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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.
After an impressive 2020 saw Golin take home our Large Agency of the Year honors last year, 2021 was another strong year 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
The largest agency in the WPP public relations family, formed in 2018 by the merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe. Burson-Marsteller was best known for its work in corporate and public affairs, while Cohn & Wolfe was a specialist in healthcare and consumer marketing—the synergy is what made the merger a sensible option for WPP. 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.
Global growth was close to double-digits, although North American growth was more modest compared to EMEA and the Asia-Pacific regions. Still 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 (see below). The healthcare practice enjoyed the highest growth—it has more than doubled in size over the past decade—and there was new leadership and new energy in corporate, brand and technology practices. 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. And the firm’s “polycultural consulting unit,” is providing assistance to clients wresting with the same challenges by creating campaigns that acknowledge the cultural diversity of their audience.
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. Meanwhile, BCW is coming off a record-breaking year of awards success, with client highlights ranging from healthcare education like the “Get Ahead of Stroke” initiative for Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery; nonprofit work like “The First All-Civilian Trip Into Orbit” for Inspiration 4; 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.
— Paul Holmes
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 an extensive footprint in EMEA, the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America.
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%. The firm now has fee income of more than $646 million in North America. The healthcare practice, now Edelman’s largest, grew by better than 20% while some smaller practices—financial communications and employee experience among them—saw even better growth. 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 has been making good progress. It reached its 30% target last year, launched its own DEI-focused podcast, “Authentic 365” and held its first ever Global Week of Belonging dedicated to educating, engaging, and enlisting employees across the globe. 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; Robert Casamento as global head of climate; and Brent Nelsen as global head of innovation and strategy from Publicis.
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 Galaxy Z Fold3 and Z Flip3 launch for Samsung to its homeless pets initiative for Mars Petcare, from its “Unspoken Curriculum” campaign drawing attention to unequal treatment of Black students for the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to its “Cerving Confidence” initiative for Black Women’s Health Imperative and medical device company Hologic, from its “Axe Dogecan” work for the Unilever brand to its launch of an inclusive (disabled-accessible) product design for Degree.
— 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.
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.
— 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, with strong offices in all the key markets, particularly its New York headquarters and its Washington, DC, operations.
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. Equally noteworthy, 28 of the firm’s top 40 clients draw on at least five of the brands in the WS family. Particularly strong growth came once again from healthcare. here 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. In 2021, 25% of the US workforce was BIPOC, but 32% of new hires and 53% of interns. And the firm forged new partnerships with HBCUs and a range of non-profits in an effort to expand its talent pipeline. Training has been expanded too, with the Inclusive Manager’s Toolkit and courses on managing with intercultural competence. Among new additions to the team are Chris Deri, most recently with Teneo, as chief corporate affairs officer and head of C-suite advisory; Lewis Williams from Burrell Communications as head of brand impact; and Ridhi Malhotra as global head of analytics + intelligence from Zenith. 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. It followed up with 15 nominations this year, with standouts 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; answering the question “Have You Ever Put Butter on Pop-Tarts?” for Kellogg’s; purpose-driven work for AB InBev; and using hip-hop to reach a new audience of consumers for Chevorlet.
— Paul Holmes
Our 23rd annual SABRE Awards North America took place in NYC on 4 May.
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