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Founded in 1995, Global Strategy Group has its roots in political polling, particularly in the New York market. But while research remains a core part of the business, GSG has developed into a full-service firm with a national reach. GSG’s primary focus is public affairs, on the national, state and local level, but it also works on progressive political campaigns and with issues organizations, and has a strong corporate reputation practice. All of that is supported by the kind of robust research capability one would expect from a firm with its roots in polling. Last year, the firm became a part of international corporate and public affairs group SEC Newgate, which acquired a majority stake in the firm in April, its first significant expansion into the US.
Global Strategy Group is headquartered in New York, with additional offices in Washington, DC; Hartford, Conn.; Denver, Chicago, Nashville, and Seattle. It works with clients in all 50 states. And the SEC Newgate acquisition gives GSG access to an international public affairs and corporate communications network.
GSG’s revenues increased by a very healthy 27% in 2022, to just under $68 million—and while (like a lot of the finalists in this category) it benefited from the campaign work and increased polling that comes with an election year, there was a significant growth (better than 35%) in long-term client engagements, and substantial increases in digital media buying and video production, the latter boosted by the launch in 2021 of the firm’s dedicated in-house creative agency, The L@b. Key clients include Apollo Global Management, Comcast, Google, MGM Resorts, Teladoc, T-Mobile, Netflix, National Grid, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and ESPN. New business success in 2022 included assignments from AIG, the Las Vegas Raiders, Pratt & Whitney, and Teach for America.
The leadership team remains unaffected by the acquisition: founding partners Jon Silvan (CEO), Jefrey Pollock (president); partners Tanya Meck (managing director and corporate reputation lead), Nick Gourevitch (md, research), and Jim Papa (head of the DC office). New additions in 2022 included Jerrel Harvey, most recently communications director for the Friends of Kathy Hochul, as senior director in New York. While maintaining a flexible “dispersed workforce” during the return to the office, the firm also incorporated regularly scheduled “Office Bursts” to encourage in-person collaboration and connection. It also continued its commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workforce, consciously expanding its candidate pools to include underrepresented and underserved groups, participating in job fairs at targeted universities, utilizing diverse job posting sites and partnerships. Internally, initiatives like the Cultural Awareness Program recognizes and celebrates diverse cultures and communities, inviting diverse speakers to discuss their experiences in fireside chats and more.
GSG released its 10th annual Business & Politics Report, The Shifting Politics of Doing Good in America, looking at the backlash against ESG and DEI activities and offering strong encouragement to companies engaged on societal issues, while providing recommendations on the ways in which they can minimize risk. Meanwhile, GSG’s Eye on the Economy reported on voters’ views of the economy and governance, and Melting Pot released a qualitative report on the attitudes and voting behaviors of Black voters. As for the client work, GSG continued to be involved in a host of critical issues for corporate clients, helping Pratt & Whitney lay the ground for its new engine upgrade, and ultimately secure a major contract from Congress and the Department of Defense; and supporting National Grid as it sought to establish itself as a leader in New York’s transition to clean energy. The firm also handled issues management for the Sustainable Oceans Alliance and Teach for America, and worked on several successful midterm campaigns including governor’s races is New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Illinois.
— Paul Holmes
PRovoke Media’s 2022 Global New Agency of the Year, Bryson Gillette was started by Bill Burton, who served as deputy White House press secretary and special assistant to President Barack Obama. The company was created as an intentionally diverse workplace that would focus on the issues and campaigns that are making the world a better place. After just a short period of time, it has done just that. Working on education reform, social media reform, and projects small and large across economic sectors, Bryson Gillette’s work has been felt on a global scale.
Bryson Gillette operates nationwide with headquarters in Washington and Los Angeles.
Bryson Gillette, our 2022 global new agency of the year, was founded in January 2020 with two employees and one client as a remote-first organization, allowing the firm to expand its reach, working with clients across numerous cities. Now, with 29 employees across the US, the agency has the capacity and the ability to bring a diverse perspective to all its work. This includes native Spanish speakers, allowing for multilingual campaigns. During its three-years in operation, Bryson Gillette has worked with more than 140 political and public affairs clients (more than 20 of which have remained active post-2022 elections) including Eventbrite, Knight Foundation, The Center for Humane Technology, MeWe, Kids Code Coalition, BlueLabs, XQ Institute, Native Forward, Mayors for Guaranteed Income, Nick Melvoin for Congress, Congresswoman Summer Lee and More Perfect Union.
Burton intentionally built a location-agnostic firm with a focus on finding the most talented and diverse strategists in the country, without being limited to specific cities or regions. Moreover, the firm is intentional about building team culture remotely including a focus on mentoring younger talent through personal attention and growth opportunities as well as one-on-one meetings with senior leaders. The agency’s team is 66% people of color, and 100% of leaders are women and/or people of color. Bryson Gillette also operates in English and Spanish. In 2022, less than three years after its launch, Bryson Gillette created new values for the firm leveraging input from of its team members and held rigorous DEI training. The value Bryson Gillette puts on areas like equity and inclusion is a big influence on its client roster, which is intentionally populated by organizations fighting for social justice. Recruiting candidates of color to run for office is also a focus. In addition to Burton, leaders include senior VP Sarah Angel, VP Shira Fine, VP Rebecca Pearcey and VP Emily Schwartz.
Bryson Gillette has quickly become a leader in media strategy and developing thought leaders. Burton’s political acumen made him a media regular during the 2022 election season, when the likes of the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald and Axios solicited his insight into subjects from the LA mayor race and importance of Black and Latino votes to midterm ad spends. Bryson Gillette’s hallmark work of the year included the firm’s campaign for a coalition of tech reform groups backing then-proposed California legislation calling for basic safeguards for kids online (the Age Appropriate Design Code was signed into law in September). Other key work includes the agency’s year-long campaign raising the visibility of Native Forward, among the largest providers of scholarship to Native American communities.
— Diana Marszalek
Founded in 2009 by veterans of the previous year’s successful Obama presidential campaign, Bully Pulpit combines Washington policy smarts, Madison Avenue creative, and Silicon Valley tech savvy. Still perhaps best known for its political work—it continues to handle electoral campaigns—the firm has expanded well beyond that realm and now provides public affairs, issues management, and corporate reputation counsel to a broad range of companies, associations, and senior executives. Its capabilities include the full range of paid, earned, shared and owned media, delivered in a seamless, integrated, channel-neutral approach.
Bully Pulpit has offices in Washington, DC (HQ), New York, Chicago and San Francisco, although an increasingly remote workforce means it has people across the US.
Election years tend to be kinder to firms like Bully Pulpit, which handle both corporate work and political candidates, but BPI has been smoothing out its growth curve in recent years (it saw a 10% increase in an off-year in 2021) so this year’s 30% boost reflected both new corporate clients and campaigns. The result is that BPI ended the year with fee income just over $60 million, and new relationships with clients such as the NFL, NBC Universal, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Levi Strauss, CBRE, Sesame Place, Corning, and the NCAA.
It may sound counter-intuitive to measure a firm’s success in terms of the people it loses—but when a firm like BPI sees one of its people headed into the current administration, as it did when Ben LeBolt was named White House communications director, that’s usually a good sign. And of course, BPI was also attracting plenty of key talent over the course of the year, including India Keiser as director of social media coming from serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck’s personal team; Carahna Batiste, who joined the creative team after serving as the creative director in the White House; Nick Martin, a veteran of BCW Global and Coca-Cola, adding public affairs expertise; Larry Meadows as data science lead, from Priorities USA. The firm also has a commitment to DE&I befitting its progressive roots: 30% of staff are now BIPOC and the number is growing and BIPOC representation in the senior ranks has been increasing in recent years.
One measure of success for a firm like Bully Pulpit is the list of issues it has engaged with over the past 12 months, and that list reflects most of the major legislative battles in the US: the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, the Safer Communities Act, the Respect for Marriage Act, and the bipartisan Infrastructure Act. On the corporate front, meanwhile BPI was engaged on a host of critical issues: employer branding and talent wars work for Boeing and CBRE; DEI support for the NFL and Goldman Sachs, ESG for Blackstone and NBCUniversal. Positioning itself for the challenges of the year ahead—an uncertain economic climate requiring proof of ROI and political division—Bully Pulpit has been developing bespoke products: Agenda Setter and Orbit to identify the most critical opinion leaders; Precision to target those audience where they spend their time; Decibel to track competitors’ messaging and media strategy; Vantage to measure how many minds are actually changed.
— Paul Holmes
Eight-year-old bipartisan public affairs firm ROKK Solutions was founded on a simple premise: the best ideas emerge when people of diverse political and cultural backgrounds come together to tackle a challenge or solve a problem. The agency is led by founding partners Rodell Mollineau and Ron Bonjean, both of whom bring considerable political, public affairs and crisis communications experience to the business: Bonjean is the only person to have served as lead spokesman for both the Senate and House of Representatives, while Mollineau served as communications director for Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Public affairs remains at the heart of the firm, while its growth has allowed ROKK to build and expand its digital, creative and paid expertise. As companies increasingly find themselves caught between the demands of stakeholders who expect them to speak and act on climate change, racism and other issues, and leaders who decry boardroom “wokeism”, ROKK helps its clients navigate contentious social issues in a divided Washington. Last year, ROKK introduced its Crisis Concierge service, a 24/7 team that brings decades of government, media and corporate experience to acute reputational challenges, including a new speciality practice to support businesses, nonprofits and individuals during high-stakes legal proceedings.
ROKK is headquartered in Washington DC.
ROKK Solutions’ team grew to 40 people and fee income grew 9% to $11 million, after leaping 119% the previous year. The firm saw new business from the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University, the Investment Company Institute, a major food trade group and a global aerospace company, which joined Anheuser-Busch, Delta Air Lines, Southern Company, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the US Travel Association on its client roster.
The firm’s founders have made it a strategic imperative to recruit for not just diversity of political view, but diversity of thought, experience, ethnicity, gender and more. Today, ROKK is 37.5% people of color and 72.5% women. Its leadership team is 50% women, and the team speaks 12 languages in addition to English. ROKK’s culture is based on taking work seriously but giving employees permission to be themselves and have fun at work. Mollineau and Bonjean oversee a team that includes partner Kristen Hawn, who served as communications director and chief political advisor to the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of over 50 moderate House Democrats. Last year, Lindsay Singleton was promoted from MD to chief development officer, and Jeff Grappone, Genevieve Wilkins and Rachel Winer all were promoted to EVP roles leading the public affairs, creative and digital practices, respectively. Senior hires included Elizabeth Northrup, formerly EVP of corporate affairs at BCW Global, who joined as ROKK’s first chief client officer.
Building on a partnership forged in 2021, ROKK Solutions and Penn State University’s Center for the Business of Sustainability published a research report to elucidate voters’ views on corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts as control of Congress shifted to Republican hands, finding that neither Republican nor Democratic voters support policymakers’ potential legislative efforts to curb ESG initiatives. Standout work included creating a customized process for Delta Air Lines to assess and address social threats, repositioning utility giant Southern in the Beltway and underlining its commitment to bipartisan social impact priorities through engaging media events; and building a social impact programme for multinational cookware company Hy Cite Enterprises.
— Diana Marszalek
Founded in 2004 by political strategists Anita Dunn, Bill Knapp and Josh Isay, SKDK was one of a handful of firms that shaped the modern public affairs business by bringing the political campaign mentality—heavy dependence on research and audience insights, integrated solutions, surprising creativity—to corporate campaigns. Since then, the firm has been at the forefront of complex issues—particularly progressive issues—from gay marriage to abortion rights, providing public affairs and crisis management support. At the onset of the pandemic, it acquired corporate and financial communications firm Sloane & Company, a sister agency in the Stagwell family. It has also continued its political campaign work, serving as paid media firm for the winning Biden presidential campaign in 2020.
SKDK has twin headquarters in Washington, DC, and New York as well as smaller offices in Albany and Los Angeles.
While SKDK does not disclose financial information, headcount is just a little below 200, up 7% in 2022 and just slightly lower than public affairs peer agency Bully Pulpit, which reports fee income of $60 million or so. New clients in 2022 included the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, America250 Foundation, CTIA, OBGYN Caitlin Bernard, Director’s Guild of America, Giffords, Howard University, EDGE Certified Foundation, Diageo, Volcker Alliance. They joined a roster than includes Mount Sinai Health System, Disney, Memorial Sloan Kettering, HP, American Airlines, NAACP, UPS, Cherokee Nation, ChargePoint, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. With public affairs as the core of its business (about two-thirds of total revenues), the firm has seen particular growth in its paid advertising offer, which was up by 50% last year, creating about 700 ads for public affairs and political campaign clients.
With Josh Isay transitioning into a senior counsel role Doug Thornell, a veteran of the firm’s p[aid media and political consulting practice, stepped into the CEO role in August—making SKDK probably the largest public relations/public affairs firm with a Black chief executive. He is supported by founding partner Bill Knapp in DC. A veteran of six president campaigns, and partners Jill Zuckman, who oversees the DC public affairs team; and Kerri Lyon and Mike Morey, who lead the New York public affairs operations. New additions include Marissa Shorenstein, who oversaw New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's transition, as principal, and Michael Frazier and Justin Goodman as executive VPs in New York and DC respectively. Diversity and inclusion remains a priority: the firm has both a chief equity and inclusion officer and a director of equity and inclusion and SKDK has a recruitment and sourcing strategy and has committed to the Diversity Action Alliance to achieve tangible results in diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Staff includes about 40% people of color.
With parent company Stagwell, SKDK announced the Risk & Reputation Unit, designed to help brand leaders navigate the nuances of political and social issues, offering bipartisan political and PR expertise and insights—one example of the close working relationship SKDK enjoys with sister agency Sloane & Company, an expert in financial communications. In addition, EVP Elizabeth Kenigsberg was named top lead the firm’s growing cybersecurity and technology practice, while its executive communications team added three experts as of-counsel advisors. Engaging with some the critical social and political issues of the day, SKDK helped Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis OB-GYN who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim, making her a target of conservative media; supported the 40 former Washington Commanders employees who have discussed the toxic culture, bullying, and sexual harassment; raised the public profile of the Gifford gun safety group leading up to its 10th anniversary; and worked with the National Coalition of STD Directors to shine a light on the growing epidemic of STDs and the need for more federal funding for sexual health clinics.
— Paul Holmes
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