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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. 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.
Bully Pulpit has offices in Washington, DC (HQ), New York, Chicago and San Francisco, although an increasingly remote workforce means it has people across the US.
Growth of about 10% took Bully Pulpit to a little over $47 million in fee income, which doesn’t sound like a spectacular success until you remember that the firm still does a lot of political campaign work, which means that fee income usually declines in a non-election year; in fact, this was the first time since its creation that BPI grew in an odd number year. There was new business from clients such as America’s Frontier Fund, Boeing, Climate Power, Thomson Reuters, New Belgium Brewing, Levi’s and NBC Universal.
Like most agencies, Bully Pulpit says its biggest challenge over the past 12 months has been attracting and retaining talent, and the firm built on its existing cultural strength by updating its benefits to better support mental health and future parents. The firm also has a commitment to DE&I befitting its progressive roots: 30% of staff are now BIPOC and the number is growing and BIPOC representation in the senior ranks increased by 8% in 2021. New hires during the year included Bradley Akubuiro, who joined as partner from Boeing; BCW veteran Kim Axelrod as COO; managing directors Xochitl Hinojosa (from the DNC) and Yolanda Murphy (from Northrop Grumman), Carahna Magwood as creative director from the White House, and additions to the data and analytics team.
Bully Pulpit’s sweet spot remains the increasingly-important intersection of policy, societal change and corporate affairs, which meant a busy 2021 as companies dealt with the fallout from the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, as well as with a new administration’s interest in increased government spending and regulation. So there was corporate purpose work for clients like Boeing, Goldman Sachs (partnering with One Million Black Women), McDonald’s and Walmart. There were policy initiatives for AB InBev, the Biden administration’s Building Back Together coalition, the Human Rights Campaign (which is fighting hate laws in Florida, Texas and other red states) and the ACLU. But there was also work in emerging industries, with clients such as Instacart, cannabis website Leafly, and Andreessen Horowitz’s venture fund a16z crypto. The firm also developed its own Decibel product, a first-of-its-kind competitive intelligence tool.
— Paul Holmes
Argyle has something of a unique status among Canadian PR firms. It is both one of its oldest, having started life in 1979, and one of its more entrepreneurial, following a management buyout that has unlocked considerable acceleration over the past two decades. In 2019, the firm merged with Western Canada consultancies ChangeMakers and Context and acquired social/digital firm Matchstick, effectively doubling in size and setting the stage for it to land Canadian Agency of the Year honours in 2020. Argyle brings considerable strength across corporate & public affairs, consumer, health, public engagement, social marketing, and digital. The firm deploys an integrated service model across eight cities, and its ‘sweet spot’, perhaps, is large multinational or Canadian companies seeking greater client focus, creativity and value. In recent years, highlights have included rapid growth in ESG, crisis management and indigenous engagement, the latter of which accounts for 15% of the firm’s business.
Alongside its Toronto HQ, there are further offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa, along with a growing US presence that includes Washington DC and Canada.
Since its acquisition by current management, the firm has grown from $1m in total revenue in 2003 to more than $21m today, with impressive 34% topline expansion in 2021. The firm’s 110 staffers work for such clients as Facebook, Instagram, UPS, Enterprise Holdings (Enterprise, Alamo and National Rent-a-Car), MD Financial (a division of Scotiabank), Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Bean Suntory, Desjardins, AbbVie Pharma and Novo Nordisk. In addition, there was new business from Crayola, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Doordash, GE Hitachi, Ryerson University, Alberta Health Services, City of Toronto, Government of Nunavut. Argyle’s US operation, which launched in 2020, has hit the $1m mark thanks to a focus on crisis and risk management, while its indigenous engagement practice manages communications with survivors of historic trauma and injustice following class-action settlements with the federal Canadian government.
Under the leadership of owner and CEO Daniel Tisch, there has been little change in the 23-strong executive team, which also includes COO Stefan Moores, social change marketing EVP Correy Myco and SVPs Alison George, Rob McEwan, Roanne Argyle, Kim Blanchette and Robert Gemmill. Significant arrivals included former Edelman global crisis chair Harlan Loeb as an EVP in the US, while SVP Alison George retired after 17 years with the firm. Argyle continued to focus heavily on staff culture during 2021, prioritising wellness and cohesion via a peer learning series and numerous training programmes. The firm also distributed the largest bonus pool in its history and improved its virtual resourcing model. And Argyle has worked to make inclusion a more systematic feature of its culture, thanks to specific commitments and policies across six pillars: leadership, recruitment, training and development, client work and partnerships, social investment/philanthropy and accountability. That has led to such features as a revamped recruitment policy, an indigenous training curriculum, a $100k bursary for indigenous students and a Diversity Ambassadors Council that recommends goals and strategies based on independent research of employees.
Argyle’s thought leadership around the connection between 'public relationships' and clients' reputations stands out, exemplified by its annual Argyle Public Relationships Index research study — the seventh edition added the US for the first time, examining how worker/employer relationships fared during the pandemic and perceptions of ESG performance in both countries. Argyle also debuted a US-only study that explored Americans’ confidence in public health information. Campaign highlights included Crayola Canada’s #MyColour diversity drive; public affairs work that culminated in Ontario Power Generation hiring client GE Hitachi; and, the ‘Comeback Strong’ small business initiative for UPS Canada.
— Arun Sudhaman
Founded in 2006 by former Labour Party councillor and parliamentary candidate Kevin Craig, PLMR has evolved from a one-man business to a 58-strong agency serving marquee clients such as Battersea Power Station, ExCel Centre & Adecco. PLMR has bolstered its growth with acquisitions, including two in 2021. The firm also is the founder and lead member of the Global Communications Alliance, a network of independent agencies with members in the US, Canada, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Russia, India and Australasia.
PLMR is based in the UK, headquartered in London, with offices in Scotland, the East of England and the Midlands.
Overall, PLMR’s revenue grew by 17% to £6.8 million in 2021. Growth was driven by strength in core areas including social care, education, energy & health and expertise in PR, campaigns, public affairs and digital. PLMR also benefited from a total of four acquisitions, two of which the agency made in 2021 with the purchase of West Midlands agency Advent Communications PR and Genesis PR, which works in the East of England. PLMR has emerged as one of the UK’s top education communications consultancies, working with more than 500 schools such as Star Academies, leading universities including Oxford and teacher unions, exam boards and more. The agency is also especially strong in health and social care with clients including Novavax, the Royal Marsden Hospital & the UK’s largest care home provider, HC-One. In 2021, the Scotland office won a major public affairs campaign for the Bingo Association. New business came from Jet2, Teach First, Warwick University, The EG Group and Saab, which joined existing clients such as Royal Veterinary College, Company Shop, Gumtree, and the UN Global Crop Diversity Trust.
PLMR invests in its people, providing training for junior and senior staff while also facilitating senior leaders attending courses at Oxford and Harvard. Since 2006, the agency has donated 5% of net profits to charitable causes, totaling well over £250,000 so far. PLMR runs work experience, mentoring & intern opportunities for schools & are a partner of Taylor Bennett Foundation, whose goal is increasing the number of Black, Asian and ethnic minority people working in communications. An equal opportunity employer, PLMR is committed to fostering a diverse and equitable workplace. The PLMR Board is made up of 43% women and 29% Black, Asian and ethnic minorities. There is no gender pay gap. PLMR strives to make all its products and services fully accessible to people with the likes of visual, cognitive and motor impairments.
PLMR’s 2021 work spanned from using media relations and intel to influence government decisions to pro bono work supporting national projects for the greater good. During the 2021 Conservative Party Conference, PLMR hosted 10 s events over the four days on behalf of clients, which were attended by industry experts, parliamentarians, government ministers and high-profile journalists. The firm’s work for the Food Foundation included creating an online map showing locations providing vulnerable children free mails over the October half term. Leveraging local expertise, PLMR’s campaign to secure the future of Scottish bingo was a factor in the Scottish government to ease restrictions on the bingo sector, and provide funding to help struggling bingo clubs. The campaign won the Best Campaign in Scotland category at the PRCA Public Affairs Awards of 2021.
— Diana Marszalek
Slovakian consultancy Seesame marked its 25th anniversary last year by revisiting and refreshing a service offering that has defined its emergence as one of the finest PR firms in the region. Now a full service PR and digital agency with strengths across public affairs, employer branding, lifestyle and ESG, Seesame has strengthened its research/data and social impact capabilities, while also deepening its expertise in digital experience. All of that helped Seesame weather the pandemic better than most, particularly in terms of social change work across Covid-19, disinformation and the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis.
There are 43 employees in Slovakia.
Fee income rose 25% in 2021 to €4.3m, as Seesame defied a sluggish economic environment by leveraging its cross-functional skills across such areas as social impact, public affairs, digital and employer branding. There was new business from Coca-Cola, Janssen, Takenaka, SPP, WWF, CloudTalk, the UN International Organisation for Migration and Wolt, joining a client roster that already featured Henkel, Janssen, Ikea, Samsung, Shell, ESET, Heineken, the Association of Innovative Pharmaceutical Companies, Envi-pak and Tesco Stores. 8% of the firm’s fee income now comes from research projects, while the firm’s focus on the public sector has also proved beneficial in recent years.
Under founder Michaela Benedigova, Seesame has developed an open and supportive culture that features full financial transparency, rewards for collaboration and mental health support. A new visual identity was rolled out, alongside a strengthened corporate citizenship profile that featured a specific focus on key social challenges. There is leadership training, employee satisfaction tracking and a heavy focus on internal communication — along with a commitment to hire staff from Ukraine and support LGBTWI+ initiatives.
In recent years, Seesame’s work has helped it land 18 SABRE Awards, including four Global SABREs, and that reputation for quality remained in strong shape during the past 12 months. Seesame scored five finalists at the 2022 EMEA SABRE Awards, including #BrowseResponsibly for O2 Slovakia and Covid vaccine work for SPP, along with the firm’s own motivational employee app.
— Arun Sudhaman
SenateSHJ, founded in 2002, bills itself as working on “projects that matter for organisations we respect” and its expertise in complex, high-end strategic communication services such as reputation management, crisis and issues, change communications, ethical healthcare, digital services and social, public affairs and social marketing helps it stand apart from others in the New Zealand and Australian markets.
With a network of offices in major cities throughout Australia and New Zealand, SenateSHJ has become one of Australasia's largest consultancies and, through its membership of the PROI network, also services clients worldwide, including an increasing amount of healthcare work across the Asia-Pacific region.
After a Covid-induced dip in 2020, SenateSHJ rebounded quite nicely in 2021, when revenue rose 16% to $9.1 million, and headcount grew to 46. Staff retention, a clear focus on quality consulting and investment in innovation and offerings fueled the lift. Another major factor: high-profile Covid-related public education assignments from the Australian and New Zealand governments, as well as other healthcare clients. New business also came from NSW Government (countering violent extremism), Pfizer, Camp Australia, Department of Internal Affairs (Three Waters reform), and South Seas Healthcare Trust (Covid-19 and vaccination programme Pasfika community response). They joined a list of existing clients including Bupa, HESTA, Bluescope, Olam and Fuji Xerox.
SenateSHJ's commitment to a fair and equitable workplace led to being named PRovoke Media’s 2021 best Asia-Pacific midsize agency to work for. The agency’s D&I policy is rooted in creating an inclusive workplace where employees feel valued and respected because of their differences and backed by practices that promote diverse recruits, employees and leadership — and look for clues in exit interviews, surveys and salary reviews for ways to improve. Talent has long been a key differentiator for SenateSHJ — its founders were veterans of the well-respected Porter Novelli partner Turnbull — with founding partner Neil Green supported by group managing director Brendon O'Conner, previously a director at PwC Consulting in New Zealand and managing partners in Melbourne and Wellington. The firm’s regular showing on our Best Consultancies to Work For list, is an indication of its ability to attract, retain, and develop a new generation of talent.
In the past year, SenateSHJ has invested in expanding capabilities by building new products, creating a formal ESG practice and growing its market intelligence offer by appointing a senior researcher to design and lead formal research programs for clients. SenateSHJ also created the Togetherness Index, a study of the impact of communications in the community, information used in conjunction with the firm’s ongoing trans-Tasman Reputation Reality research and insights. SenateSHJ is particularly well-regarded for its corporate reputation work, with its licensed Four Rooms of Change methodology gaining traction, and for its crisis management expertise, which has led to its work with several insurance companies providing coverage for cyber-crises in particular. High-profile work included helping South Seas Healthcare Trust contain the Covid delta variant outbreak in South Auckland, as well as helping keep government officials up to date on their efforts.
— Diana Marszalek
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