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Founded in Pittsburgh exactly 100 years ago, Ketchum is one of the most storied names in the communications for business, and in recent years the public relations firmhas been more famous and more successful than its ad agency parent, establishing itself as a top 10 global PR shop before its 1996 acquisition by Omnicom. While Ketchum is a full-service agency—there’s a thriving healthcare practice, and capabilities in corporate and technology—it remains best known for its work in the consumer space and for its outstanding creative track record.
Headquartered in New York, Ketchum has a presence in nine US cities, as well as in Toronto and Montreal, and an extensive global network.
After a few years during which the firm’s creative work was celebrated but its business performance lagged its peer group, Ketchum enjoyed its best growth in two decades last year, with North American revenues up about 14%. Growth among the biggest clients (over $2 million) was twice that rate, and the firm retained 97% of its top 50 clients. There was organic growth from longstanding clients like 3M and Frito-Lay, Mastercard and Wendy’s, and new business from the likes of the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, Aflac, Califia Farms, New Balance, Freddie Mac, and Hyundai (retained after a procurement-driven re-bid process).
Ketchum has long been regarded as an employer of choice among the largest agencies, and the firm’s longstanding commitment to putting empathy as the heart of its culture (reflected in the launch of a new “trauma” communications practice and a focus on health equity this year) continues to set it apart. A new brand promise was developed in 2022, focused on “progress at work,” with an emphasis on values such as teamwork, optimism, connection and purpose. DEI has been a priority, from Juneteenth celebrations to expanded employee resource groups to a diversified Ketchum Fellowship experience to an array of new and inclusive family friendly benefits (as well as counseling more clients on their own DEI journeys). The firm has added 200 new people over the past 12 months, the biggest names among them including industry vet Jim Joseph as US chief executive; and Samantha Schwarz as president of healthcare consultancy from Golin; and Jo Madnani as Marketing & Communications lead, from MMC. And staff turnover decreased by 5%, despite the backdrop of “quiet quitting” and the “great resignation.”
Ketchum talks about its work in terms of “empathy+intelligence,” reflecting a belief that the best PR reflects both a desire to make a positive contribution and a real difference to its clients. The firm’s embrace of its parent company’s omninearnedID technology and attribution analytics, emphasizes the importance of the latter. An internal restructuring has established three distinct consulting units (Vita, focused on food and nutrition; Amor, focused on building lobe for big brands; and Bene (healthcare), supported by units specializing in analytics and strategy, creative, reputation, and engagement—all within a single P&L to deliver the best resources to clients. The quality of the work remains top tier: Ketchum won 13 Innovation SABRE Awards (more than twice as many as any other firm) for clients such as Frito-Lay, Michelin, Wendy’s and J&J, and the firm is also shortlisted for several North American SABREs, for campaigns such as “Sunshine to Spare” for Discover Puerto Rico; “Cracker Jill” for Frito-Lay; the Gillette “Stadium Takeover”; and tackling health inequities for Johnson & Johnson.
— 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 (including a specialist unit focused on geopolitical challenges, healthcare and technology.
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.
Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2022, Edelman became the first billion dollar public relations agency, ending the year with fees of around $1.08 billion, up 9.6% on the previous year (12.8% in constant currency terms). The US contributes about $700 million of that revenues (up 13.8%) with Canada adding another $34 million (a more modest 3%). The Los Angeles and DC operations were the fastest growing offices, while both tech and health—the two largest sectors—contributed double-digit growth. There was new agency of record business from for White Claw while the firm’s Assembly subsidiary won digital and social work with LinkedIn and a corporate communications remit for Papa John's International. The firm continued to work with clients such as Unilever, AstraZeneca, Barilla, Vaseline and more.
North American chief executive Lisa Osborne-Ross has championed diversity throughout the organization, and the progress is tangible: 31% of US employees come from diverse backgrounds, and more than half of the leadership team is now female. The firm has also continued to add talent at the senior level, with new additions including global chief people officer Soni Basi, formerly with AIG; GM of Atlanta Radina Russell, a Teneo veteran; and US head of data and intelligence Anita Valdes, formerly of Red Fuse Communications. There were significant promotions too, with Kirsty Graham taking on twin responsibilities as global chair of healthcare and president of practices and sectors; Lex Suvanto named CEO of the Edelman Smithfield financial unit; Jordan Rittenberry returning from Africa to lead the Bay Area offices; and Jordan Atlas named US chief creative officer.
The Edelman Trust Barometer, now 23 years old, continues to be the industry’s leading piece of thought leadership, unveiled at Davos and quoted widely in mainstream media, delivering real insight in changing public perceptions. This year, there were specific reports looking at issues such as trust in the workplace, climate change, racial justice and more. Edelman also continued to develop new products and services, with its Gen Z Lab a particular standout. In terms of the client work, meanwhile, the firm received seven Gold SABRE nominations, for work for Unilever (“Detox Your Feed” and “Keep the Grey,” both out of Canada), AstraZeneca (“Up the Antibodies,” featuring actor Jeff Bridges and looking at the long-term implications of the ongoing Covid pancemic); and Vaseline (“See My Skin,” which brought greater diversity to Google’s image search results.
— 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, since which it has been the holding company’s largest and most global public relations brand. Fleishman’s roots are in business-to-business and corporate communications, but today it is a genuine full-service agency with significant strength in public affairs and consumer brand work, as well as in the healthcare and technology and financial services sectors—all underpinned by impressive digital capabilities and a growing data and analytics expertise.
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 another years of double-digit growth in 2022, FleishmanHillard has seen its revenues increase by 33% over the past two years. And other metrics are equally impressive: the firm now has more than 100 seven-figure clients, was able to retain 96% of its top 100 clients in 2022, and is seeing growth of more than 15% from what it calls its “FHX” clients—essentially the largest, multi-practice multi-region accounts. The firm added $140 million in new business over the course of the year, with significant assignments from the likes of Subway, Takeda, GM, Agendia, Jeld Wen, Shark Ninja and Esprit.
Global chief executive John Saunders has outlined his ambition to make FH “the most inclusive agency,” which has translated in practice into nine global FH communities (the Jewish community is the most recent). A Global DE&I Summit, partnerships with the National Association of Black Journalists and others, and in 2022 34% of new hires were people of color. The firm has also been focusing on mental health (the Calm app, its FHeel Well wellness initiative, even “Paw Patrol” for pet owners) and personal growth, launching a Senior Leaders’ Institute and inclusive leadership training. New additions to the team in 2022 included Melissa Nelson as global client lead from Edelman, Lucas Capozzi-Shanks as creative director from McCann; and Thomas Bennett as head of health equity. There were promotions too, including Lauren Winter to global managing director of consumer culture and head of the Culture Unit, and Francesca Weems to global race and culture lead, heading TRUE Mosaic.
Some of FleishmanHillard’s most impressive growth has come from areas such as TRUE Global Intelligence (its data and analytics capability, which last year launched a new “media mapper” service that ensures maximum impact and relevance from earned campaigns) and True MOSAIC (a diversity-focused practice that now has more than 160 counselors and covers everything from anti-bias training to advice on health equity). A new 70-strong culture unit, meanwhile, tracks developments in popular culture and society more broadly, while a new approach to “story science” helps clients connect more meaningfully with specific audiences. At the same time, FH is producing more great creative work for clients than ever before: it built Shavetopia, a Roblox experience, for client Philips, addressing men’s health in the metaverse; it helped Krispy Kreme address the cost-of-living crisis by tapping the “strategic doughnut reserve” to offset price increases at the gas pumps; and it worked with AARP on its fight for fair drug prices.
— Paul Holmes
Golin has progressed far beyond its Chicago-based 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.
Golin saw revenues increase by 11% globally, and about 12.5%in North America, with the New York and Miami offices making a strong contribution (the latter from a relatively small base) and the healthcare practice contributing impressively—both Golin’s own healthcare brand and its Virgo Health subsidiary picking up new business from Sanofi, Moderna and Lilly, among others. Other new business came from GrubHub (after the firm’s attention-grabbing consumer PR helped it win additional corporate and brand reputation work); Cisco (a 15-year client that added global communications last year), Genuine Parts Company, and Napa Auto Parts. There are now more than 30 clients in the firm’s “top client leadership program,” most of them served by multiple practices and regions, and they grew on average by 14% last year, with big names including Discover, Ferrero, Johnson &Johnson, McDonald’s Pepsico, Verizon and Walmart.
Natasha O’Dell Archer, who joined Golin 2021 to lead diversity, equity and inclusion, has been active in that arena for 20 years or more and has been leading a number of initiatives including the development of new employee resource groups—spanning ethnic and LGBTQ employees as well as mothers in the workplace—and a renewed focus on allyship. The firm’s PRep School initiative, meanwhile, is welcoming more BIPOC candidates to the firm’s future leaders program, as the Nightschool internship program also becomes more diverse. On the people front, the big news was that president of global corporate communications Scott Farrell is stepping down after 25 years with the firm, with Sarah Vellozzi and Tim Peters named co-leads for the practice going forward. In the healthcare arena, Sachin Makani was promoted to evp pf scientific strategy, Lauren de Vlaming joined from Edelman as evp, strategy, and Keren Shashoua joined as head of design.
One of the areas Golin has seen significant growth is in the data and analytics arena, where global lead Jonny Bentwood has been joined by North American head Luke Peterson, who joined from the US State Department and has strengthened both behavioral modeling and measurement capabilities. In healthcare, meanwhile, the firm designed a new “patient journey” methodology—and partnered with Autonomy Works, a business-to-business organization focused on neurodiversity, The firm also developed some innovative thought leadership focused on the issue of climate injustice. Highlights of the client work, meanwhile, include the “Lego Dots” campaign, which aims to keep girls interested in the building blocks; the “Gatto Bianco” initiative for Fancy Feast, which featured a cat food-based pop-up restaurant; antu-vaping work for Tobacco Free Florida; social media outreach on rare diseases for Janssen; introducing over-the-counter hearing aids for Walmart and United Healthcare; and “See You in Hell,” which saw Mountain Dew become the official drink of Hell, Michigan. For Walmart, finally, Golin helped the client’s social media team develop a new strategic and measurement framework.
— Paul Holmes
Today’s Weber Shandwick Collective 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 us supported by an ecosystem of specialist brands like KRC, flipside, United Minds, Revive and dna spanning areas from research to management consulting to healthcare and making up the “collective” that is not part of the brand.
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.
For the second consecutive year, Weber Shandwick experienced single-digit growth, somewhat lower than the industry average, although client retention was strong among the firm’s top 40 clients (98%_ and 25 of those top 40 clients use at least five WS brands, a sign that the Collective approach is paying off. There was significant organic growth from existing clients such as CMS.gov, Mars, Hilton, General Motors, Kellogg’s, ancestry, and in the healthcare space from J&J, Roche, Humana, Sanofi and Pfizer. New business spanned health (UCB, Moderna, abbvie, GSK), brand (Robinhood, Michaels, Pinterest, ADT, BodyArmor) and business and society (HP, Astellas, Randstad) but one major trend is those clients seeking counsel at the intersection of two or three of these areas: Abbott, Hilton and more.
The new Collective has four core values—curiosity, courage, inclusion and impact—and global CEO Gail Heimann insists that “DE&I and values” are inseparable, with inclusion laying the groundwork for equity and belonging. New business resource groups are developing all the time, there’s a DEI curriculum, and a “differentiated development” approach seeks to create new opportunities for BIPOC talent. There were new roles for Joy Faber Kolo as chief brand officer; Judith Harrison as chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer; Angela Mears as global executive creative director and Kate Olsen as social impact and sustainability lead. Significant new hires included Lou Massaia as chief creative officer, healthcare, from Havas Health; Nadine Redd Blackburn to spearhead DEI at United Minds; Jackie Cox Battle from Zeno as New York consumer lead; and Jim O’Leary from Edelman as North American CEO.
Billing itself as “the earned first network,” Weber Shandwick continues to evolve intellectually and philosophically, even in years when its financial performance is somewhat slower than its peers. A new “Earned Effect” study, for example, shows how culturally-salient storytelling drives sales gains and profit growth. And the past 12 months have seen the launch of a new consultative offering, Business & Society Futures, the development of AI tools (some in partnership with Blackbird AI) and other technologies (via the groundbreaking Media Lab), a focus on combating disinformation, and a seriously enhanced suite of data and analytics tools and services. And after being named number one in PRovoke Media’s 2022 Global Creative Index, the outstanding client work continues: from fighting cyberbullying for McAfee to promoting healthcare.gov for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; from introducing the Hummer EV for GMC to helping American Girl introduce Claudie Wells; from influencer marketing initiatives for Pop-Tarts to helping Vertex Pharmaceuticals tackle the toughest diseases.
— Paul Holmes
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