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Praytell has been on a roll since Andy Pray founded the firm with two employees in 2013, thanks to the company’s ambition of driving meaningful impact on clients and consumers — without the high-stakes hustle and pressures that often come with doing so. The agency’s “no ego, no BS” mandate, and willingness to take chances, is increasingly drawing big-name clients, as well as the creative talent to support them.
Praytell has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Austin. The agency also has offices in London and Melbourne.
Praytell started 2021 landing big RFPs with Sally Beauty Holdings, Under Armour and Norton, followed by Shopify, DoorDash and E. & J. Gallo Winery. The momentum with bigger, more integrated scopes drove 28% year-over-year growth, making Praytell a $25.5 million business. The agency launched new practice groups including alcohol, lifestyle, travel and food & beverage. The agency scaled its new tech practice particularly fast. 2021 saw Praytell expand globally, adding an Australia office to its US and UK footprint. All while maintaining robust relationships with existing clients including Anheuser-Busch, Destination Canada, Estee Lauder, Danone North America, Fender, No Kid Hungry and Zappos.
After formalizing its approach to DEI, Praytell in one year increased its BIPOC employees from 38% to 42%. The agency also increased representation at senior levels bringing BIPOC representation from 28% to 31%. Other internal efforts include building new organization structures, ways of working and evolving job descriptions under the mantra of “keeping it Praytell,” which means people-first, flexible and transparent. In addition to its employee-led training program, Praytell bolstered its curriculum to incorporate coaching, writing and personal career development. ERGs hosted speakers to share expertise on managing a successful growth path through time management, work life balance and restorative measures. With burnout at a high, the agency adopted a four-day workweek. In addition to founder & CEO Andy Pray, key people include president Beth Cleveland and chief creative officer Scott Schneider.
Praytell capped 2021 with bringing the northern lights to Grand Central Terminal, as part of its campaign to pique travelers’ interest in a winter trip north on behalf of Destination Canada. “Into the Northern Lights: An Immersive Experience,” which included an immersive northern lights instillation, drew nearly 10,000 New Yorkers over three days. The year’s other showcase work included helping Sally Beauty encourage consumers to use hair color as a means of self-expression, which included partnering with influencer Heather Chelan, creator of the TikTok video "Having Colored Hair Doesn't Make You Unprofessional," on a 360-campaign featuring and a diverse cast of influencers with varied professions, ages, and backgrounds.
— Diana Marszalek
After a couple of quiet years, which included its sale from China’s Bluefocus to private equity players CVC Capital/CDPQ, Citizen Relations appears to have returned to prominence under the leadership of global president Nick Cowling. The firm’s strong roots across consumer, corporate and creative provided the foundation for the launch of a new mission in 2020, focusing on purpose-led communications and supported by a social impact division led by Dr Shilpa Tiwari. That positioning has transformed the agency’s offering towards helping clients determine how to behave, rather than just what they say, and is supported by a new creative and strategic hub in North America.
Globally, there are 185 staffers, with the majority of staffers operating across four offices in Canada, and three more in the US. Citizen also owns Canadian firm Middle Child.
Citizen grew by around 28% in 2021 to $29m, marking the realisation of a transformation strategy that began a couple of years earlier. The Toronto office helped drive creative and strategy expansion, while the US region grew for the first time in seven years. Two new revenue streams — social impact and strategy/creative — contributed to new business wins, and expanded work for existing clients such as P&G, Molson Coors, PepsiCo Foods, Duracell, Loblaws, Egg Farmers of Canada, Tourism Australia, United Wheels and Group Bimbo. New clients in 2021 included VinFast, Hanes Brands, Coast Capital, Assurion, Teck Resources, Corby Distilleries, Accolade Wines, and the City of Helsinki — illustrating how Citzen’s focus on innovation is paying off.
Cowling’s leadership team also includes US GM Laura Bremer, Toronto GM Jen Duggan, its first chief creative officer in Josh Budd, and Tiwari as social impact EVP. There was an increase in its employee engagement score from 77% to 82%, reflecting how Citizen’s new sense of purpose is also translating to a more vibrant employee culture. A new DEI strategy, based on research conducted last year, is set to be released this month — supported by the restructuring of hiring recruitment policies and partnerships with Empower Onyx and Eliminate H8.
There were multiple SABRE nominations for Citizen Relations at the 2022 North American Awards, reflecting the firm’s rejuvenated creative capabilities. These included ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ and ‘Heineken Fresh Looks’ for MolsonCoors, CES work for TCL, healthcare programming for SickKids Hospital Foundation, and the ‘Ugly Truths Holiday Sweater’ campaign for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
— Arun Sudhaman
Throughout its 60-year history, Fahlgren Mortine has aimed to continually reinvent itself as a means of keeping pace with and serving clients as they undergo changes of their own. Since being sold to Eastport Holdings, and merged with fellow Eastport company SBC Advertising three months later, Fahlgren Mortine is very much a hybrid business, rather than a firm focused on a single discipline. As such, the Columbus, Ohio-based agency believes it can offer clients the authenticity of PR coupled with the creativity of an ad agency and accountability of a digital shop.
Fahlgren Mortine operates in nine US cities, with offices in Columbus, Ohio (HQ); New York, Chicago; Denver; Cleveland; Dayton, Ohio; Charleston, West Virginia; Boise, Idaho; and Sacramento, California.
Fahlgren Mortine used 2021 to enhance its scope of services, resulting in revenue growing by 20% – a record for the 60-year-old firm — to $30 million. Staff grew to 188 from 163 to support 30 new business wins, another record-setting number. New revenue also came via the March 2021 acquisition of Precision Public Relations, which merged with the agency’s Boise office. 2021 saw Fahlgren Mortine launch DE&I, ESG and employee engagement practices. New clients including Columbus City Schools, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Donatos, Drone Express, Greif and Hostess joined key partners including Bed Bath & Beyond, Dunkin, Parkinson’s Foundation, DHL Supply Chain and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.
Rather than retreat, Fahlgren Mortine responded to the recent dizzying pace of change by improving its metrics in recruitment, employee engagement and DE&I. The agency nearly tripled the number of new hires with 59 new associates compared to 20 hired the previous year, and nearly doubled the racial diversity of its workforce to 9.8% from 5.4% a year ago. Employee engagement jumped, with 83% reporting “increased productivity and meaningful engagement” versus 51% the previous year. Six of the agency’s nine offices are led by women, and 53% of managers are female and/or racially/ethnically diverse. Since Neil Mortine took the helm of Fahlgren Mortine as president and CEO in 2010, the agency has doubled its revenue from $12 million to more than $30 million in 2021. Other key people include executive VPs and practice leads Marty McDonald, Aaron Brown, Mark Miller, and Sean Cowan
Fahlgren Mortine’s 2021 initiatives include the creation of a B2B Peer Summit, a peer group of senior-level clients who openly share best practices and collaborate on solutions facing business-to-business marketers and communicators. The agency also refocused its CSR spending on addressing the digital inequities creating educational inequities in the age of remote learning. Efforts included donating laptops and tablets to public schools in communities throughout Ohio and supporting programs providing access to technology for learning in markets where the firm has offices. The year’s work included creating wellness programs to help Sonoma County Tourism draw travelers. The agency helped Donate Life communicate the importance of being an organ donor by using haptic technology to the share the sound and feel of a beating heart.
— Diana Marszalek
Founded in Jeff Lambert’s basement in Grand Rapids, Lambert retains the scrappy underdog ethos that has guided its journey from such humble beginnings to becoming Michigan’s largest public relations firm.
In addition to Grand Rapids and Michigan cities Detroit and Lansing, there are offices in New York, Houston, Phoenix and now St. Louis thanks to its September acquisition of The Vandiver Group. An early adopter of the PR / IR model, Lambert is a key player in the investor relations, automotive and mobility and private equity sectors
Lambert grew an impressive 22% in 2021, which was the 22nd consecutive year of growth for the agency. The agency closed out the year as a $16.7 million business up from $13.6 in 2020. The firm’s headcount rose to 88 from 74. New business came from an array of companies —CarLotz, Bell's Brewing, Aqua Leisure, Athena Consumer SPAC, BAE Systems, Zeus Electric Chassis and Co-Diagnostics among them — which joined a roster already populated by the likes of Bell/Textron, Detroit Public Schools, Armstrong International, Shyft Group, Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Wolverine Worldwide. Lambert bought St. Louis’s The Vandiver Group and Grand Rapids’ Rocket Science Creative in 2021, bringing to five the number of acquisitions by the agency in two years.
After 22 years, Jeff Lambert announced in November that he would be stepping down as CEO, ceding the role to then-managing partner Michelle Olson on January 1. Lambert, as founder and chairman, still leads the consultancy’s vision, innovation and M&A. He also focusses on leading Tiicker, his nonprofit Americantbreathe.org and consulting work in DE&I. Don Hunt, a 22-year veteran of the firm, remains president. New hires include Dexter Sullivan, director of diversity, equity, allyship & inclusion; Nicole Webb-Elder, managing director of talent & culture; and Kimberly Hoyle, managing director of business development & marketing. In 2021, Lambert spun off DEI consultancy Equalsign to its minority and female co-founders. The firm’s nonprofit arm, Americantbreathe.org, has invested $500,000 in Black-owned businesses and nonprofits serving the Black community to date. Other efforts include trading pro bono PR services for diversity training certifications for six Lambert staff from National Diversity Council; and partnering with NAMWOLF (National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms) to offer webinars for corporations/clients. Jeff Lambert was named the Diversity Action Alliance’s Ally of the Year in 2021. Marketing director Cierra Mangal was named Young Ally of the Year.
During Covid, the firm codified its vision in “Be Legendary. Leave a Mark.” It’s an apt complement to Lambert’s mission of being “The Best At Becoming Better,” a nod to the firm’s commitment to staff, clients and communities. 2021 showed the fruits of living up to those goals through launches, acquisitions and expanded capabilities — which won Jeff Lambert recognition from the Diversity Action Alliance, which named him Ally of the Year in 2021, PROI Worldwide, of which Lambert is global chair-elect; and the business journal MiBiz, which named him executive Dealmaker of the Year. The firm bolstered its capabilities and geographical footprint with its acquisition of St. Louis comms firm The Vandiver Group and creative consultancy Rocket Science Creative. With an eye on the future, Lambert launched an NFT Practice. The year’s hallmark work includes supporting Bell’s Brewery through the craft beer’s sale to an Australian beverage company and MGP Ingredients through a major acquisition.
— Diana Marszalek
PAN Communications has been around since 1995, evolving its capabilities to be at the forefront of integrated marketing across B2B tech and healthcare IT. Created and run by CEO Phil Nardone, the firm is known for its approach to helping brands build roadmaps for sustainable growth and long-term success at early, mid and late-stage milestones, while fostering market awareness and leadership for companies that specialize in cloud, security, AI, digital health and fintech/eCommerce among others.
PAN has offices in Boston (HQ), San Francisco, New York, Orlando, and London.
PAN’s revenue rose 13% in 2021, turning the Boston-based agency into a $26.1 million business supported by 209 (up from 189) employees. During year, PAN expanded its offerings to include an enhanced messaging/positioning framework, employer branding programs for talent acquisition and retention, purposeful work driven by ESG and DE&I initiatives, a guided program for brands on the road to IPO and crisis communications. Clients responded positively, giving PAN a 93% satisfaction ranking in the agency’s 2021 annual client survey. The firm’s growth was driven by new business from Amwell. Bitdefender, Clarify Health, Collibra, iCIMS and Quickbase, joining existing clients athenahealth, Braze, Citrix, LeanTaaS, NTT Data, Optimizely and Rapid7.
PAN describes its culture as one where employees are encouraged to engage their curiosity, follow their passions and challenge each other to think differently. And in 2021, PAN worked to further its already-extensive wellness program with mental health resources, an anonymous email channel to executives, dedicated coaching, wellness webinar series, wellness reimbursement, and fitness tips. PAN built on the robust DE&I framework it instituted in 2020, launching a guest lecture series at two HBCUs; hiring more BICOP talent; recruiting from Howard University; and creating a fellowship. PAN focuses on career development with a dedicated career coach model, specialized roles, tracks and a 1:1 mentorship program. The agency operates with a HyFlex working model and formalized PAN Virtual, a community for employees that is not tied to a physical office location. Founder/CEO Philip Nardone expanded his leadership bench to include three new executive VPs. New York leader Brandon Thomas was named the agency’s head of DEI.
PAN evaluates its clients' work in three ways: delivering results that speak the language of internal executives, meaningfully moving the needle with the external audiences, and gaining their trust to tell their evolving brand stories. Named “NXT Stage” PAN’s approach supports brands from startup to mid-stage, all the way through IPO. PAN has published three new guides advising brands on employer branding, the road to IPO and DEI. The year’s hallmark work included helping Weave plan for its IPO; driving awareness of OneStream amid expansion; and introducing a new CloudBees executive suite as well as announcing the company’s Series F round, in which they raised $150M.
— Diana Marszalek
Our 23rd annual SABRE Awards North America took place in NYC on 4 May.
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