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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 2015 by industry veteran Lisa Pasquin, Craft aims to combine the creative thinking and strategic excellence of a bigger agency but minus the trappings. That may sound familiar to observers of boutique agencies, but Craft’s success in Canada has helped it stand apart — thanks to a client roster that rivals much bigger players, and a focus on culture that puts many larger rivals to shame. Craft plays in the consumer space, with particularly strong capabilities when it comes to uniquely Canadian brands and partnerships.
There are 24 staffers in Canada.
Craft grew by around 40% in 2021 to CAD$5m, with headcount also expanding by 56% to 25, bolstered by new business for Hipcamp, Post Cereal, The Very Good Butchers, Feminuity, Maple Lodge Farms, Penguin Random House, and Ketch Shoes. They join a client roster that features Tim Hortons, GE Appliances, Nintendo of Canada, Moosehead Breweries, Tetley, Keurig Dr. Pepper, StockX, Earth’s Own, Travelzoo. Also worth noting is Craft’s brand partnerships expertise, which has included bringing Nintendo together with HelloFresh, and Tetley joining forces with Canadian loungewear brand Lazypants.
Amid rapid growth, Craft recognised employee exhaustion early, launching a new benefits program with upgraded mental health support and adapting working hours to better support its growing team. The firm’s DE&I plan focuses on four pillars: representation (including an overhaul of hiring practices, cultural celebrations and internships), the work (auditing suppliers, influencers and media), education (training and resources), and giving. In addition to Pasquin, Craft’s leadership team includes SVP Melissa Retty, the firm’s first hire.
Craft stepped up its focus on creativity to notable effect over the past year, launching a hackathon-style challenge for aspiring PR professionals to develop a PR plan for the First Book Canada nonprofit. In addition, the firm enlisted Anne Sutherland to help refine the firm’s commitment to creativity, resulting in standout campaign work for Tim Hortons (targeting younger audiences), Monogram (partnering with chef Patrick Kriss for Canadian healthcare workers) and Burger King (launching the Impossible Whopper).
— Arun Sudhaman
Originally established in 1993 as a healthcare communications specialist, Veritas has diversified over the years to a 65-person firm that works across retail, lifestyle and business communications — bolstered by specific strength in influencer management, digital marketing, and creative strategy. In 2019, the firm launched digital content spinoff Meat & Produce, following that up with the cross-border Doner Partner Network in 2020. This progressive spirit illuminates much of Veritas’ work, supporting an expanded focus on internal communications and helping to make North American brands more relevant during the pandemic.
In Canada, there are offices in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, along with US offices in New York, Detroit, Minneapolis and Los Angeles (via the Doner Partners Network).
Key clients include some of Canada’s biggest names: Microsoft, Labatt Breweries, Revlon, Kimberly Clark, Church and Dwight, Canadian Tire Corporation, Subway, Uniqlo, Dexcom and Loblaw Corporation, bolstered by new business from Too Good to Go, Huggies (social media), Organon, Golf Town, Loblaw, Amazon Basics (driving $3.4m in sales), TVO, Calian, Reddit and McCain.
Long-term CEO Krista Webster oversees a leadership team that also features GM Nina Kalos and added several new hires over the past 12 months in Canada and the US, including an expanded in-house content production team. The firm’s DE&I policy includes a minimum 40% commitment in terms of influencer partners, featuring such names as Sarah Nurse, Sasha Exeter and Lesley Hampton.
Veritas works with Stagwell and Doner partners on thought leadership initiatives, including a significant Harris Poll report that compared consumer confidence in Canada and the US. Webster and Kalos, meanwhile, are high profile thought leaders, overseeing a creative offering that includes high-level influencer work for Amazon Basics and standout campaigns for No Frills, Microsoft and Budweiser.
— Arun Sudhaman
Edelman sister agency Zeno was founded (as PR21) in 1999 as a classic conflict brand. The firm changed its name to Zeno in 2004, but the modern Zeno was not really born until 2009 when Barby Siegel took over as global CEO and reshaped the firm as an independent agency with its own identity and culture. Similarly, the firm’s Canadian operation was founded in 2010, but has really come into its own over the past five years, establishing itself as a serious competitor for the market’s largest consumer assignments and health and wellness briefs.
Having opened its Toronto office more than a decade ago, Zeno expanded its geographic footprint in 2021 with new offices in British Colombia and Quebec (an important foothold for national business that includes the country’s French-speaking population). And of course Zeno has a formidable presence in the US and an increasingly global reach.
Managing director Julie Georgas joined in 2017, at which time the firm had a team of just nine, and has led its explosive growth since then. This year has been another banner year, with growth for the firm’s financial year (which ends in June) of better than 30%, which means 352% revenue growth over the past five years—enough to elevate Zeno from scrappy underdog to a serious competitor for consumer and wellness work across the country. Major clients include Turkey Farmers of Canada (an eight-figure brief the firm picked up in 2018), SiriusXM, SCJohnson, Butterball, P&G and Lenovo. New clients included Clearpoint Health Network, the Crest brand portfolio, Diamond Therapeutics, Expedia, Matterport, Regeneron Genetics Center, tiptap, and Tylenol.
Serving alongside Georgas are a duo of senior vice presidents: Daniella McCrorie (health and wellness) and Heather Meehan (head of client services), and VP Toru Levinson (tech), spearheading a team that totals more than 30. New in 2021 were McCrorie (most recently with healthcare specialist Axon Communications) and VP health Fiona Buchanan (from FB Public Relations) as well as a pair of new hires in the data and analytics area: Fajir Sunba and Tyler Murphy. The firm also worked hard to maintain its culture throughout the work-from-home years with virtual tea parties, a virtual Zenoween celebration, Zeno Fit initiatives, and a robust program of giving back to the communities where the firm has a presence.
High-profile campaigns included the “This Clear View” campaign for Windex, helping the company tell its sustainability story; the introduction of Barilla’s “pastaport,” which gave Canadians the opportunity to “travel with their palates” despite the lockdown; and Expedia’s “Helping Hand” campaign, which helped consumers get back into travel by offering them a replica of Joe Jonas’ hand to hold on to while they got used to flying again.
— Paul Holmes
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