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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. But Edelman has equally formidable expertise in corporate and financial PR, public affairs, and healthcare—three areas that grew impressively in 2021.
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.
Lisa Osborne-Ross is the only African-American women running the North American business of a major global agency, so perhaps it’s no surprise when she sets a bold target for diversity: she wants Edelman to reflect the population of the country (which would mean 47% BIPOC representation). 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. In EMEA, with stability at the top in the three years since Ed Williams took over as regional chief executive, with AJ Hesselink in a newly-empowered COO role, Edelman has been focused on strengthening its bench. In Asia, the big news of the year came this July, when the departure of regional president and CEO Stephen Kehoe was announced after three years in the role. As a result, Edelman’s global vice chairman of corporate affairs, Dave Samson, became interim CEO.
In a year of several high-profile initiatives, the acquisition of Washington strategic consulting firm Basilinna, resulting in the creation of Edelman Global Advisory, designed to address the geopolitical challenge for corporate clients, stood out. But the firm also introduced Disinformation Shield to help clients deal with a growing problem, and built on its decades of trust research with its Edelman Trust Institute, a global center for the study and cultivation of trust across business, government, media, and civil society. As for the work, it was as formidable as usual, from its homeless pets initiative for Mars to its “Cerving Confidence” campaign for Black Women’s Health Imperative and medical device company Hologic in North America; from its“Body Love” initiative for Dove, which brought attention to online body shaming by showing how differently people responded in real life to its Real Voices of Pride for FELGTB in EMEA; from its “Celebrating What It Means to Care” campaign for pain-relief brand Panadol in Australia tp customer outreach and engagement for Starbucks via the “It Starts with Your Name” campaign in Asia.
— Paul Holmes
The largest agency in the WPP public relations family, was formed in 2018 by the merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe. The combined firm remains strong in the corporate realm—including crisis and employee engagement—and in healthcare, areas that stood it in good stead during the pandemic, while the expansion of digital and data expertise over the past few years positions BCW to take advantage of the future.
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. BCW Europe & Africa has around 1,000 staff in 22 offices across 12 European markets, as well as an African network spanning 54 countries, 36 of which are BCW branded. The firm also operates Asda’a BCW in the Middle East. There are more than 500 employees in Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong), and a similar number in India, along with smaller operations in Southeast Asia, Australia and Japan.
Global growth was close to double-digits, although North American growth was more modest compared to EMEA and the Asia-Pacific regions. Other metrics were solid, with BCW outperforming parent company averages on client satisfaction metrics including likelihood to recommend as the firm retools for its “earned-plus” future. As a whole, BCW Europe & Africa delivered double digit revenue growth, record profitability and recorded a 75% new business conversion rate.In APAC. 2021 revenue grew by an impressive 15%, thanks to continued double-digit growth from China and an eye-catching turnaround in Singapore. There was organic growth from high-profile clients such as Dow, Dollar General, Accenture and AstraZeneca, and new business from Royal Caribbean, Human, Verra Mobility, Johnson&Johnson and E&J Gallo.
New talent in 2021 reflected the breadth of CEO Donna Imperato’s ambition for the firm: chief creative officer Fede Garcia, a veteran of Huge and IPG; chief technology officer Chris Kief from droga5; chief strategy officer Deb Freeman from FCB; key client partner lead Beth Marrano from Publicis; and chief digital officer Josh Crick from Leo Burnett. The firm’s commitment to building a culture of inclusion, meanwhile, prompted an audit of all processes and policies, the launch of Propel, an early career 3-prong virtual initiative, new employee resource groups, and a commitment to increase mid and senior level diversity by 10% this year.
Imperato sees BCW’s future at the convergence of PR, media, digital, creative and consulting, competing with firms from all sectors with an approach she sees evolving from earned-first to “earned-plus,” with the plus including data, creative technology, and paid amplification. That vision is reflected in new hires, new products, and new approaches at the practice level.
Client highlights ranging from healthcare education like the “Get Ahead of Stroke” initiative for Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery; purpose-driven consumer work such as “Here for What Matters” for Dollar General; and ongoing work as part of WPP’s Ford team, including the “Show Some Muscle” project. In EMEA, BCW received 12 SABRE nominations this year for its work across Europe and Africa (with further wins for colleagues in the Middle East bringing the total to 18, more than any other network in the region). Stand-out work included helping new client AstraZeneca counter drama, disinformation and unprecedented scrutiny around its vaccine by the media and public. In Asia, meanwhile, BCW picked up Asia’s first Best in Show at the Global SABRE Awards for Lenovo, and no fewer than 14 SABRE nominations.
— 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. Fleishman’s roots are in business-to-business and corporate communications, but today it is a genuine full-service agency.
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. FleishmanHillard has nine branded offices in Europe, including in London, its largest operation in the region, plus seven OPRG-branded offices. In Asia-Pacific, Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong) and North Asia (Tokyo, Seoul) together account for around 400 people, while there are also significant operations in Australia, India (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore) and Southeast Asia (Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore).
With its heft in corporate and public affairs, FH was one of the few giant agencies to show growth in 2020, and last year was even stronger with a nice double-digit boost to the topline. Other metrics were equally impressive: the firm’s top 50 clients grew 19%, and 95 of the top 100 clients were retained with 72% awarding the firm new assignments. In total, there was $170 million in new business from clients such as Allianz Partners, Cicso, March of Dimes, Philips, Johnson&Johnson, Janssen, AT&T, WingStop, Mirvie and Samsung. Also notable: sharp increases in revenue from the True Global Intelligence research and analytics practice.
FleishmanHillard grew total headcount by 14% over the course of the year, and 38% of US hires—including 33% of senior hires—were diverse as the agency continues to make steady progress on its DE&I objectives. The firm also saw the Alfred Fleishman Diversity Scholarship program (named for the firm’s co-founder, an early champion of diversity) convert 41% of fellows to full-time employment. The firm’s DE&I communications practice True Mosaic, also enjoyed an impressive year, adding 70 counselors and 45 diversity champions. FH also conducted an individual strengths assessment for every employee and built strengths-based leadership development around that. New talent included chief diversity and inclusion officer Adrianne Smith from WPP; global executive creative directors Joel Rodriguez and Will Clarke, from McCann and The Marketing Arm respectively; and global financial and professional services lead Kirtsen Plonner, from Ficomm. There were new roles too for agency veterans Ephraim Cohen (leading media + platforms), Kristy Wilson (GM, Texas), and Rachel Catanach (from Asia to GM, New York).
FleishmanHillard has stepped up its creative game in recent years, with its creative and digital studios bringing fresh thinking to clients across practices and industry sectors: for Neutrogena, for example, the firm launched a content studio to share life-saving information on skincare via YouTube; for Lowe’s, the firm offered in-store “Night of Romance” to celebrate Valentine’s Day; while Krispy Kreme worked with FH to take the lead on encouraging Covid vaccination; and Novo Nordisk partnered with NFL Alumni Association on an obesity education initiative. The firm also produced a wide array of thought leadership from its “Future of Work” report on the new social contract to guidance on navigating the political and social challenges of the Covid-19 vaccine debate to the latest iteration of its “Authenticity Gap” research.
— Arun Sudhaman
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.
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.
2021 was another strong year for Golin, with revenue up by double-digits globally and by close to 25%—the strongest among its peer set—in North America. There were particularly strong contributions from San Francisco (which doubled in size from a relatively small base), New York (now the second largest office) and Dallas, and from the healthcare practice (up 26% on the year). The top 30 accounts—a list including Adobe, Allstate, AstraZeneca, Discover, Dow, General Mills, J&J, Lego, Lilly, Nintendo, Novartis, Pepsico, Toyota, Unilever, Walmart and more—grew by more than 25% and there was new business from McDonald’s, Logitech, MattressFirm, Converse, Yamaha, Clubhouse, LinkedIn and Verizon, among others.
The past 12 months have seen a bottom-up process to develop a new purpose (“Together, we’ll make the best work of our lives and create change that matters”) and values: We discover powerful human truths that bind us, We create with bravery, and We collaborate inclusively & obsessively. And having found that its collaborative culture served it well during the pandemic, the firm has eschewed any pre-set rules for the return to the office, making in-person attendance dependent on what’s happening with specific teams rather than on a set number of days. On the DE&I front, there’s a new International Equity Task Force and expanded portfolio of ERGs; 20% of leadership and 30% of all employees are now BIPOC. Much of the firm’s new talent acquisition has been in the health space, led by the appointment of US managing director Jaimee Reggio and executive creative director Smitha Piedilato, formerly of Edelman.
Golin has been working with McDonald’s to turn the fast food leader into a “fan love” brand, introducing a new “crispy, juicy, tender” chicken sandwich with a culture drop; it supported Toyota’s NASCAR sponsorship with a focus on bringing greater diversity to the sport; it launched Tic Tac into space; and it helped MattressFirm create the “Un-Junk Your Sleep Truck Tour.” On the thought leadership front, Golin partnered with narrative intelligence company Zignal Labs on the Polarization Index, showing how the political schism has narrowed only slightly since the election, and built on its real-time media monitoring platform The Tool to introduce TrendDrop, which helps clients identify opportunities to insert themselves into the news. The firm also forged a partnership with AutonomyWorks focusing on neurodiversity issues.
— Paul Holmes
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. 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 health and technology—and an ecosystem of specialist brands like KRC, flipside, United Minds, Revive and dna spanning areas from research to management consulting to healthcare.
With 19 US offices and three in Canada, Weber Shandwick has strong coverage across North America. Weber Shandwick is a top three PR agency in the UK market, its largest operation in EMEA, and is also among the market leaders in the Nordics, Germany, the Middle East and Africa. There are more than 900 staffers across a 10-market regional footprint that features major operations in Greater China (500 people), North Asia, Singapore and India.
Last year saw mid-single digit growth globally in and in North America, building back after a tough 2020, while the firm enjoyed double-digit growth among its top 40 clients and had an outstanding 98% retention rate among its top 50 accounts. EMEA operations elivered mid-single digit growth, with strong secondary performance metrics: the firm’s top 40 clients grew by double-digits and it retained 95% of its top 50 clients. And in Asia. Weber Shandwick returned to growth in 2021, albeit in the modest single digits, and that momentum is continuing into 2022. There were expanded assignments from the likes of AB InBev, Abbott, Amazon, the CDC, GM, GSK, Kellogg’s, McDonald’s, Nestle, Pfizer and Sanofi, while new additions to the roster included Avocados from Mexico, Bloomberg Philanthropies, ISSA, McAfee, and ShoeCarnival.
Weber Shandwick’s crowdsourced values—curiosity, inclusion, courage, impact—and some active BRGs (unlike some firms, BRG chairs are compensated) are helping the company move forward with its return to the office strategy (it was the first firm to unveil is hybrid work model, Juice, since expanded to include a month of “work from anywhere” for all employees) and its diversity goals. Among new additions to the team are Chris Deri, most recently with Teneo, as chief corporate affairs officer and head of C-suite advisory and Ridhi Malhotra as global head of analytics + intelligence from Zenith. In EMEA, Ogilvy UK chief exec Michael Frohlich, who heads the region, while Charlotte Witte was promoted to the newly-created role of chief client and growth officer. In Asia, where regional chairman Baxter Jolly departed this year, his successor Kim has made a series of leadership changes since becoming CEO. There have been significant internal moves too, with Pam Jenkins elevated to chief public affairs officer and Micho Spring named chief reputation officer.
There are two areas in which Weber Shandwick is retooling to address future challenges: in expanding its C-suite services in consulting around issues such as climate and workforce transformation and developing “in-culture” communications capabilities that impact and add value to the culture. And the firm is inventing some powerful new tools focused on addressing disinformation, creating a framework for clients responding to geopolitical challenges, helping companies with the human side of change management, and improving analytics and intelligence. Weber Shandwick also topped our Global Creative Index last year and was the most awarded agency at the SABRE Awards with highlights including “Game Over for Headaches,” which connected Excedrin to younger headache sufferers; work to restore trust in the cruise industry post-pandemic for Royal Caribbean; purpose-driven work for AB InBev; a new game “Dictator of Sweden” to educate on the choices that lead to democracy or authoritarianism for the group Civil Rights Defenders; supporting Unilever’s “Unmute” campaign to end the silence around domestic violence; and the award-lwinning “Son Rise” campaign in India.
— Paul Holmes
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