2024 Boutique PR Agencies of the Year, North America | PRovoke Media

2024 North America Boutique PR Agencies of the Year

The 2024 North America PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 150 submissions and 50 meetings with the best PR firms across the US and Canada. 

Winners are unveiled at the North American SABRE Awards ceremony, taking place on 1 May at Cipriani Midtown. Tickets and tables are available here. Analysis of all winners and finalists across 13 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Separately, you can find the 2024 SABRE Awards North America finalists here.


Finalists

Alloy (Independent)

aoy-backstory-iconBackstory

Growing rapidly as a tech PR firm since it was founded as ARPR in 2016, Alloy has developed a distinctive offering that combines sophisticated demand generation capabilities with PR, content marketing and social media on behalf of clients in the cloud, cybersecurity, fintech and health IT industries. Specific expertise includes data and measurement, crisis communications, social/media training and virtual trade show engagement and lead generation, adding up to considerable depth across key technology sectors. 

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The firm’s 55 employees operate nationally, with a particular emphasis on Atlanta and New Orleans, as well as in Central and South America.

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In April 2023, Alloy acquired Narwhal Digital, adding creative and technology capabilities and, like Alloy, is female-founded, minority-led and based in Atlanta. The agency’s fee income grew by an impressive 34% to $4.3 million, fueled by new business from Advantive, Aprio, Atlanta BeltLine, Dataminr, LeaseQuery and Litmos among others. The firm’s 55-person team also continued partnering with existing clients including Georgia Aquarium, geothinQ, HHAeXchange, Instant Financial, Intelerad, ParkMobile, RetireeFirst and Roadie.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Alloy has been under the watch of CEO Raj Choudhury since 2022, when he assumed the role from founder Anna Ruth Williams, who now is a partner. New leaders who came onboard last year include chief people officer Jenni McDonough and VP of growth Simon Cowart. Alloy added a total of 18 new employees and had an 18% promotion rate. Benefits include ClassPass memberships, Talkspace therapy, paid sabbaticals and professional stipends. The firm’s DEI committee works on fostering an inclusive culture through education, thought leadership, talent development and community engagement.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Over the past year, Alloy has expanded services and capabilities to better meet clients where they’re at, adding audits and evaluations, strategy formulation, UX and product design, e-commerce and web development, strategic tech consultation and creation of immersive experience platforms to its offerings. The year’s top work included rebuilding S&T Bank’s digital presence with idea of “proving that banking doesn’t have to be intimidating, confusing or boring.”  For the Georgia Aquarium —  the most visited aquarium in North America —  Alloy developed an email strategy that fostered relationships, sold tickets and uncovered new revenue through personalized product recommendations.

Diana Marszalek

Bryson Gillette (Independent)

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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.

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Bryson Gillette operates nationwide with headquarters in Washington and Los Angeles. 

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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 20 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. In 2023, Bryson Gillette truly hit its stride, with a 50% increase in revenue through its work on issues like technology reform and safety, education and climate change. New clients include National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Trust for Public Land and Para los Niños, which join a long list of existing clients including the Knight Foundation, New America, The Council on Foundations and Gen V.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

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. Bryson Gillette’s leadership team is 88% people of color and/or women, and its full team is over 60% women and over 60% people of color. The firm developed a program with Howard University to recruit and train students and recent graduates to help build a diverse pipeline of talent. 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. In addition to Burton, leaders include partners Shira Fine, Rebecca Pearcey and Emily Schwartz.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Bryson Gillette and its clients have been at the forefront of issues like the debate over AI. Leaders of the Center for Humane Technology, a client, presented “The A.I. Dilemma” at Aspen Ideas Festival; met with President Biden for a discussion reported by the Washington Post; participated in Sen. Chuck Schumer’s AI Insight Forum; and spoke at TED AI San Francisco.  Agency leaders showed up regularly in the media. Rebecca Pearcey was quoted in Vanity Fair and the Washington Post about national political races. Josefin Dolsten wrote op-eds for The Forward and the Daily Beast about political threats to the teaching of Black history and the challenges of safely discarding leftover opioids. And Elsa Alvarado, the youngest director to ever work in the Pentagon, was profiled in Hispanic Executive Magazine, Middlebury Magazine, WCAX, and QNS. Bryson’s most significant 2023 work included the Heat Initiative campaign aimed at pressuring the world’s largest tech companies to remove pictures and videos of child sexual abuse from their platforms. Campaign tactics included flying a plane with a banner calling for action over Apple’s iPhone launch event in Cupertino and a guerrilla-style projection onto the wall of the Carnegie Library Apple Store in Washington. The firm co-produced the first primetime advertisement targeting Apple during the NFL’s NFC Championship game.

Diana Marszalek

The Sway Effect (Independent)

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In July 2019, Jennifer Risi stepped down from an eight-year career at Ogilvy to launch The Sway Effect, operating under a business model built to foster alliances, as well as diversity and inclusion. The idea: create a network of agencies with a range of expertise beyond PR and comms, to address broader client needs and expand geographic reach across the US, Caribbean, and Latin America. In the time since, Sway Effect has grown into a $4.3 million business with a full range of offerings including PR, brand marketing, social impact and DEI programming. 

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Headquartered in New York, the Sway Effect's footprint spans the US, Mexico, Argentina, the UK and China. 

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2023 started off strong for The Sway Effect, with the agency winning two new accounts —  Female Quotient and Collibra – contributing to the firm's $4.3 million in fee income. When the agency lost one of its major clients to budget cuts, the team used the opportunity to diversify its client portfolio and break into new industries. From May August, Sway Effect pursued —  and won —  five new pieces of businesses, expanding into the hospitality, real estate, CPG and non-profit work. And, after a four-month hiatus, the client that left —  medtech company Becton Dickinson —  returned. Sway Effect won PR AOR assignments from Nusr-Et Steakhouse, Business for Good, AJ Capital Partners and Female Quotient. Longtime partners include Signet Jewelers, Intrepid Travel, Appian, and 4A’s.

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The Sway Effect strengthen its leadership bench last year, promoting Megan Trivelli and Julia Tisdal to account directors, giving each of them oversight of 50% of clients in the process. The agency also hired Nicole Barbosa as a media relations specialist, strengthening a core competency. In 2023, 82% of the agency identified themselves as diverse, with 95% of its partners and staff identifying as female. Risi gives employees voice letting them, for instance, decide how they wanted to return to work. The Sway Effect continues to be a strategic advisor to UN Women and supports Unsilenced, an organization focused on stopping institutional child abuse.  

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

An advocate for DEI in PR, Risi over the last 12 months, moderated a panel at The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge at Cannes Lions entitled “Women Owning It. Advertising and Marketing Leaders Forging Their Own Path” and most recently hosted a panel at The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge at Advertising Week NY, “Rewriting the Rules for RTO so Everyone Wins.” The Sway Effect partnered with B corp consultancy, Overview, to create an AI Governance framework for marketing and PR leaders, providing guidance towards ethical and effective AI implementation. It also expanded its DEI Barometer, which measures how well people are responding to companies’ DEI initiatives and The Sway Effect Index, a product suite helping brands assess if they “hold sway” with their stakeholders.  The year’s hallmark work included the agency’s SABRE Award-winning campaign for Appian which focused on elevating the CEO’s profile. Client Intrepid Travel recorded record growth in the US.

Diana Marszalek

Tier One Partners (Independent)

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Co-founded 20 years ago by Marian Hughes and Kathy Wilson after big agency careers, Tier One Partners has built and sustained its business my leveraging its “fierce” independence, meaning the team has no one to answer to but clients. In turn, the agency, which specializes in technology, financial and professional services, healthcare and energy, has a healthy number of long-term relationships with its partners, some more than a decade long. A PR and integrated marketing firm, Tier One has developed unique trendspotting capabilities that enables clients to get ahead of what’s coming next.

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Tier One is co-headquartered in Boston and Chicago and has additional staff in New York and Atlanta. 

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Despite challenges in the tech sector, Tier One stayed steady in 2023, with revenue rising to $3.9 million from $3.6 million the previous year. With a content studio and proprietary tools for spotting trends, the agency last year grew its portfolio of B2B and B2C clients with new business from CAP Index, iProov, Ventricle Health and Velocity Risk, while furthering robust relationships with existing clients including 24M, GHX and Tango. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Co-founders Marian Hughes and Kathy Wilson continue to run Tier One with the passion and ethos they founded the company on. The firm invests in employees, which get an annual stipend for professional development and are able to participate in an office exchange with a London agency. Employee benefits include a flexible PTO policy that requires employees to spend a minimum number of days out of the office to rest and reset. Since mid-2020,  Tier One has donated to more than 40 DEI-focused nonprofits and regularly host workshops. Tier One has long provided pro bono services to nonprofits including SafePlace International, which works with marginalized refugees from the LGBTQIA+ community and single mothers.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Last year, Tier One debuted its monthly trends report, “What’s Next, Now,” with the idea of helping companies get ahead of pending trends in their marketing. Based on intelligence and listening, it’s a “cultural crystal ball” of sorts. Tier One’s work for Ally Financial —  a sponsor of the National Women’s Soccer League —  included a multifaceted campaign to drive awareness of inequity in women’s sports, elevate it, and position Ally as a supporter. Widespread coverage of the campaign led to 40% more consumers likely to open an account at Ally and the company being recognized as a top five brand in women’s sports. 

Arun Sudhaman

UpSpring (Independent)

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It is not often that this publication comes across successful PR firms founded at college, but that is not the only convention that UpSpring bucks, having been launched by college roommates Tiffany Rafii and Sarah Terzic from their dorm room in 2009. Fifteen years later, UpSpring counts more than 60 professionals across its PR, digital marketing and creative offering, which was bolstered by the 2022 acquisition of digital marketing firm Epiphany Studio. Today, UpSpring works with a diverse client list that includes architects, interior designers, construction management firms, engineers, and product manufacturers — providing services across media relations, paid and social media, website design and development, branding, SEO, and more.

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There are 66 executives in the US.

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Over the years, UpSpring’s client roster has evolved into an impressive list of industry leaders, including prominent architecture and design firms such as Perkins&Will, Arcadis, and Moody Nolan; product brands such as Carnegie Fabrics, Teknion, Juniper Design, and mDesign; and key real-estate players such as Remington Hospitality, Curbio, and Portal Warehousing. In the past year, UpSpring has expanded into additional market sectors, partnering with brands such as Almond, a venture-backed startup focused on changing obstetrical-gynecological care; Top Shelf Dog, a restaurant-quality, shelf-stable dog food brand; and Top Trumps USA, the gaming company behind the official City Monopoly Editions.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Rafii focuses on innovation and growth, while Terzic oversees operations, processes and finances, supported by a leadership team that includes SVPs Susan Fernandez and Jana Montero. The firm’s remote workforce means that there is considerable effort devoted to fostering camaraderie among team members, underpinning a management approach that prioritizes transparency, flexibility and personal wellbeing. 

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In 2023, UpSpring made specific strides to better support its clients, launching a new podcast for members of the architecture and design industry, and establishing The Circle, a networking community for its clients. Campaign highlights included supporting Remington Hospitality’s rebrand and expansion into the Caribbean, growing online sales for Teak Warehouse, and raising brand awareness for Artaic. 

Arun Sudhaman