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More than 20 years ago, Allison+Partners was launched amid the wreckage of the dotcom bust and quickly established itself as a significant player, first on the West Coast and soon nationally. Now entering its third decade, the firm has been one of the fastest growing and most award-winning midsize agencies in the US, establishing itself as a leader in the consumer, corporate and technology arenas, and building a formidable digital capability.
The firm’s US offices—its San Francisco headquarters, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami (new in 2021), New York, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington, DC—are deliberately sized so that no one location is dominant and the firm has centers of excellence across the country. Over the past few years, the international reach has been growing too, and Allison now has offices in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Middle East, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and the UK.
Mirroring its 2021 performance, North America revenue last year grew 22% to end the year with fees around $95.3 million, while global revenue hit $118.5 million, fueled by particularly strong business in Asia. Allison saw new business from AmeriSave, Brita, EQ Office, GE Power & Water, Globant, GoodRx, IHG, Kyndryl, Rad Power Bikes and Revlon, and significant expansion of its assignments for AB InBev, Aflac, Dexcom, IHG/Kimpton, PhRMA, Plug Power and TikTok. Allison+Sports, a new sports marketing specialty, generated more than $2 million in fees. Other new offerings include Brandgeist IQ, a proprietary methodology for measuring the real-time cultural relevance of brands already being used by Budweiser and Progressive. V.I.T.A.L. is an end-to-end research and strategy framework that measurably connects customer needs to brand positioning and go to market activity. 2022 also saw Allison+Partners adopt The Social Discovery Squad, a new approach to futureproofing clients by adding more video and visuals, prioritizing channels like paid influencer campaigns and refocusing KPIs.
Allison has its own approach to building a strong culture: no single office is larger than 100 people (most are in the 40-50 range) and the firm is organized as a single profit center, eliminating any barrier to collaboration. The firm’s decision not not to lay off any staff during a difficult 2020 created a solid foundation for progress in the years since. Allison has made gains in building a more inclusive agency. In 2022, roughly 23% were racially or ethnically diverse, versus 19% in 2021. Diversity among senior leaders has risen to 14%. DEI initiatives also include six employee-led advocacy groups (leaders are compensation for their work), a a comprehensive diverse supplier program and augmenting candidate interviews to eliminate bias. Last year, PRovoke Media recognized founder Scott Allison, who serves as global chairman and CEO, with a SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement.
Allison+Partners is a regular on our SABRE Award shortlists (last year the firm picked up Best in Show honors at our Innovation SABRE Awards for its work with Budweiser) and this year is no exception. Allison’s work is up for nine 2023 SABRES, making it one of the year’s most-nominated firms. Among the finalists is Corona’s global plastic fishing tournament, which included a series of events around the world to remove plastic debris from the ocean and raise awareness about marine plastic pollution. More than 20 tons of plastic were collected by participants, who were paid for their efforts. Also nominated: Dexcom U, a first a first-of-its-kind NIL program creating a platform featuring 14 college athletes with diabetes to serve as brand ambassadors for Dexcom’s diabetes management technology while inspiring the next generation of diabetic athletes.
— Diana Marszalek
There was a time when Hill & Knowlton (before the Strategies) was one of the two largest public relations brands in the world and a powerhouse in the United States, where its New York office was home to one of the first financial communications specialty practices in the nation, a pioneer in mergers and acquisitions, and its Washington, DC, operation was immortalized as “The Power House.” But two decades of chaos and confusion—leadership transitions and costly missteps—saw a steep decline in the firm’s domestic capabilities (even as its European operations in particular flourished). But in 2019, AnnaMaria DeSalva, previously head of corporate affairs for Pfizer and Dupont, was named global chairman and CEO and a few months later co-president Richard Millar moved from the UK to take responsibility for revitalizing the US operations. The three years since then have seen the firm first stabilize and then begin to rebuild.
With its headquarters in New York, H+K has additional US offices in Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Abgeles, Miami, Orange County, San Francisco, Tallahassee, Tampa, and Washington, DC, as well as a substantial Canadian operation that includes offices in Calgary, Edmonton. Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Toronto, and Vancouver.
A second consecutive year of double-digit growth for H+K globally, which means that the firm has grown by 25% in the past two years, and all regions are hitting or exceeding their targets, which means that North America (where the firm has about 550 people—350 of them in the US) is finally beginning to contribute something like its fair share to the global growth story—growth of better than 15% over the past two years. Technology has been a sector of particular strength, with healthcare also making a solid contribution, and corporate affairs and advisory also on the rise. Key clients (which are growing at a rate faster than the agency as a whole) include names like Ford, Mazda, Spotify, Procter & Gamble, Deloitte, Amazon, and adidas, while growth in 2022 came from brands like Hill’s, Meta, Bose, Goldman Sachs, abbvie, Petsmart, Amcor, Slimfast, and Glanbia Foods.
Hill+Knowlton is working hard to modernize its work environment, with an emphasis on five pillars of the employee experience: being flex, being connected, being well, being empowered, and being valued. There is also an emphasis on building an inclusive culture, with the launch of a DE&I training program in partnership with Cornell, a recruiting event with partner ColorComm, and a host of engaged employee resource groups. The North American leadership team includes sector heads Nancy Fitzsimmons (health), Marvin Singleton (energy and industrials), Laura Morgan (consumer), Liz Torrez (financial and professional services), and John Derryberry (tch), as well as Vikki Chowney, who leads innovation and creative, group creative director Dan Holmes; and head of data and analytics Colby Vogt.
On the corporate side, where H+K’s traditional strength resides, the firm has been working on a “sustainable value creation” model that combines reputation, risk, and growth strategies, underpinned by data and creativity, to deliver long-term success in sectors such as tech, health, and energy. And corporate advisory in general, under the leadership of Jennifer Dunn, has been growing, notably in internal and executive communications, as has the Better Impact practice for purpose-driven work. At the same time, a focus on creativity, intelligence, and craft is powering new thinking in brand-building and beyond. That is manifesting itself in work for clients such as Ford, with H+K handling the introduction of accessible BlueCruise technology via its “Stay in Mom Mode” campaign; Procter & Gamble, in partnership with Queen Collective, and the “Widen the Screen” initiative; and molecular diagnostics company Cepheid establish market leadership in its category.
— Paul Holmes
MWW was founded in 1986 and for much of its first decade was noted primarily for its public affairs work (in its home state of New Jersey and in the nation’s capital) and for its corporate and financial expertise. It soon evolved into a full-service firm, and in 2000 it was acquired by Interpublic, which was its parent company until a management buyout, led by founder Michael Kempner, in 2010. In the decade since then, the firm has grown steadily, expanding its consumer capabilities—its “corpsumer” approach proving a good fit for clients equally concerned by brand purpose and reputation—and digital expertise. In April of last year, the firm rebranded as Mike WorldWide.
MWW has historically been a potent force in its headquarters state of New Jersey, where it has two offices: East Rutherford and Trenton. But much of the recent growth has come in New York, in Washington, DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles—as well as in London, where the firm has made a couple of boutique acquisitions since regaining its independence.
After suffering a pandemic-related revenue decline in 2020, Mike bounced back in 2021 and the saw fees really take off in 2022, up by 16% to slightly more than $53 million, driven by a focus on corporate reputation work. There was really healthy organic growth from some of the firm’s largest clients, most notably Amazon, but also from DLA Piper. New business,meanwhile, included wins such as The New York Times, Chubb, Sodexo, FritoLay, Pinterest, Aristocrat, Saks, and Guardian. They join a roster of longstanding clients that includes the likes of Dairy Queen, Deloitte, Heineken, Nikon, Red Lobster, FanDuel and Whole Foods.
Mike has completely shaken off the sweatshop reputation of the past, picking up best workplace awards from numerous organizations including Glassdoor and Fortune. The firm has also seen significant progress on the diversity and inclusion front, with 25% of the agency now BIPOC. The progress the firm has made on these dimensions has been critical in its ability to attract top talent, with new faces including digital lead Megan Hueter (formerly of Endeavour and Catalyst PR), global tech lead Maria Brown (from Matter), Los Angeles GM brittany Hershkowitz (BCW), chief creative officer Carl Sorvino (Golin), head of digital Emily Duban (FleishmanHillard) and VP creative Kwanza Johnson (Weber Shandwick). They join a strong and stable team of senior leaders including founder and CEO Michael Kempner, president Bret Werner, and chief strategy officer Carreen Winters.
In recent years, Mike has sought to develop a OneCX approach to client experience, built to meet the needs of media, audiences and algorithms, fueled by data and analytics and designed to deliver 360 messaging across all available platforms. The firm has also been investing in AI and other aspects of the tech stack to access what it calls “the dark funnel of influence,” private forums, emails and texts that generate word of mouth but are not necessarily top tier media but often have as much real-world influence. As a result, Mike Worldwide is now functioning as agency of record across paid, earned and owned channels for several clients, such as Brown Forman and FanDuel. Highlights of the client work include issues drive work such as communicating ESG leadership for Deloitte and overcoming vaccine hesitancy for RiteAid, supporting the Washington Redskins as they became the Commanders, and combating climate misinformation with Pinterest.
— Paul Holmes
Founded by David Finn and Bill Ruder in 1948, Ruder Finn completed its separation from Finn Partners in 2014, leaving the legacy firm under the leadership of Finn’s eldest daughter Kathy Bloomgarden. Ruder Finn has since focused its efforts on a formidable healthcare offering, supported by considerable depth in technology, corporate reputation and digital. And Ruder Finn has been highly acquisitive in recent years, snapping up Peppercomm, Comunicad and Touchdown in 2022 alone, adding to a subsidiary offering that also includes health-focused firms Bloom, public sector specialist Mantis PR, creative production studio Osmosis Films, digital hub RFI, health sales player RLA and others such as Thunder and the SPI Group.
Ruder Finn’s 1,140 global headcount includes more than 500 people in North America, across offices in New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago and Austin. The firm’s global footprint also includes a highly-successful China presence, which leads its overall Asian operations.
Ruder Finn grew its global revenues by 43% in 2022, with North American fee income up 54% to $80m. More than half of that growth came from new business, including such names as Southwest Airlines, AbbVie Oncology, Lucid Motors and MeetKai. Ruder Finn’s existing client roster features blue-chip brands such as Pfizer, AbbVie, Citigroup, Metlife and Johnson & Johnson.
Bloomgarden brings a distinctive focus on counselling CEOs, while her leadership team features chief innovation officer Michael Schubert, chief technology officer Tejas Totade, global COO Peggy Walsh and healthcare MD Christie Anbar. Notable hires included Chip Scarinzi to lead US technology, while Glora Rodriguez, Steve Cody and James Carter all arrived from the Comunicad, Peppercomm and Touchdown acquisitions, respectively. There were several other senior hires across technology, corporate and healthcare, while global tech head Robin Kim departed. Ruder Finn follows the ‘Rooney Rule’ to ensure that candidates from under-represented groups are interviewed for every position available — with workforce diversity up 39% since 2021. The firm’s JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) program focuses on DE&I progress, and it also partners with PR Council and ColorComm to work with HBCUs to recruit talent. Ruder Finn also runs significant professional development and executive training programs.
Regular events such as the TechLab ShopTalks and RF Summit help Ruder Finn facilitate knowledge sharing around its ‘what’s next’ positioning, while Bloomgarden is a high-profile presence on the Davos circuit. Campaign highlights included four SABRE North America nominations, for JC2 Ventures, GAF, and Institut Auf Dem Rosenberg. Ruder Finn also handled Binance’s Super Bowl work, and partnered with Pfizer to launch the Institute of Translational Equitable Medicine to address healthy inequities.
— Arun Sudhaman
Zeno was founded (as PR21) in 1999 as a classic conflict brand. The firm changed its name to Zeno in 2004, but the modern Zeno was not really born until 2009 when Barby Siegel took over as CEO and reshaped the firm as an independent agency with its own identity and culture. Perhaps best known for its consumer work—at least historically—Zeno has a balanced portfolio that includes a strong corporate expertise (including a lot of work at the convergence of brand and reputation), as well as impressive healthcare and technology sector expertise, and cutting-edge digital capabilities, including a best-in-breed data and analytics division.
With its headquarters in New York, Zeno has additional offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC, as well as a small but impressive Canadian operation. There’s a strong London office (the former 3Monkeys), and an expanding Asian operation.
Zeno marked 13 consecutive years of double-digit growth in 2022 with a 16% increase in its US business to $111 million (out of $143 globally), with the firm’s top 20 clients up by a massive 41% on the year. The firm’s top 20 clients include household names such as Aldi, Bosch, Coca-Cola, Goodyear, Hyatt, Kia KraftHeinz, Lenovo, Procter & Gamble, Salesforce, SC Johnson, and Zoom, and there were more than 30 new additions to the client roster in 2022, across all sectors including health and wellness (CDC Foundation, Prometheus Bioscience, Peleton and Bristol Myers Squibb); consumer brands (Kind, Nutricia); tech and financial services (Deloitte, Western Digital, Ivanti); and sports and entertainment (the US Olympic Committee, Tepper Sports & Entertainment, Mutual of Omaha). The diversity of the client base, and of the work—from corporate reputation to brand, and increasingly at the intersection of those two disciplines—is a major key to Zeno’s continued success. There was particularly impressive expansion in tech, while in the corporate realm, employee engagement was a growth area.
The firm’s People First initiative has four pillars: empowering (a “human-centric” approach to working in the office, combined with an overall philosophy of flexibility); engaging (a purpose-driven approach to performance measurement and expanded professional development); advancing (from an early career immersion program to ongoing coaching)l; and understanding (empathy and accountability training and sessions aimed at mitigating biases). There’s also an emphasis on mental wellness and on diversity (with 27% of new hires identifying as diverse). It is also worth noting that it is now 12 months since Zeno made its investment in Egami Group, one of the nation’s leading Black-owned marketing firms, and the benefits for both firms are beginning to make themselves felt. The biggest people news of the year was the appointment of Kristie Kuhl, who most recently led Finn Partners' health practice, as global managing director of health and wellness.
Zeno’s enhanced strategy and planning process, which underpins all work, starts with understanding “the human journey,” how the audience experiences the brand, and often culminates with the Human Project Lab, which includes the firm’s “culture studio” and helps deliver immersive experiences across multiple channels. That fuels some significant consulting projects, such as defining the values that unite four generations of employees for Hyatt Hotels, or identifying ways to reach the “science-curious” for Regeneron. The firm has also been developing the Zeno Digital Experience, a global team of 120 delivering digital experiences, including new Z3 studio and an expansion into the metaverse last year for clients such as Lenovo and Immutable Games Studio. In terms of client work, Lenovo’s “Work for Humankind” purpose-driven brand and reputation campaign was a particular highlight, while the “Meatifying Beauty” program for Oscar Meyer showcased the creative capabilities. The firm also issued its own inaugural ESG report.
— Paul Holmes
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