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One of the leading independents on the New York marketplace for many years, M Booth was acquired by Next Fifteen (best known for its technology and digital capabilities) in 2009 and has been growing rapidly ever since. While it is known primarily for its consumer work—largely due to strong creative work in sectors ranging from food to travel to financial services—M Booth has long had a formidable corporate capability, and in 2019 added a robust healthcare capability with the acquisition of the US operations of Health Unlimited. The firm has also been expanding digital and social, data and analytics and other content creation capabilities.
M Booth offers national coverage from its headquarters office in New York and smaller satellite office in San Francisco, supported by parent company Next Fifteen’s global network.
It’s fair to say that while 2020 was a difficult year it was also M Booth’s bounce-back year—it ended down just a few hundred thousand dollars from a record-setting 2019—which means that 2021 was “pure” growth, up a very healthy 33% to around $58 million for M Booth and $75 million including the M Booth Health brand. It achieved that impressive level of growth while acting with some restraint—turning down more opportunities than it chased—so that 80% of that revenue growth came from existing clients such as P&G, The Macallan, Bacardi, Pepsi and Hood, several of which added corporate work to their existing consumer remits. New clients included Nature Made, Pfizer, Behr Paint, Grand Marnier and Duolingo. In addition to growing the healthcare business, there was strong activity in social impact, influencer, and multicultural marketing.
The firm increased its BIPOC representation to 31% across M Booth and M Booth Health—that’s more than 100 individuals. And not content with hitting that topline goal, the firm examined its pay equity in partnership with third-party consultancy (AON, which found close to 100% equity across both race and gender. As professionals began to return to their offices, M Booth rejected the false binary of home vs office, and embraced a model rooted in norms rather than rules. Inviting employees to live IRL, the firm defined this as Inspired Relevant Leadership—values it emphasizes. The approach helped minimize any fallout from the “great resignation” and to attract new talent, with new hires strengthening key practice areas: Stacey Bernstein, most recently Weber Shandwick's digital health lead, as CEO of M Booth Health; Adam Selwyn as EVP, creative & strategy director; and senior VP Christian Chamberlin (social impact and climate), Lindsay Munson (luxury and partnerships), and Kaitlyn Kotlowski (corporate).
The pandemic and the biopharma sector’s rapid response, developing vaccines in record time and then struggling to convince some Americans of their safety, M Booth undertook a vital survey of attitudes towards the sector. The “Brandemic” report identified the seismic shifts that were changing healthcare marketing forever. That effort earned a SABRE nomination, one of 10 for M Booth overall (beaten only by two larger global agencies). Outstanding creative included an employee recognition campaign for Pfizer; the 7-Eleven “Gamers’ Paradise” work; gaining attention for Ernst & Young’s research into empathy in leadership; a partnership between P&G’s Cascade brand and actor Sterling K. Brown; and—also for P&G—a campaign to “Close the Chore Gap.”
— Paul Holmes
PRovoke Media’s 2020 Boutique Agency of the Year, Bospar launched in 2015 as a fully virtual agency, meaning that, while much of the industry scrambled to adjust to new ways of working in 2021, Bospar doubled down on business as usual, resulting in its seventh consecutive year of growth.
Bospar was one of the early adopters of being a virtual, work-from-home agency. Without the limits of physical spaces, the agency has been able to expand to over 15 locations, including San Francisco (HQ), Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Austin, Houston, Scottsdale, Tallahassee, Minneapolis, and Raleigh.
Being “politely pushy” is paying off for Bospar, which in 2021 grew a remarkable 115% to $12.5 million from $6.8 million in 2020. Headcount grew to 82 from 32. The firm maintains nearly 20% profitability. While Bospar’s roots are in enterprise tech, it has expanded its expertise to span most dimensions of B2B with some consumer as evident in its client roster. New business came from Alembic, BioBidet, Lessen, PandaDoc, Redsift, Text IQ, Aeva, Cohesity, Karat, and SpotHero, joining long-term clients Ceres Imaging, Next Pathway, Open Systems, Oxygen, Rollbar, SingleStore, Smarty, Spiceworks, Supplyframe, and Unisys.
Being a permanently, fully remote agency is part of Bospar’s long-range goal of removing barriers that have historically cut people out of the communications industry, opening employment to people regardless of location, background and means. Bospar partnered with Elon University’s diversity job network and is actively seeking new relationships with historically black and/or minority colleges and universities. The agency also sourced a Black and minority vendors list for it to use and to recommend to clients. Bospar’s success is a credit to its co-founders — Silicon Valley vet Chris Boehlke and Curtis Sparrer, who was Boehlke’s mentee at the time. Other key people include principal Tom Carpenter, chief content officer Tricia Heinrich and CFO Joe Krasinski.
One of Bospar’s most high profile 2021 campaigns didn’t entail client work, but rather Bospar taking a leadership role in challenging Texas’ restrictive abortion law after it went into effect last September. The agency offered to underwrite its six Texas-based employees’ moves out of the Lone Star state as a means of ensuring their reproductive rights. Bospar pledged to extend the program to residents of other states that follow suit by banning most abortions. Hallmark initiatives also include Bospar’s work for Unisteller positioning astronomy as an antidote to problems caused by lockdown. The agency leveraged the pandemic toilet paper shortage to drive awareness and sales of Bio Bidet.
— Diana Marszalek
Current Marketing was launched in 2006 as a boutique offering within the Interpubic family of agencies, and in 2019 merged with Creation, another IPG firm headquartered in the UK, to form Current Global. While Current was known primarily as a consumer marketing specialist—consumer still accounts for 50% of revenues—it had developed expertise in healthcare and technology before the merger with Creation, which significantly expanded its corporate capabilities (now about 20% of its business globally).
Current Global has US offices in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and an international network that includes offices in London, Germany, India, China and Latin America.
After impressive growth in 2020, last year was another strong one for Current, which saw fee income increase by 20% domestically and globally, ending the year with total fees in excess of $37 million and US fees of around $27 million. New business came from the likes of Abbott (diabetes care and nutrition), Bissell, Clubhouse, Ericsson, Kellogg’s, NetApp, Philips, Sanofi, Unitec Therapeutics and Universal, while the company’s top 10 clients include some of the biggest names in corporate America: Novartis, FedEx, Applebee’s, Clorox, Papa John’s, and Shamrock Foods.
As Current has grown so too has the leadership team. Joining global co-CEO Virginia Devlin and North American president Amy Colton in 2021 were new global consumer lead Pete Campisi, from sister agency Weber Shandwick, and senior VPs Chris Hamilton (media relations), Rebecca Roussell (DEI communications), Kerry Schimmebusch (technology), and Lisa Washaw (technology). The firm has also been emphasizing DEI internally and externally (supporting NGOs with a social change focus), and tapping into its culture to drive innovation through its Current Global Academy and its emphasis on “curious ideas.”
Current Global’s creative work has soared to new heights over the past 12 months: the firm partnered with FCB and the City of Chicago on “Boards of Change,” which took the graffiti-strewn wood from stores that were boarded-up during the Black Lives Matters protests and turned them into voter registration booths, and it won Best in Show at the PR Week Awards for “Preserve the Pit,” which helped barbeque company Kingsford recognize an African-American tradition and create a scholarship program for aspiring chefs. But the firm has also been receiving accolades for an initiative it undertook to address the need to make communications more accessible to people of differing abilities through its Accessible by Design initiative—initially an agency program and now a movement that has been recognized by our SABRE Awards and by sources such as Fast Company.
— Paul Holmes
Founded in Pittsburgh as part of Ketchum Advertising, the public relations firm soon became more famous than its ad agency parent, establishing itself as a top 10 global PR shop before its 1996 acquisition by Omnicom. While Ketchum is a full-service agency—there’s a thriving healthcare practice, and capabilities in corporate and technology—it remains best known for its work in the consumer space and for its outstanding creative track record.
Headquartered in New York, Ketchum has a presence in nine US cities, as well as in Toronto and Montreal, and an extensive global network.
After seeing its revenues decline by mid-single digits in 2020, Ketchum gained all of that back and more in 2021, recording its first year of double-digit growth in quite some time, with the North American operations—under the leadership of president Neera Chaudhary for a little more than a year now—up in the mid-teens. There was particularly strong growth in industry sectors such as technology and in practices such as corporate reputation and in offerings such as creative and analytics. It was also the best new business year in quite some time, with new assignments from clients such as California Walnuts, the American Egg Board, Make a Wish, Frito Lay, Mastercard, Godiva and Philips.
Ketchum’s “empathy and intelligence” tagline is clearly a message for clients that the firm can provide thoughtful strategic counsel and a real understanding of audience needs, but it also sends a message internally, with the “empathy” part incredibly important as employees beginning to return to the office with expectations of greater flexibility. The firm also stepped up its efforts in the DE&I space, increasing BIPOC representation by 3% in 2021, during which a third of all new hires were diverse. The firm took in the most diverse group of interns in its history (50% with many landing full-time positions), counseled more than 25 clients on their own DE&I and social justice efforts, and provided $100,000 in pro bono support during HBCU Week.
While the top-line numbers suggest that a turnaround is underway at Ketchum, it’s still the creative work—unwaveringly excellent no matter what the financial picture has looked like—that continues to set the firm apart from its peers: it led the industry in North American SABRE nominations again this year with 14. Ketchum was the PR agency for Mastercard’s Cannes-winning “True Name” campaign in support of the trans community; it supported PepsiCo’s transformative “PepsiCo Positive” ESG initiative; assisted 3M with its stereotype-shattering “State of Science” index; worked with longtime client Wendy’s on its “Super Wendy's World” campaign; and produced equally compelling consumer work for the likes of Cheetos, Clorox, Cottonelle and the American Egg Board. The firm also produced its own thought leadership work, with its “The New Essentials: Working Lessons from a Year in the Pandemic” a standout.
— Paul Holmes
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