2024 Canadian PR Agencies of the Year | PRovoke Media

2024 Canadian 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

Casacom (Independent) 

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Founded in 2001 in Montreal, Casacom is a Canadian leader in business strategy, PR and integrated communications, with a suite of services including corporate and marketing communication, digital marketing, public affairs, crisis management, and creative production and design under Studio Casacom . The firm has also embraced ESG strategies and achieved B Corp certification. In 2022, entrepreneurial CEO Marie-Josée Gagnon welcomed new partners; this leadership transition marked a significant milestone in continuing the firm’s legacy. In 2023, Casacom launched its AI Advantage program, focusing on the integration, training, and monitoring of AI. 

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Casacom has offices in Montreal and Toronto. 

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Casacom now has a team of 26 people and last year its fee income grew by just over 20% to $5.8 million, with 23% profitability. Its wide-ranging client roster includes Air Canada, Toyota Canada, Pharmascience, Kruger, Kiewit, Investissement Québec, Prosciutto di Parma, Loto-Québec, Airex Énergies, Sun Life, Scenic, Volta and Alouette Aluminum Plant.  

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Gagnon is a supported by a leadership team that includes partner and COO Jean-Michel Nahas, creative lead Catherine Chantal-Boivin, and two former interns who have risen to partner and senior director level: Mylène Demers and Mathilde St-Vincent. The team have created a stimulating, nurturing environment that celebrates success and is underpinned by principles and initiatives around sustainability, diversity and wellness. The agency has an ESG action plan, profit-shares with employees, a community programmes, continuous training through the Casacademy, mindfulness training, weekly sports activities and a net promoter score of 8. The agency has also moved away from hourly billing to emphasize the impact of its client work, and this is reflected in how it evaluates employees’ performance. 

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The new AI Edge service introduced last year encompasses an integration and communication plan that optimise the use of generative AI, prioritizing ethical practices and including training, tool selection, policy updates, legal reviews and performance metrics. Its award-winning work over the year included helping The Quebec Construction Association to boost its digital presence after a rebrand, addressing social themes requiring evolution of a traditional industry through highlighting innovation, sustainable construction, health and safety, and DEI. The campaign exceeded all KPIs. The team also supported Réseau des Carrefours Jeunesse-Emploi du Québec (RCJEQ) and its 88 youth employment centers, which support young adults aged 15 to 35 in developing personal, social, economic, and professional autonomy, with a campaign that revealed the priorities of young people during the Quebec election period and gained the organisation unprecedented visibility.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Craft Public Relations (Independent)

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Founded eight years ago by industry veteran Lisa Pasquin, who had spent almost two decades working for some of Canada’s most notable agencies, building award-winning strategies and campaigns for clients like Microsoft, Dove, McDonald’s and CBC, Craft Public Relations has quickly become one of Canada’s most-admired agencies, recognized for the quality of its work and its culture. Pasquin’s vision was to build an agency with a deep focus on its people, that could out-think, out-create and outperform bigger and better-funded competitors, and she and the team have lived up to that: sespite the agency’s relatively small size, it consistently punches well above its weight, with a client list that ranges from leading Canadian brands to global household names. 

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Craft’s team of 35 is based in Toronto and works across Canada. 

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Craft’s fee income grew by more than 18% to just over $11 million. New briefs came from the likes of Hershey (Reese’s, Twizzlers, Jolly Rancher, Skor, Hershey chocolate), Reitmans, Atypique, Warner Bros, Firehouse Subs, Jack Daniel’s and TVO, who joined an enviable client roster including Nintendo of Canada, Restaurant Brands International (Tim Hortons, Burger King, Popeyes), Keurig Dr Pepper (Crush, Dr Pepper, Clamato), Moosehead Breweries, GE Appliances, Canadian Tire, Maple Lodge Farms, Penguin Random House, HelloFresh and Baycrest Foundation. 

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Craft is renowned for its dedication to nurturing top talent. The agency boasts remarkably low staff turnover rates, with only three voluntary departures in eight years—a rarity in Toronto’s agency scene. Guided by values such as empathy and collaboration, Craft's highest priority is ‘care’, which shapies its employee culture and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. DEI goals are integrated into broader business plans, reflecting Craft’s core identity. Three objectives drive their culture planning: attract and retain talent, support collective growth, and ensure sustainable value. Initiatives include equitable recruitment processes, a ‘Curiosity Fund’ for personal development, and flexible work policies like unlimited vacation and remote work options.  

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Craft garnered attention in 2023 by disclosing salary bands, promoting pay equity dialogue; the positive reaction boosted job applications by 30% and Pasquin's insights on salary transparency earned her recognition as a thought leader in Canadian media. Standout work last year included the Tim Hortons Boat-Thru to drive excitement around the national coffee shop chain’s line-up of new cold beverages, which drove a 10% increase in cold beverage sales at restaurants across the country. The agency also supported GE Appliances’ sponsorship of Canada Soccer in the run-up to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, amid controversy over equal pay and access to resources for the women’s team. Extra financial support was backed up with a new grassroots program to keep girls and gender-diverse players in the game. And to introduce Nintendo’s blockbuster new game ‘The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’ to a mainstream audience, Craft engaged Zelda superfan and Netflix star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who in 24 hours rang in the game’s first sales in Toronto at a blockbuster photo op, conducted dozens of mainstream media interviews and hosted 40 of Canada’s top content creators for a hands-on experience. The partnership generated almost 120 million media impressions and helped propel the game into the record books: it became not only the fastest-selling game in the Legend of Zelda franchise, but also the fastest-selling Nintendo game in history. 

Maja Pawinska Sims

Hill & Knowlton (WPP)

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There was a time when Hill & Knowlton 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 pioneers 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 UScapabilities—even as the firm’s operations north of the border continued to impress. In 2019, AnnaMaria DeSalva, previously head of corporate affairs for Pfizer and Dupont, was named global chairman and CEO and the three years since then have seen the firm’ fortunes imrpove, with a reversion to the traditional H&K brand in midyear. Then came the news, early in 2024, that the venerable firm would be merged with BCW to become Burson, leaving the future of the brand once again uncertain.

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With around 170 people in its Canadian operation, which includes offices in Calgary, Edmonton. Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Toronto, and Vancouver, Hill & Knowlton has the largest national footprint of any international public relations brand operating in Canada.

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It was somewhat poignant to hear DeSalva and her leadership team discuss “tremendous progress” on the firm’s journey of transformation just as it appears H&K will be subsumed by longtime rival and sister company BCW but the fact is that the firm did appear to be on the right track in North America, positioning itself as the right firm for complex, transformative times. Having outperformed the rest of the sector in 2022, H&K saw modest top and bottom line improvements in 2023. The firm enjoyed growth from a host of existing clients including AstraZeneca, hydroone, Snap Inc, Toronto Hydro, and Vancouver International Airport—there was healthy 7% growth among the firm’s top 10 clients. And there was new business including Google (a 12-agency pitch that was one of Canada’s largest), YouTube, PWC, Tangerine, Vetex, and Zarbee’s.

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The big news last year was the addition of Craig Buchholz, formerly chief communications officer at Merck, P&G and most recently General Motors as president of the firm’s North American operations, succeeding Richard Millar and providing H&K with a unique pairing of former in-house stalwarts in leadership roles (Buchholz will become CEO of Burson’s US operations after the merger). In Canada, Sheila Wisniewski continued in her role as CEO, while new additions to the team included senior VP and corporate advisory lead Neil Parmenter, formerly with the Canadian Bankers Association, and new VPs in ESG, health, public affairs, and creative. Rebuilding a collaborative and creative culture has been a priority for DeSalva, as had DEI, with an “action plan” that focused on transparency, talent, culture and accountability and has earned the firm recognition as one of “100 Best Companies for Inclusive Workplace” from Seramount.

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The re-brand in November was accompanied by a new strategy with an emphasis on “sustainable value creation,” at the intersection of reputation, risk and growth, underpinned by advisory capacities, intelligence and technology, and creative innovation. Specific new offers include FutureSight, a team of geopolitical, policy and communications experts focused on international political issues and Sonar, an AI tool for narrative intelligence and risk management. Highlights of the work include working with a coalition of six patient groups to expand access to genomic testing; a campaign to win support for increased investment in public utilities for Toronto Hydro; and corporate advisory and public affairs support for NextStar Energy’s new EV battery plant.

Paul Holmes

Weber Shandwick (IPG)

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Weber Shandwick Canada was established in 2001 through a series of mergers, with its roots in Canada going back more than 40 years. Today, its known for working long-term with big brands – McDonald’s has been a client for 35 years – on impactful campaigns thanks to a collaborative service model based on one P&L. Like the US and global operations of Weber Shandwick, the Canadian office is a genuine full-service player, with consumer, healthcare, and technology clients, as well as expertise in strategic communications, corporate reputation, a proactive approach to risk management, impressive digital capabilities and a strong creative reputation that sets the edge in social creative, earned influencer, and narrative intelligence. 

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Weber Shandwick Canada has offices in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. It is part of The Weber Shandwick Collective (TWSC) with 18 offices across North America, a presence in 115 cities around the globe and more than 3,000 staff worldwide. 

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After growing Canadian fee income by a record 30% in 2022, the agency grew by another 13% in 2023, and its client ‘likelihood to recommend score’ increased by 6.5%. The team has grown 30% since 2021, and last year the agency invested in senior hires to deepen its expertise in healthcare, corporate risk and reputation, energy, financial services, and sustainability and social impact. Key clients include McDonald’s Canada (35 years), Royal Bank of Canada (13 years), General Motors (13 years), Bayer (13 years), Air Canada (7 years), Sun Life (6 years), IBM (6 years), Mars (3 years), Coca-Cola (3 years) and OLG (1 year). Key additions to the agency’s client roster over the past 12 months include Pfizer, Unilever, Corby Spirit and Wine, Yukon Energy and AirBnB. 

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Weber Shandwick Canada employees actively engage in shaping the company through surveys and listening sessions. Recent surveys show high satisfaction levels, with 88% feeling their role aligns with the agency's mission and 85% being proud to work at the agency. Post-pandemic, efforts to foster collaboration include improved office amenities and flexible policies. Recognized as a Great Place to Work for six consecutive years, the agency invests in staff development through various programs like paid conferences, mentorships, and professional skills development. The Nicola Moore Courageous Creativity Prize supports junior staff's career growth. Collaboration with Mammoth enhances staff education on energy transition and ESG principles, with practical workshops. The firm prioritizes diversity through initiatives like Truth & Reconciliation Day events and a DEI vendor evaluation tool. Additionally, $160k is allocated annually to provide pro-bono PR support for DEI-focused clients. 

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Last year, the team contributed to several global initiatives, including CEO Greg Power helping to build out the global Weber Shandwick offer in Narrative Intelligence, while strategic planning VP Shipra Chauhan developed a new agency platform, Return on Inclusion, designed to help clients define a differentiated and provable position on DEI.The agency earned SABRE nominations for two big campaigns last year: to support Coca-Cola’s transition to 100% recycled plastic in its 500ml bottles, the team created the ‘Replay Arcade’, a vintage video game arcade in downtown Toronto showcased the multiple lives of plastic bottles. The agency also developed a media, influencer and government advocacy strategy for the Stage Zero Collection by underwear brand Love & Nudes, designed by and for Black women, which pioneered the world’s first bras designed to help identify early signs of breast cancer on darker skin tones; the campaign resulted in the age of public-funded mammograms being lowered from 50 to 40. Other standout work across sectors included creating a metaverse experience for Mondelez to launch a new flavour OREO cookie, which became the highest selling limited-time offer in Canadian history; helping Air Canada announce a series of product and service upgrades showcasing its commitment to a better experience for all customers; helping Sun Life build cross-functional readiness in areas of reputational risk; and creating a communications platform for Pfizer’s EpiPen that helped inspire inclusive entertaining by challenging the limitations of allergens.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Zeno Group (DJE Holdings) 

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Edelman sister agency 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 global CEO and reshaped the firm as an independent agency with its own identity and culture. Similarly, the firm’s Canadian operation was founded in 2010, but has really come into its own over the past five-plus years, establishing itself as a serious competitor for the market’s largest consumer assignments and health and wellness briefs.

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Having opened its Toronto office more than a decade ago, Zeno expanded its geographic footprint in 2021 with new offices in British Colombia and Quebec (an important foothold for national business that includes the country’s French-speaking population). And of course Zeno has a formidable presence in the US and an increasingly global reach.

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Zeno’s Canadian operations have been on an impressive six-year streak of double-digit growth, over which time income has increased by 578%. Last year saw a 31% increase and is tracking to be up another 20% in 2024. After picking up Visit California in 2022 (it was the firm’s first travel client in six years), the firm last year was named The Islands of Tahiti’s integrated marketing AOR; won Bimbo Canada’s corporate AOR assignment; and added Amazon and Johnson’s Baby PR duties to its responsibilities. Zeno Canada’s work for longtime client Philadelphia sparked a national debate about no-hole bagels. Organic growth came from Lenovo (up 33%) and Regeneron (245%). Other longtime clients include Newell brands, which added Sharpie, Coleman and Sunbeam to Zeno’s remit. 

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Zeno’s impressive six-year growth spurt coincided with the 2017 appointment of Julie Georgas as managing director (mirroring the trajectory of the Zeno global business under CEO Barby Siegel), and Georgas has built an impressive leadership team including senior VP, client experience Heather Meehan; health practice leader Daniela McCorie; senior VP, integrated media Terri McBay; and technology leader Toru Levinson. 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). In Canada, the “Act Together” commitment means DE&I goals are a part of annual performance reviews for 100% of Zeno employees.

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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 identifying ways to reach the “science-curious” for Regeneron. Key 2023 work included partnering with Bugs Bunny voice actor Eric Bauza on a campaign for Visit California; highlighting a fashion designer whose clothing is decorated with Sharpie pen art; and sparking the no-hole bagel debate for Philadelphia.

Paul Holmes / Maja Pawinska Sims