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Founded nearly 40 years ago, WE Communications parlayed its still-critical Microsoft relationship to become one of the world’s biggest, and most successful, specialist technology PR firms. Global reach now stands at offices in 21 cities, including seven in North America, where the firm remains a benchmark in terms of helping brands harness the transformative appeal of technological change. That focus means that WE’s capabilities have broadened beyond the technology vertical to encompass considerable depth in healthcare, corporate, ESG, digital analytics and consumer marketing. Just as important, perhaps, WE continues as one of the world’s biggest independent PR firms, underpinning an entrepreneurial spirit and ‘purpose and people’ mindset that is not often associated with firms of its size.
WE’s Seattle HQ is accompanied by offices in Austin, Boston, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City.
WE’s North American fee income grew by more than 10% to $124m, after 5% growth in 2020. Once again, expansion was led by technology but intertwined, unsurprisingly, with healthcare, corporate, consumer and digital. The resilience of the technology and healthcare sectors no doubt played to WE’s strengths, but so did the changing nature of the work, particularly in terms of the greater focus required on social impact, purpose and employee activism. WE’s insight/analytics capabilities also came to the fore, as did the firm’s expanded corporate and healthcare capabilities in North America. New business included : Alteryx, Compass Pathways, Florentia Village, NetApp, Pomellato, Shopify, Trajan Scientific and Medical, Velodyne Lidar and Wing Aviation, joining a client roster that features Abbott, AbbVie, Adobe, Brother, Capgemini, Horizon Pharma, Intel, McDonalds and Microsoft.
WE’s ability to put people ahead of profits has never proved more welcome than during the pandemic, when the firm moved swiftly to prioritize employee health and safety, investing in mental health, employee assistance and repurposing operating expense budgets for employee development. A 75% belonging score among employees illustrated the benefits of this approach, while WE also stepped up investment in training and development and set up borderless teams to better handle client challenges. The firm’s leadership remains in stable shape, with CEO/founder Melissa Waggener Zorkin overseeing a senior team that includes global COO and international president Kass Sells, North American president and chief client officer Dawn Beauparlant, EVP/DEI head Elizabeth Herrera Smith and chief talent officer Kate Richmond. And WE continued to expand its DE&I focus, increasing BIPOC employee representation to 24% and partnering with such organisations as Lagrant Foundation, ColorComm and Nova Collective to drive change. There were also numerous training programmes to support this effort, including initiatives focused on senior leadership, self awareness and BIPOC mentorship.
WE’s thought leadership went up a level in 2021, when its relaunched Brands in Motion (BiM) study helped support a 74% pitch win rate in North America. The firm has shifted all of its IP to sit under the BiM umbrella, delivering regular insight into how brands adapt to the fast-changing expectations of their behaviour. Campaign highlights, meanwhile, included Cotton On’s Covid-19 vaccine partnership with Unicef; and, record-breaking social engagement for Microsoft 365.
— Arun Sudhaman
Despite making roughly twice as much money in Asia, The Hoffman Agency is still very much a US firm. The firm operates out of San Jose, California, where Lou Hoffman launched the company more than 30 years ago. In that time, the firm has grown beyond its B2B technology roots to encompass consumer marketing and integrated communications, with a particularly strong bent towards startups and disruptors.
Hoffman has offices in San Jose, California (HQ) and Boston as of 2022.
The Hoffman Agency is transforming its North American business into a digital first operation (a process already underway in Asia-Pacific and Europe) and has Gerard LaFond as the agency’s North America chief digital officer to see it through. Boston-based LaFond also expanded Hoffman’s US footprint to create an East Coast presence. Hoffman rolled out a new service to help organizations recruit technical professionals — a service that grew out of the agency’s work for the Fremont, California police department. North American business accounted for $5.4 million of the $21.1 million total Hoffman earned last year. New clients including Moloco, Airwallex, Atomera, Nextiva, Smith and Alation joined a client roster already populated by Synopsys, Nokia, Baidu, Nautilus, City of Fremont and TSMC.
Shortly into 2021, Hoffman made the wellbeing of its employees and workplace its No. 1 priority, leading to high retention rates. But when a September survey showed 23% of staff did not look forward to coming to work each day, Hoffman resolved the issue before it became damaging by restructuring its team so younger staff worked on no more than three accounts. Seeing the need to expand its pipeline of younger talent, Hoffman created a formal syllabus to strengthen internships in 2021, which in turn led to the hiring of nine full-time account coordinators. Hoffman’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is grounded in two objectives: developing a more diverse talent pool to increase the hiring of people representing the BIPOC community; and a greater understanding to its employee base of what it means to be a diverse and inclusive company. Hoffman hired 21 employees in 2021, 43% (9) representing the BIPOC community. By the close of 2021, the firm’s US staff totaled 42, 29% (12) representing the BIPOC community.
After the Trump administration finalized an agreement with TSMC in May 2020 to build a semiconductor manufacturing facility in Arizona, the company needed to hire 300 engineering grads from US universities by June 2021 to meet a milestone tied to federal subsidies. When conventional recruiting didn’t work, Hoffman created an integrated campaign that generated 13,000 applications on LinkedIn and allowed TSMC to hire those 300 engineering grads by the deadline. Thought leadership activities included developing a workshop to help executives, scientists and other subject matter experts become better sources for communications functions.
— Diana Marszalek
Hotwire is a global tech firm with 20 years of experience working with clients on communications, branding and digital marketing. It’s been five years since Hotwire bought Eastwick Communications to accelerate the UK-based company’s US expansion. There are so many technology acquisitions that ultimately fall short of expectations, that the success stories — like this one — stand out.
Hotwire has offices in San Francisco (HQ), New York, Minneapolis and Chicago.
After US revenue took a slight hit in 2020, Hotwire last year returned to the upward trajectory that earned it PRovoke Media’s 2019 Tech Agency of the Year honours. 2021 US revenue was $20.3 million, representing a 14% lift year-over-year. Global revenue increased 15% to $48.2 million. Headcount jumped from 258 to 293. In 2021, the firm nabbed new business from Peloton, Nike, and LogicMonitor, adding to existing big-name clients like Amazon, Meta, eBay, Honeywell and Dell. Hotwire added three new services with its April 2021 acquisition of McDonald Butler Associates around ABM (account-based marketing), strategic channel & alliances and industry marketing. The agency also launched new data & insights services with investment in its digital strategy and data science team.
Even before the pandemic, Hotwire was committed to mental wellbeing, providing a wellness benefit allowance, weekly meditation sessions and access to a mental health toolkit. The “Thoughtful Working” initiative, Hotwire’s unique version of flexible working, along with its pre-existing tech stack, enabled employees to continue to seamlessly work from home in 2021. Concerned about employees’ isolation and lack of socialization, agency leaders put aside money to pay for employee gatherings outside of work. In June, Heather Kernahan assumed the global CEO role from Barbara Bates, who stepped into a new advisory role with parent Enero. Heather Craft and Laura Macdonald were named co-presidents of North America.
Hotwire’s client work included building a thought leadership platform for Sarah Shin, who was named Cloudera’s chief diversity officer in late 2020. The firm was brought in to develop Shin’s executive thought leadership platform and internal communications strategy in advance of her promotion to the role, resulting in a seamless promotion announcement with a consistent narrative — work has continued to serve as the foundation of Sarah’s thought leadership platform.
— Diana Marszalek
PRovoke Media’s 2021 Technology Agency of the Year, Method has been challenging the Silicon Valley PR status quo for more than a decade. The firm is known as a go-to PR and marketing partner for high-growth challenger brands, as well as market leaders facing challenges of their own. Over two-thirds of its clients are billion-dollar brands and Method has notable experience with corporate financial transactions, including IPOs and SPACs.
Method has offices in Salt Lake City (HQ), San Francisco and New York.
Since being acquired by Chime in 2018, Method is consistently the group’s top-performing firm. After withstanding the challenges of 2020, Method continued to grow in 2021. Fee income last year rose to $18.3 million — a 24% year-over-year lift that made 2021 Method’s fourth consecutive year of double-digit growth. The firm registered 73% organic growth. The agency’s in-house research team saw 109% revenue growth, and its marketing team exceeded its growth goal for the year by 32%, largely through organic projects for current clients. Method grew its headcount by 10 to 70 to keep pace with new business from Carbon, Cartrawler, DBT Labs, ModernHealth, OKCoin and Toyota’s Woven Planet. Existing partners include Adyen, Berkshire Gray, Bloomberg, Meta, Quicken and Vivint.
Founded by David Parkinson and Jacob Moon, Method is built around deep relationships and results-driven work. Central to the company culture is Method Matters More, an initiative that prioritizes employees with programs like Method From Anywhere, a no-questions-asked work from home policy. In 2021, Method also increased its profit-sharing bonus program and additional perks during the second half of the year, including a $3,000 wellness bonus. With DEI top-of-mind, Method increased its goal for BIPOC employees from 25% to 33% by 2025; 36% of 2021’s new hires are people of color. In addition to crafting DEI programs for Meta, PagerDuty and Domo, Method has created its own framework that calls for salary audits, diversity among managers and expanding applicant pools beyond tech. 2021 hires include senior VP of narrative & thought leadership Tim Race, a former New York Times technology and business editor who in less than a year built a fierce content engine staffed by 8 former top-tier journalists.
In 2021, Method released its first internal research project: “Is Empathy Dead In America? A Method Research Report” created by its in-house research and marketing teams, ultimately pointing to the conclusion that neutrality may not be the best option for brands. The report is the first in an annual series analyzing critical public conversations. The year’s top work included repositioning Overstock as a leading home goods seller by going toe-to-toe with Amazon Prime Day with its own 48-hour flash sale. As Method continued to up the ante for Meta's DEI-related external comms, it also helped elevate multiple storylines across its broader organization spotlighting recruiting efforts, women leaders and more.
— Diana Marszalek
Over the past two decades, Walker Sands’ focus on B2B technology marketing has helped underpin consistent growth beyond its Chicago roots, bolstered by last year’s acquisition of March Communications. The firm’s focus areas include AI, distribution and logistics, fintech, enterprise software, HR tech, IT services, insurtech, martech, professional services and retail tech — supported by a fast-growing creative services department and proprietary marketing strategy and measurement methodologies.
There are 180 staffers across a Chicago HQ and offices in Seattle, San Francisco, Boston and Atlanta.
The acquisition of March helped spearhead Walker Sands’ expansion to the East Coast, adding Boston and Atlanta offices and helping Walker Sands register 40% growth to almost $30m in fee income. There was new business from Outseer, SambaNova Systems, Appfire, PPRO, ITRenew and GHX, joining a client roster that also features AmWins, Moxtra, Korn Ferry, Ensono and Paylocity.
The firm is led by CEO Mike Santoro, supported by EVPs Dave Parro and Andrew Cross. March leaders Martin Jones and Cheryl Gale also took on EVP roles following the acquisition. The firm’s ‘Learn, Support, Do’ values support a range of policies including flexible PTO and hybrid work environments, while it’s DE&I policies feature specific KPIs relating to leadership development, talent management, and program evaluation.
The firm’s work reflects its ability to cover the full spectrum of B2B marketing. For Adlucent, Walker Sands’ brand and website redesign resulted in a 258% increase in conversions, while its Semrush social media program drove a significant increase in engagement. For Sendbird, meanwhile, paid and SEO led to a 59% increase in organic search conversion rates.
— Arun Sudhaman
Our 23rd annual SABRE Awards North America took place in NYC on 4 May.
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