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Highwire has established a solid reputation as a Silicon Valley PR firm known for consistently good work and strong leadership. Over its 14-year history, its three co-founders have been committed to constantly transforming its offerings around digital and content innovation and, in 2022, the firm secured a strategic investment from Los Angeles-based Shamrock Capital as a means of furthering the agency’s growth. Agency principals are Kathleen Gratehouse, Carol Carrubba and Emily Borders.
Highwire has offices in San Francisco (HQ), New York, Chicago and Boston.
For the 120-person shop, revenue grew 16% to $34 million, fueled in part by the firm’s investment in building out digital capabilities over the last few years including the 2020 acquisition of digital marketing agency Wonderscript. In 2022, Highwire’s digital practice drove 61% of the agency’s organic growth, grew 75% year-over-year and is an instrumental pillar in nearly all of the agency’s new business wins. By the end of 2022, 71% of enterprise clients integrated with our digital services, up from 28% at the end of 2021. 2020 also saw Highwire securing a strategic investment from Shamrock Capital, setting up the firm to pursue additions to its healthcare practice and building out its digital data analytics, public affairs and corporate communications capabilities. New business came from Okta and Netlify and an array of healthcare clients — Zocdoc, Primary Health, HiLabs and SimplePractice. Long-standing partners include Rocket Lawyer (12 years) and Twilio (10 years).
Highwire’s commitment to diversity bore fruit in 2022, achieving 45% racial diversity — exceeding the 40% goal it set in 2020; 32% of leadership is diverse. Highwire, however, continues to roll out new DEI-boosting efforts such as its ‘Sustain the Gain’ program, which focuses on recruiting diverse talent through one-to-one relationship building. In Q1, the agency expanded its roster of employee-led affinity groups with the launch of the BIPOC Collective, whose first product was producing a video showcasing the intersection of food and culture. Highwire also is adding new solutions and systems that will help employees work more efficiently given Highwire’s hybrid work model. Tech leader Jason Mayde has created a chatbot service that provides employees 24-hour tech support.
Highwire’s most interesting 2022 efforts included its work for B2B loyalty marketing company Alliance Data, which had to shift its business model or risk being a causality of changing consumer habits, like the malls and brick-and-mortar stores the company supported. Alliance did that by reinventing itself as Bread Financial, a consumer-facing digital financial services company. Highwire attainted its goal of reaching Gen Z users with a social media and digital campaign that enlisted Gen Z financial activist Taylor Price and brand ambassadors.
— Diana Marszalek
Kivvit was created in October of 2015 through the merger of ASGK Public Strategies and M Public Affairs, with the goal of bringing the tenacity—and results-orientation—of political campaigns into corporate and nonprofit sectors to corporate clients. It is best known for public affairs and issues management work, as well as for its outstanding digital operations—including an investment in proprietary data and analytics that powers its campaigns and enables it to demonstrate real business impact.
Kivvit has operations across the United States, with offices in Boston, Chicago, Miami, New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC.
Revenues were flat in 2022, still a hair short of $40 million, with 120 people spread across the firm’s six main offices. Unlike many of its peers in the public affairs realm, Kivvit does not work for political candidates, so election years don’t typically provide a spike in revenues, although its does do some work on ballot initiatives. The firm continues to work for an interesting cross section of corporate and non-profit clients, with big names including Anheuser-Busch the Asian American Federation, FWD.us, Google, Laborers' International Union of North America, Villanova University, and The Nature Conservancy. New business success in 2022 came from Cordis, Fast Company and Inc. (both owned by Mansueto Ventures), Getir, LanzaJet, the University of Denver, Mount Sinai Parenting Center, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey.
Edelman and AT&T veteran Eric Seidler continues in his role as founder and CEO, with a leadership team that consists of chief operating officer Molly Scherrman, and chief strategy officer Zach Silber. Additions in 2022 included three new key employees in Miami: managing director Robin Rosenbaum, former 25-year veteran of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton; senior director Carmelina Perea; and associate director Andrew Otazo. Kivvit has launched a transformative approach to DEI that began with a DEI Implementation committee that and has created specific teams focused on culture and retention, infrastructure and education, partnerships & vendors, and workforce & recruitment. The current staff profile is 9.7% Hispanic or Latinx, 12.9% Black or African American, and 7.1% Asian and Pacific Islander. Other areas of emphasis in the past 12 months have included a renewed focus on mental health and wellness, and a new volunteerism initiative.
The area in which Kivvit continues to distinguish itself from competitors in the public affairs and corporate reputation work is in its in-depth application of data and analytics throughout the process of developing, delivering, and measuring the impact of its work. Last year, the firm’s work for Anheuser Busch earned it unique double recognition, winning North American SABRE Awards for both research and planning and measurement and evaluation. And this year it has been expanding its data and analytics capabilities even further: developing new tools to deliver effective ESG communications and reports, using data to precisely target highly specific audiences (such as cardiovascular and thoracic surgeons for device company Cordis) and to drive media coverage. The firm enjoyed success on all four of its ballot initiatives (covering clean water and infrastructure issues) as well as on a number of corporate ESG and DEI initiatives, with environmental justice a specific focus. One highlight on the creative front, meanwhile, saw Kivvit work with the Chicago Department of Health on a campaign using Grindr to educate gay Black men in the city about the mpox vaccine.
— Paul Holmes
Marathon Strategies was founded in 2008 by Phil Singer, and has grown to more than 60 people working on communications and research, with a particular focus on public affairs. Notably, the firm’s digital and creative capabilities have come to the forefront in recent years, thanks to a focus on digital advocacy and research that has helped in terms of both combating disinformation and building movements through better targeting.
Marathon operates in every US state, while also working with Middle Eastern and European clients. The firm has offices in Washington, DC (HQ), New York City and Albany.
Marathon’s fee income grew by 33% to break the $20m barrier for the first time, with creative and digital revenue up 120%. Headcount has also grown 35% since the end of 2021. Much of the work is confidential but key clients include Walmart, the US Chamber of Commerce, FMI, Retail Industry Leaders Association and Airlines for America. New business included Tennessee Valley Authority, National Grid, 7-Eleven, Election Assistance Commission, and Seekr.
Singer is supported by COO Jane Hardey and MDs Liz Benjamin, Alison Reemer and Ray Hernandez. Key hires include Archie Smart as chief digital officer, joining from DKR Insights, where he ran digital advocacy. The firm has implemented a series of culture-building policies including unlimited PTO, paid sabbaticals, new professional development programs, and financial planning services. Marathon has also made it a priority to expand its recruitment lens, building stronger relationships with HBCUs, the National Black Public Relations Society, and the Hispanic Public Relations Association.
With 66 new members of Congress, Marathon created the ‘Meet the Freshmen’ microsite to help provide a digestible overview of new members’ positions on key issues. The firm also released a new report into online disinformation last year, winning an IN2 SABRE Award in the process for agency thought leadership. Other campaign highlights included establishing a new $2bn fund for US victims of state sponsored terrorism; driving the successful ‘Buy Safe America’ effort on behalf of the Retail Industry Leaders Association; and ensuring the food industry has not faced legislative or regulatory action related to rising food prices.
— Arun Sudhaman
The Covid era was not kind to travel-focused PR firms, and Zapwater was no exception, losing 40% of its business overnight. But the Chicago-headquartered firm has rebounded impressively since that setback, diversifying its client base (to beauty/wellness, houseware and luxury) and, in particular, stepping up investment in digital via conversion-focused data and analytics that have helped it land significant affiliate monetization mandates from such clients as Marriott International and Advanced Clinicals. In addition, the firm’s new Hispanic/LatinX marketing practice now accounts for one third of its team.
In addition to its Chicago HQ, Zapwater’s 38 staff are based in further offices in Los Angeles and Miami, the latter of which has doubled in size and now accounts for almost 30% of total revenue.
Zapwater’s fee income grew by 50% in 2022 to almost $5m, with 42% of that coming organically. Driving that growth is social media and influencer marketing, with Zapwater’s digital specialist team growing by 60% as it expanded beyond brand awareness into sales conversions. There was new business from Marriott Hotel’s affiliate program, Connecticut Tourism, Copa Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Heston Culinary, Sun Outdoors and more Hyatt properties, joining an existing roster that features Accor Hotels and Resorts, Baja Sur Tourism, Ball Horticultural, Blanco North America, Finnair, Grupo Xcaret, Marquee Development, Tourisme Montreal and Visit Finland.
Founder/CEO David Zapata is supported by EVP Jennifer Lake, who brings a particularly strong focus to the firm’s digital and affiliate marketing work. New hires included Amanda ReCupido as Chicago MD, as that office expanded in line with increased headcount. Zapwater’s hybrid policy provides a bank of work from home days for employees to use as they see fit, while its commitment to professional development includes ongoing investment in the ZapU program.
Beyond investing heavily in measurement and monitoring tools, Zapwater runs focus groups and surveys with global partner agencies through the Travel Lifestyle Network, of which it was a founding member. The most recent 2022 survey polled 130,000 people about post-Covid travel trends. Campaign highlights included driving affiliate marketing for Marriott across the US and Canada, for which the firm developed a strategic partnership with global monetization platform LTK to measure the impact of influencer initiatives on the hotel giant’s revenue and quantitative results. There were also SABRE nominations on behalf of work for the Willis Tower Skydeck, Accor’s hotels in Chicago, and Marquee Development’s Gallagher Way.
— Arun Sudhaman
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