership program, an employee assistance program in all markets and a comprehensive wellness initiative that covers a range of critical issues.
Ogilvy’s work continues to reflect its mastery of new media platforms, helping it land 30 SABRE Asia-Pacific nominations and two Innovation SABRE Awards. These included Unicef’s #StrongerMindStrongerYou social media campaign, social content for Google Southeast Asia, and AI influencer work for Clear in Vietnam.
— Arun Sudhaman
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