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Founded a little more than two decades ago as WeissCom, a biotech-focused healthcare specialist, the firm was renamed W2OGroup in 2010, by which time it had established itself as an integrated healthcare communications group with multiple acquisitions spanning advertising, digital, data and analytics and more. Early in 2021, there was another evolution, to Real Chemistry, focusing on “the real chemistry between people and the brands born to change their lives.” Not surprisingly, the growth story (see below) has been the dominant narrative around Real Chemistry—which won Large Agency of the Year two years ago—with the firm’s proliferation of non-traditional services also serving to set it apart from the competition. But Real Chemistry continues to be, at its core, a healthcare PR firm—the largest in the world.
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 fact that Real Chemistry has built itself into one of the world’s 10 largest public relations firms in just a little over two decades is unprecedented. While acquisitions made a significant contribution to that growth (including Swoop and IPM.ai, sister companies that use technology to identify, target and engage patient groups in 2021), organic growth was better than 30% last year as the firm reached $475 million globally and $439 million in North America. While it already works for the vast majority of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, there were new assignments from existing clients like Genentech, Amgen (new corporate affairs work) and Astellas, as well as a host of new names for the client list: Care, Ocugen, Vertex, Adagio, Dexcom, Immunovant, and Day One Biopharmaceuticals.
The biggest news on the people front was the elevation of founder Jim Weiss to the chairman role and the appointment of management consulting veteran Shankar Narayanan as CEO—a clear signal about the future of the firm. Other significant additions included Brian Gibbons as chief people officer and Mary Stutts, who most recently led corporate relations at Sumitovant Biopharma, as global chief inclusion and health equity officer. The firm’s expanded DE&I focus included increasing the number of BRGs to eight, and providing a 14-month paid fellowship for diverse graduates. The ROOTED engagement model puts anti-racism and health equity thinking at the center of the firm’s processes. Reinforcing the firm’s entrepreneurial culture has also been a priority, the launch of an internal “Shark Tank” competition, inviting employees at all levels to bring forward their own growth ideas.
It’s not every public relations agency that has won a Health Lion (through its ad agency unit 21 Grams) and been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, but those two honors demonstrate how different Real Chemistry is from its peer set. Its ability to blend creativity and science (including data science) is the foundation of its thought leadership. And 2021 may go down as the year when all that innovation finally manifested in the quality of the firm’s work: its work with Pfizer to support the biopharma industry’s pledge to #StandWithScience over Covid vaccines; partnering with Merck and journalist Katie Couric to develop content exploring the impact of Covid on the cancer community; creating a “Love Letter to Black America from America’s Black Doctors and Nurses” as part of the Black Coalition Against Covid-19; and supporting City of Hope through its acquisition of Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
— Paul Holmes
In 2014, a successful battle against kidney cancer prompted Alex Slater (a veteran of Glover Park and SKD Knickerbocker) to found Clyde Group as a purpose-driven firm with a specific focus on media relations and crisis communications. PRovoke Media’s 2021 Boutique Agency of the Year, Clyde Group continues to show impressive growth and a slew of new initiatives focusing on such critical areas as DE&I, distributed working, pro bono activity and social impact.
Clyde Group operates out of its Washington headquarters.
Between 2019 and 2021, Clyde Group has more than doubled its annual revenue from $3.85 million to just over $9.3 million in 2021, exceeding its revenue target of $7.3 million. Last year, the firm’s fee income rose by an eye-catching 72%, thanks to the addition of 25 new accounts and projects. Headcount grew from 30 to 52. New business came from TechNet, Weyerhauser, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, California App-Based Work Coalition, Protect Democracy and Mobile Voting Project, which joined an existing client roster featuring Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program, Ipsos, Sallie Mae, Gilead, Navy Federal Credit Union, George Mason University School of Business and GMU College of Humanities and Social Science.
Founding partner Alex Slater is supported by partner/COO Aubrey Quinn, who has helped oversee considerable growth at the firm since 2016. MDs Anthony LaFauce, Matt House and Lisa Josephy lead the firm’s digital, public affairs and healthcare practices respectively. 2021 saw Clyde Group publish its first IDEA (Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, & Accountability) Report, a transparent accounting of the firm’s accomplishments and shortcomings in DEI. Clyde Group’s attention to employee mental health included digital boundary setting to enhance work-life fit, closing for the last week of December and making it a policy going forward, and soliciting open and honest feedback through the IDEA report.
Clyde’s thought leadership work has included helping clients, as well as associations, prepare for the metaverse age through education and showing tangible ways to leverage opportunities. Slater’s work included helping Washington’s Whitman Walker Health become a leader in working with underserved LGBTQ+ organizations, and helping Asylum Works provide critical services for Washington-based refugees and asylum seekers cut off from their communities because of sexual orientation. Clyde’s major 2021 work included helping the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program recruit an unprecedented one million participants to better represent the complete population of the US. The firm’s public affairs team worked with clients expanding voting access, resisting misinformation around electoral integrity, making housing more affordable and accessible, holding police departments accountable, and fighting for people incarcerated without fair trials.
— Diana Marszalek
Agency acquisitions are not always successful, but the 2019 merger of Kyne with Evoke PR & Influence has created one of the healthcare sector’s strongest players, helping it secure Global Healthcare Agency of the Year honours in 2021. The firm combines strong private and public healthcare offerings, often bringing partners together to solve some of the world’s most pressing health challenges, from Covid-19 to flu to cancer. Over the past year, Evoke Kyne has stepped up investments to deepen its offering in such areas as creative, scientific storytelling, a proprietary patient influencer network, and global public health — all adding up to another year of impressive double-digit growth.
Headquartered in Dublin, the global team has bases in Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles and London, with key consultants also based in Canada, France and Portugal, as well as budding remote US teams in Washington, DC and Atlanta.
Keeping pace with its strong double-digit revenue over the past five years, in 2021 Evoke Kyne grew revenues by 26% to $38.9 million and expanded its global team from 139 people in 2020 to 175 in 2021, including new senior hires across creative, social strategy and social impact. The agency won more than 10 new clients and saw significant organic growth with long-term clients over the year, including more work for the Pandemic Action Network, which Kyne co-founded in 2020, working with more than 90 partners to advocate for policy changes and increased resources to ensure countries are prepared for future pandemics.
Evoke Kyne prides itself on having a team-based culture where people are encouraged to share their ideas and every person is valued. The firm increased investment in a range of areas, including employee training, DEI initiatives, philanthropy, mentorship, networking and wellness, all of which helped underpin a 92% retention rate, with 85% of employees being either ‘satisfied’ or ‘highly satisfied’, and 96% ‘feeling respected’. The firm’s commitment to DEI began in 2018, and now includes its first head of DE&I, helping to support considerable expansion of its priorities and initiatives in the area. This included a new professional development toolkit, hiring policies, training, internship, inclusion programs, and social giving. 25% of new employees in 2021 were from underrepresented groups.
Much of Evoke Kyne’s client list and work is confidential, but for the past two years, much of its work has focused on Covid vaccines and treatments – including reaching and educating a broad range of audiences – as well as continuing to work with many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies on campaigns and initiatives covering mental health, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, cancer, flu and malaria. Its work with the Pandemic Action Network included the launch of the second #WorldMaskWeek to raise awareness about the importance of continued masking, reaching more than 170 countries and 165 million people.
— Maja Pawinska Sims / Diana Marszalek
Founded in 2011 when Peter Finn spun off a significant chunk of Ruder Finn into a standalone business, Finn Partners has expanded organically and via acquisition into one of the largest independents in the US. There’s a strong consumer practice, including deep domain expertise in fashion and beauty and travel and lifestyle marketing; a fast-growing global health capability capable of competing with the best specialist firms; a tech practice that was the stellar performer of 2021; and specialist offerings in the arts and in education.
Headquartered in New York, Finn Partners has US offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Ft Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orange County, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC, as well as growing international network.
Even after a year that looks like the best in recent memory for the public relations industry as a whole, few firms are going to be able to match the performance of Finn Partners, which saw its North American fee income increase by 49% from around $90 million to more than $135 million (global revenues were $162 million)—all of which makes the 8.5% decline in 2020 feel like a distant memory. There were five acquisitions, including health IT firm Agency Ten22, travel specialist Hawkins International and Hawaii’s largest agency Anthology, but there was big organic growth in the tech and healthcare practices. And other metrics are strong: a five-fold increase in seven-figure clients over the past five years and an increase in the number of clients using integrated services. There was new business from the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, BMC Software, The Body Shop, Faraday Future, Foundation Louis Vuitton, Honeywell, Michigan Economic Development Corporation/Pure Michigan, Pilot Company, Topps Digital, and Tivity Health, while the firm continues to work with 2K, Bridgestone, I Love NY, Margaritaville, Marvell, Meharry Medical College, Netscout, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Peter Finn has shown that the firm’s purpose-driven approach has been key to its success, from employee retention to a host of agency acquisitions in which shared values have been a critical success factor. The firm was also one of the first to offer full transparency on DE&I, setting a target of 30% racial diversity by 2023 and reaching 25% BIPOC employees last year. All staff have completed bias training, the firm’s partnership with the City College of New York provides a pipeline of diverse interns; and Finn has provided support to 40 Black-owned businesses in the markets it serves. New people in 2021 include Pepe Aguilar, formerly with Grey, as executive creative director; Steve Deluca from HL Group as senior partner, travel and lifestyle; Sabrina Guttman to lead the global technology practice from venture capital firm Next47; Ritesh Patel, formerly head of Ogilvy Digital to take that role at Finn and Ogilvy veteran Richard Hatzfeld to lead global public health.
Finn Partners is one of the few PR firms of any size to publish its own Purpose Report, detailing everything from the kinds of clients it will not work with to Peter Finn’s funding for Catskill Mountain Foundation, created in 1998 to revitalize struggling communities to the firm’s very public stand on Black Lives Matter. The creative work also remains strong: supporting The Body Shop’s work around the fight for transgender rights; leading the “Reinventing Live Sports for the Digital Age” campaign on behalf of Fan-Controlled Football; and empowering people living with schizophrenia for Alkermes.
— Paul Holmes
Initially reporting into WPP’s Cohn & Wolfe, GCI Health was able to build a strong identity for itself as the giant holding company’s only healthcare-focused public relations firm, and—now reporting to BCW—has established itself as a global leader in healthcare PR. GCI Health is focused exclusively on healthcare communications, but that hasn’t prevented the firm from diversifying its operations in recent years, as health PR has taken on new challenges, including more integrated digital and social campaigns, content creation, and more public health, social impact work, and public affairs and corporate reputation assignments.
Headquartered in New York, GCI Health has a strong national network in the US as well as a Toronto office, an established presence in the UK and Germany, a newly-founded Brissels operation, and a growing Asia-Pacific operation. In total, the firm has close to 500 people across 26 offices.
For obvious reasons, the healthcare sector was immune to the downturn that hit many agencies during the first year of the pandemic, so GCI has continued its growth trajectory without a hiccup, following a 28% increase in fees in 2020 with another 24% of growth in 2021—fees are up 135% over the past five years. Last year was the seventh consecutive year of double-digit growth for GCI Health in the EMEA region, driven in equal parts by 100% client retention and three new anchor accounts. In Asia, where the firm is obviously starting from a smaller base, the growth was even more impressive, with revenues up by about 57%, with Singapore up by better than 60%. While healthcare clients seem particularly prone to demand confidentiality, GCI is known to work for the majority of the largest pharma companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Boehringer Ingelheim, GSK, Lilly, Merck, Abbott and Sanofi, as well as ViiV Healthcare, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Eisai, Walgreens, and Regeneron
GCI Health chief Wendy Lund deoarted the firm at the end of 2020 after a decade in charge to lead communications for Merck spinoff Organon & Co, and was succeeded as global CEO by North America president Kristin Cahill. A few months later, the firm promoted Sherry Goldberg, Kath Harrison and Rikki Jones have been named presidents of North America, Europe and the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific respectively, and in June of last year the firm hired Eleanor Petigrow to serve as its global chief growth officer. GCI Health continued its DE&I journey with a three-pillared approach: ongoing efforts to increase cultural fluency and understanding, identifying inclusive champions, and encouraging diverse perspectives—all of which plays into the firm’s employee experience, which promises a culture co-created by employees underscored by its PeoplePACT.
GCI continues to offer an approach to healthcare that is grounded in scientific expertise, supplemented by deep empathy for patients and other stakeholders. And over the past few years it has been building out capabilities that support its core expertise, including a content marketing offer that includes creative, editorial services, and design and video production, all grounded in a burgeoning insights offer, creating campaigns like a recent effort to engage a younger generation of cancer advocates for Sanofi using TikTok. The firm has also strengthened its public health offer, with an emphasis on issues like health inequity and sustainability. For Walgreens, meanwhile, the firm worked with community leaders to persuade 34 million people to get the Covid vaccine.IN EMEA, the firm worked on the “HIV in View” campaign for ViiV Healthcare and in Asia it worked with AstraZeneca to roll out its Covid vaccine against a backdrop of some skepticism and secure its adoption by several governments.
— Diana Marszalek
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