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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.
Growth was in line with its peer group, up by high-single digits globally, by slightly slower single digits in North America, with standout performance from corporate affairs (where BCW has broad capabilities , a growing range of C-suite services focused on issues from climate change to geopolitics, with significant growth in ESG, financial communications, tech policy and change management) and in the healthcare arena, which was up by double digits in 2022. There was new business from Circle K, Clearspeed, Nice North America, The Trust for the National Mall, The Coca-Cola Company, and New York University’s School of Professional Studies, as well as growth from existing clients including Dollar General, The Ford Motor Company, and Supernus.
The big news of the past 12 months came early in 2023, when BCW revealed that Donna Imperato—CEO since the firm’s creation—will be stepping aside later this year. While she will leave in place a strong senior leadership team (Mary Corcoran, who joined from Real Chemistry as North American president in 2022; chief people officer Patricia Enright; chief creative officer Fede Garcia; global president Brooke Hovey; chief innovation officer Chad Latz; chief inclusion officer Carol Watson) the news creates some uncertainty for a firm that has evolved in the image of its leader. Imperato has been a major advocate for a distinctive employee experience at BCW (a new mentorship program, “wellbinars,” expanded employee resource groups, the crowdsourcing of employee ideas), the “Moving People” approach and the awards program that reward employees who exemplify the values, and a significant emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion.
BCW’s integrated public affairs offer (spanning the Direct Impact and Prime Policy Group units) continues to offer a broad range of expertise in DC and nationally, with a strong emphasis on technology-related policy challenges. In the healthcare space, meanwhile, the most significant development has been the growth of digital health—now a quarter of the global healthcare team—as well as expansion into areas such as scientific communications. The firm earned eight nominations for Gold SABRE Awards in North America, with work ranging from the “First Ever Gaming Shower” for Irish Spring, to the “Here For What Matters” initiative for Dollar General, from “The Reality Flag” for the Human Rights Campaign to “The Heart Failure Game Show” for Novartis/Entresto. Other highlights included “our bodies are not indecent” for Moon, which sought to normalize menstrual blood, and showcasing the New York attitude for New York Festivals.
— Paul Holmes
Initially founded as the public affairs arm of the Arnold & Porter law firm, and later part of Grey Advertising network, APCO has enjoyed its best years since buying back its independence, solidifying its position as the world’s largest independent public affairs firm while expanding its broader corporate reputation and digital capabilities and generally helping C-suite clients see around corners.
APCO’s headquarters are in Washington, DC, which is still the firm’s flagship office, but it has been building out a national footprint that includes a significant New York operation (delivering broader corporate and financial work) and additional North American offices in Raleigh, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle—supplemented by an extensive global footprint that includes all the major policy-making centers.
After a dramatic 20% increase in fee income in 2021, last year saw more modest—but still impressive—10% increase globally, to $186 million. North America contributes a little less than half of that revenue ($87.4 million) due in part to the continued expansion of the firm’s EMEA operations. The technology sector saw particularly strong growth in 2022—up by 31$not a surprise given the hostility several segments of the market have attracted from politicians on both sides of the divide. New and strengthened relationships in 2022, meanwhile, covered all three of the firm’s major pillars: corporate reputation (Estee Lauder, Fila, Ellucian); healthcare (Mass General Brigham, Takeda, HIA); and public affairs (IKEA, the Nuclear Energy Initiative, Unite America). The firm also launched Trilligent, a virtual boutique agency led by Evan Kraus, focused on innovation and with a presence in the metaverse.
APCO first implemented a diversity and inclusion program in North America in 2009, with clearly stated goals. Efforts evolved over time with the formation of a DEI Council in North America in 2018 and today more than 35% of APCO’s North America team are ethnically diverse as well as 37% of its board of directors is diverse. New initiatives in 2022 included APCO Encore, a special program designed to attract caregivers in particular back into the workforce. New hires, meanwhile, included Sharron Silvers from BCW as senior director, reputation and media strategy; reputation and DEI expert Selena Wrights from H+K; head of campaigns and advocacy Nina Verghes; Monique Bellamy, a tech and antitrust expert; and Obama and DNC veteran Ami Copeland as head of DC public affairs.
With geopolitical issues occupying an increasingly important spot on the corporate agenda, APCO would appear to be well positioned, not only because of its Global Solutions practice, which pre-dates the current response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by many years, but also its geo-commerce expertise, all underpinned by evolved intelligence and predictive analytics tools. The firm also enjoys a strong position in areas such as investor activism, antitrust, purpose and ESG, climate and more. Much of the firm’s thought leadership reflects that focus, with frequent real-time reports from China Reform Watch to Ukraine Crisis Update, a new “risk radar” monitoring geopolitical issues; as well as studies on ESG and DEI in global markets. High-profile work includes coalition-building for the NEI; purpose-driven work around women’s empowerment for Estee Lauder; and engagement on sustainability issues for IKEA.
— Paul Holmes
Throughout its 61-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. And 2022 was a year of considerable reimagination for the Columbus OH headquartered firm, as it refocused its efforts across data, design and creativity. The firm’s travel, tourism and economic development practice, along with its B2B/tech offering, are nationally renowned, while subsidiary brands Turner (luxury, lifestyle and hospitality) and Mindstream Interactive (a digital analytics, design and UX shop that was integrated in 2022) support its overall efforts.
Fahlgren Mortine’s 286 staffers operate 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’s retooled service offering drove 32% growth in 2022 to almost $40m, led by 79 new business wins and resulting in a 61% increase in headcount. There was new business from Bath & Body Works, Allergan/AbbVie, Kent State University, Park National Bank, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Tupelo Honey, Amneal Pharma, Helen of Troy Brands, Phare and Australia Tourism. Meanwhile, the existing client roster features Abbott, Dunkin’, Parkinson’s Foundation, DHL Supply Chain, American Honda Motor Co, Visit California, Nevada Division of Tourism, Cardinal Health, Sonoma County Tourism and Emerson.
Chairman and CEO Neil Mortine has been in charge since 2010, a tenure that has seen Fahlgren Mortine triple its revenues and expand its operations into advertising and digital. Last year, Marty McDonald was named president as part of a planned succession, while other key leaders include EVPs and practice leads Aaron Brown, Mark Miller, and Sean Cowan. The firm has improved its racial diversity to 12.5% from under 9% in 2021, while five of its offices are led by women. 98% of Fahlgren Mortine’s associates report mid to high employee engagement, thanks to workplace culture that includes significant mental health/wellness support, professional development, personalized education, and community advocacy and volunteering. The firm’s DEI committee partners with several HBCU’s to improve its recruitment and internship practices, and Fahlgren Mortine also works with The Diversity Movement to provide staff development resources.
Last year saw Fahglren Mortine host its B2B Peer Summit to share best practice among communicators, and resulting an an e-book. Meanwhile, a new survey assessed and identified emerging trends in consumer travel as tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels. And Fahlgren Mortine’s product offering includes new services focused on DE&I and ESG, while the integration of digital, design and UX capabilities is a hallmark of the firm’s work. Campaign highlights included four SABRE nominations, for Coastal Mississippi, Columbia Gas of Ohio, and DHL Supply Chain.
— Arun Sudhaman
Founded in 2013 by Molly Levinson, the Levinson Group (TLG) is probably best known for its crisis and risk management work, along with its public interest efforts on such issues as pay equity, press freedom and human rights. The firm is regularly called in to handle complex issues and crisis situations, on behalf of Fortune 50 corporations, tech/entertainment companies, major sports franchises, Olympic athletes, global celebrities and business leaders. In addition, it has helped lead successful efforts to deliver equal pay for the US Women’s National soccer team; advised high-profile #MeToo survivors and groups; and served as comms strategist for global human rights advocates. The firm fuses experience in politics, policy, the private sector, and the law with deep media relationships and a commitment to pursuing meaningful work.
TLG is headquartered in Washington, DC with additional locations in New York and London.
TLG’s 17-strong consultancy is regularly cited among the best firms working in the legal and crisis areas. Accordingly, much of its client work is confidential but new business that can be disclosed includes AxiosHQ, Girl Scouts of the USA, The Information, Live Nation/Ticketmaster and President Biden’s personal legal team. Existing clients feature Darktrace, Delaware North Companies, the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation, Imerys Talc America, the National Audobon Society and the US Women’s National soccer team. TLG has worked on some of the biggest crises in recent years.
Molly Levinson often serves as lead strategist, and is supported by recent hires Matt McKenna, Michael Crittenden, Abbie McDonough, and Saira Zaki, each of whom brings significant political, crisis and public affairs experience. Kaye Verville is another key consultant, focusing in particular on moments of business change. TLG’s flat structure empowers employees to contribute equally, while there is also a significant focus on mentorship and pro bono work related to gender, press freedom and human rights. Levinson recently bolstered its staff benefits across salary, bonuses, PTO, parental leave and hybrid work, while its DE&I commitments include leadership opportunities for female staffers, and Levinson’s own status as a DE&I champion as recognized by Ragan’s.
TLG’s pro bono work lends itself to consistent thought leadership on social issues, while it also engages comms and law firms on DE&I issues to help boost industry leadership from traditionally under-represented groups. The firm has rolled out a new product focused on cyber security preparedness, while campaign highlights include SABRE-nominated efforts for the US Women’s National soccer team and Tracy McCarter’s successful campaign to have her murder charges dismissed.
— Arun Sudhaman
When it comes to high-stakes public battles on the West Coast, Sam Singer’s firm is very likely to be involved on one side of the aisle. Since its 2000 founding, Singer Associates has built its reputation on creating winning strategies and campaigns for clients in real estate, land use entitlement, litigation, environmental issues, political, public, and regulatory affairs. The firm also brings a mixture of news media, government, community relations, advertising, social media and digital skills that not all agencies of Singer’s size and ilk have, which have given rise to its long-running (and award-winning) corporate-sponsored community-based newspaper/news site, The Richmond Standard for Chevron, and precipitated its selection as our 2019 Boutique Agency of the Year.
Singer Associates is based in San Francisco and handles work for clients across the country as well as Japan and Latin America.
Singer Associates capped 2022 as a $6.7 million firm, thanks to a 40% rise in revenue over 2021. The firm credits that growth to expanded remits from existing clients as well as new business wins from Koi Nation Indian Tribe Casino, Fair Trade USA, San Francisco Unified School District, Charles Schwab, Hines Real Estate, Aymium, Bloom Energy and Valley Transportation Authority. Singer’s penchant for high-stakes situations — and adeptness at managing them — has won him longstanding relationships with a range of organizations with household names like Chevron, Facebook, Sapporo, Hines Real Estate, Stanford University, Nike, Coca-Cola, the Golden State Warriors, Denver Broncos and the City of San Francisco.
Singer has maintained a steadfast commitment to diversity and equality in the workplace over our 20-plus years in business. Sam Singer’s wife Sharon Rollins Singer co-owns the firm, and 43% of its leaders are women. The agency encourages minority applications and opportunities and have client relationships with organizations that put a premium on equality, which includes serving as the agency of record for the San Francisco NAACP. Singer heads the organization with a leadership bench that includes Jason Galisatus, Noah Starr and Rory J. O’Connor.
Singer’s work Blue Shield put him at the center of the insurance provider’s dispute with California after the state excluded it from participating in its Medicaid program — the country’s largest. Singer’s digital campaign played a role in turning the tide for Blue Shield, which recouped its spot on the state’s Medicaid provider list — and the $1 billion in business it could have lost. A website and animated video for California’s Koi Nation bolstered support for the construction of a resort and casino on tribal land.
— Arun Sudhaman
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