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

2024 North America Large 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

BCW (WPP)

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The largest agency in the WPP public relations family, formed in 2018 by the merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe, BCW is about to get a whole lot larger: WPP announced in January that the firm will merger with sister company Hill & Knowlton later this year, creating what might be the industry’s largest brand. Burson-Marsteller was best known for its work in corporate and public affairs, while Cohn & Wolfe was a specialist in healthcare and consumer marketing—the synergy is what made the merger a sensible option for WPP. The firm remains strong in the corporate realm—including crisis and employee engagement—and in healthcare, areas that stood it in good stead during the pandemic, while the expansion of digital and data expertise over the past few years positions BCW to take advantage of the future.

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Headquartered in New York, BCW has one of the largest global networks of any agency. Its North American operation includes 11 offices in the mainland US as well as a presence in Puerto Rico. Its international operations are among the largest of any agency.

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BCW is coy when it comes to sharing its financial data, but WPP’s public relations operations—of which the firm is by far the largest part—grew by 1.4% last year and it seems fair to assume BCW’s performance was probably a little lower than that number in what was clearly a transitional year. The firm’s corporate affairs capability—it was named our Corporate Consultancy of the Year last year—has continued its momentum, especially as reputation continues to impact success in the policy arena. Healthcare had a strong year too, with 100% client retention. There was organic growth from longtime clients such as Dollar General, Supernus, The Coca-Cola Company, and Swissport, as well as new business from Mahou USA, Nice, and Starbucks, and in the first few weeks of 2024 from the Government of the Bahamas and the Project Management Institute.

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Donna Imperato, the architect of the merged BCW brand, announced her intention to resign in January of last year, and in May Corey duBrowa, who had led Google’s communications since 2018 and previously held CCO roles at Starbucks and Salesforce. In other changes, Kristine Boyden joined the agency from Cruise, the self-driving automotive company, as CEO, Americas (she will hold the same role in the merged Burson); Jackeline Stewart-Hawkins joined as lead of the firm’s polycultural marketing unit; Kari Butcher was named president of data and insights; Tracey Naden became healthcare practice lead; while chief client officer Beth Marrano added oversight of the firm’s New York office to her responsibilities. More big changes are likely in the year ahead as the new Burson takes shape.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

BCW created a new Artificial Intelligence Working Group tht includes chief innovation office Chad Latz, chief technology officer Chris Kief, and WPP’s chief AI officer Daniel Hulme. In February of last year, the firm launched BCW Navigate, aimed at assisting clients in charting their course through AI issues, and it is now working on a portfolio of proprietary intelligence and data tools including BCW Decipher, powered by Limbik, which offers message believability testing and predictive virality. Highlights of the firm’s work included positioning Microsoft as a leading voice on AI; developing a fully integrated brand campaign, “Here for What Matters,” for Dollar General; providing media relations and integrated support for Supernus, a biopharmaceutical company specializing in CNS diseases; and elevating the community for low-grade serous ovarian cancer, a rare condition, for Verastem Oncology. There was SABRE recognition, meanwhile, for two superb purpose-driven efforts: the book “Joaquin's First School Shooting” for gun control group Change the Ref and launching The Rocket Fund" to end AIDS by 2030 for the Elton John Foundation.

Paul Holmes

FleishmanHillard (Omnicom PR Group)

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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.

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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.

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After a record-setting 2022, global CEO John Saunders says “2023 was our second-best year,” which is a great way to explain that while the numbers were down, the firm is still in a stronger position than it was two years ago. And to be fair, many of the secondary metrics for last year were impressive: $140 million in new business, 16 seven-figure accounts added to the portfolio, 400 new clients globally. All of which helped FH survive a massive loss of AT&T business, one of its largest longtime clients. Among the highlights the firm added more brands to its already extensive Pepsico portfolio, including FritoLay, as well as work for  Jack Link’s, Okta, the Los Angeles Clippers, JC Penney, Essity for consumer and business-to-business communications, and Johnson&Johnson for additional corporate work. At the same time, 96 of the top 100 clients were retained, with two-thirds adding new assignments. The strongest growth came from the firm’s DEI consulting offer and its creative, strategy and planning group. 

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Several years ago, Saunders said he wanted FH to be known as “the most inclusive agency,” and the firm continues to enhance its DEU efforts with 35% of new hires (and 10% of senior hires) involving diverse individuals. The Alfred Fleishman Diversity Scholarship continues to expand, and employee research groups now include Muslim and Jewish employees as well as Blacks, Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Islander and LGBTQIA+ groups. The firm also offers access to a host of mental health and wellness services including Thrive Mental Wellbeing, Carrot, and Calm (with 1000 FH users globally). While the global and North American leadership team has been stable for a while (with Saunders at the helm, JJ Carter as president of Americas, Marjorie Benzkofer as chief strategy officer and Della Sweetman leading the business development machine, there were new additions last year including San Francisco GM Kristin Hollins, a boomerang, replacing Tim O’Keeffe who took over as head of the global tech sector; and Ashleigh Hargrave as SVP, media, platforms and storytelling in Raleigh. 

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The agency’s priorities in 2023 were unsurprising, with data and intelligence at the top of the list, along with emerging technologies and co-creating AI solutions. The firm’s True Global Intelligence offering has been expanding apace with new influence impact scoring technology, improved predictive modeling in the planning process, and a 20% increase in tech stack usage. The new Gen AI “ecosystem” can provide synthetic focus groups, personalized editorial content, narrative forecasting and more. A typical example of the firm’s approach to client management is JP Morgan Chase, an eight-year client for which FH handles a wide variety of financial services and consumer assignments, with more than 120 active team members. Creative highlights, meanwhile, include consumer assignments such as “Hallowclean” for Wet Wipes and the search for people willing to change their name to Subway (for Subway) and healthcare work such as an inclusive obesity education assignment for Novo Nordisk and a Peripheral Artery Disease awareness initiative for J&J.

Paul Holmes

Golin (Interpublic Group)

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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. Across these practice groups, the firm’s expertise spans content creation and production; corporate strategy; crisis management; data & analytics; DE&I strategy; employee engagement; influencer marketing; media relations & training; public affairs; social media; and social purpose.

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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.

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Golin continued to outperform its peers in a challenging 2023, with global fee income up by better than 6%. North America, which contributes about 80% of the firm’s revenues, grew slightly faster than that, with the New York office setting the pace, and the healthcare business making a significant contribution (both of them were up by better than 15%) and data and analytics making an even more significant contribution. New business in North America came from a host of big names: abbvie, Alliant, amfAR, Celebrity Cruises, Chobani, Diageo, Elanco, FEMA, Fidelity Investments, Pfizer, Tapestry and UnidosUS, spanning every practice area. There was organic growth too, from Doritos (a large part of the firm’s PepsiCo business), Cisco, Lenovo, Merz, Quaker, Verizon and Walmart.

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The strong performance of the New York office and the healthcare sector were clearly factors when global chief exeutive Matt Neale named Dawn Langeland and Cori McKeever to co-lead the North America region. Others in new roles include chief client officer Ginger Porter; global president of data and analytics Jonny Bentwood, and three executive creative directors: Tony O’Neill (Chicago), Kristen Kusterer (New York), and Pam Fukimoto (LA). New additions to the team included a slew of appointments in healthcare: Jaimee Reggio as MD of the Golin and Virgo Health business; Erin Patton as  assistant MD nd lead on the Pfizer business; EVPs Rowena Bergman and Lisa Johnson, and health equity lead Kim Brock. Still committed to flexibility in terms of the workplace, Golin’s approach encourages people to work in office two days a week. In terms of professional development, the GOLD (Golin Leadership Development) program has been expanded. And on the DEI front, the firm is now 31% BIPOC, the highest level ever, including 32% of managers, while its PREP School approach to building relationships with Historically Black Universities & Colleges promises even greater progress. 

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Golin is making its own targeted investment in AI, with a focus on products like ContentEQ, tracking reactions to content; BrandEQ, tracking conversations around brands; and Verifcat, tackling misinformation and disinformation. The firm has also developed a new executive visibility product, EV360. The work included corporate communications support for Ozempic manufacturer Novo Nordisk, as well as SABRE nominated work like the “Time Portal” and “Grimace’s Birthday” campaign for McDonald’s; the “Add to Heart Premiere” for Walmart; and the “Turning Influencers into Interrogators” effort for Adobe. The firm also supported Lego’s line of Valentine’s Day flowers and the production of a coffee ttable book for doctor’s waiting rooms that helped deepen understanding of eczema.

Paul Holmes

Real Chemistry (Independent)

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Founded a little more than two decades ago as WeissCom, a biotech-focused healthcare specialist, the firm was renamed W2OGroup in 2010, by which time it had established itself as an integrated healthcare communications group with multiple acquisitions spanning advertising, digital, data and analytics and more. Early in 2021, there was another evolution, to the Real Chemistry brand, with an attendant focus on “the real chemistry between people and the brands born to change their lives.” Not surprisingly, the growth story has been the dominant narrative around Real Chemistry with the firm’s proliferation of non-traditional services also serving to set it apart from the competition. But Real Chemistry continues to be, at its core, a healthcare PR firm—the largest in the world.

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US offices include Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. There are additional offices in Toronto, London and Manchester in the UK, and Zurich, Switzerland.

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The pace of Real Chemistry’s growth slowed in 2023, reflecting the challenging economy but a 7% increase in fee income is still very respectable for a firm that now reports $595 million. Real Chemistry works with all 30 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and with 30% of the world’s top 50 blockbuster life science brands as well as 20 of last year’s 70 FDA approvals. The firm now has seven $20 million clients in its portfolio and there was $25 million in new revenues from entirely new brands. Another indicator of progress: Real Chemsistry divided its business into six practice areas in 2023—integrated communications, medical, activation, targeting, analytics and insights, and advertising—and a growing number of the firm’s top clients work with several of those specialties. Key clients include AstraZeneca, Diageo, Incyte, Madrigal, Novartis and Sobi, while there were new assignments from Bayer last year, as well as wins such as Repare Therapeutics, Sutro Biopharma, Vilya, and Waters. 

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Shankar Narayanan is now two and a half years into his tenure as CEO, and he has an integrated communications leadership team that includes veteran global president Jennifer Gottlieb, group president and chief strategy officer Emily Poe, president of earned media Jennifer Paganelli and health equity lead Jewel Jones, while new hires in 2023 included chief client officer Rachi Govil and president Christine Abbott, both from BCW, and crisis and corporate reputation leader Steve Behm from Edelman. A new employee recognition program, SPARK (Shoutouts. Praise. Appreciation. Recognition. Kudos) celebrats employees who are living the agency’s values. The firm has also expanded its gender-neutral parental leave policy, and its benefits for our working families including its Progyny fertility benefits, elder and other dependent care. Team members are able to find community in 10 global business resources groups that offer a range of educational and social activities throughout the year. 

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Two acquisitions over the past 12 months have strengthened Real Chemistry’s capabilities in data-driven marketing and predictive analytics (TI Group) and medical communications (AvantHC), two areas where the firm has been differentiating itself, and there are new practices focused on crisis, science visualization, and the emerging biotech sector. The investment in AI continues apace, with new offers including a partnership with generative AI expert writer.ai, an AI enabled trend tracker, and a portfolio of predictive AI targeting tools from Swoop, acquired back in 2021. The firm now has a database of close to a million physicians, advocates and media, enabling to track and predict everything from early adopters to undiagnosed patients. The work, meanwhile, is gaining recognition throughout the industry, with integrated campaigns such as the “Not So Bloody Mary” hemophilia campaign from ad subsidiary 21 grams; “Seeing Red,” a heavy-menstrual bleeding campaign for Bayer; and the “Science Will Win” podcast series for Pfizer.

Paul Holmes

Weber Shandwick Collective (IPG)

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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 research specialist KRC, digital content creator flipside, and consulting unit United Minds, as well as dna in the healthcare space, all of which make up the “collective” that is now part of the brand.

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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.

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Interpublic’s PR group, of which Weber Shandwick is by far the largest part, reported 2.9% growth in 2023, and it appears that the Collective’s growth was pretty close to that mark, in line with the average among the largest agencies. Some of the specialist brands—dna, Flipside and United Minds—enjoyed solid double-digit growth, as did the New York headquarters office and the Powell Tate public affairs operation. There was healthy growth from clients such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Hilton, Johnson&Johnson, Mars, Mastercard, Mattel, Mondelez, and the US Postal Service, while new business included Pfizer and Walgreens (two of the biggest new business pitches of the year), Vertex, Dollar Shave Club, Case IH, Eventbrite, Kenvue, and Pinterest.

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Weber Shandwick has arguably the strongest leadership team in the business: CEO Gail Heimann and president Susan Howe; Jim O’Leary, who joined as  North American CEO last year from Edelman; veterans like chief brand officer Joy Farber Kolo, chief innovation officer Chris Perry, head of healthcare Laura Schoen and head of public affairs Pam Jenkins; Chris Deri, chief corporate affairs officer and Business & Society Futures lead; and Ridhi Malhotra, who joined last year as head of analytics and intelligence. Other new additions include Jordan Rittenberry and and Sheila Mulligan, president of the western and central regions respectively. Judith Harrison, the firm’s chief DEI officer, is leading the development of the “workplace of the future,” and BIPOC talent made up 32% of new hires last year, and 36% of the latest intern class. The firm also launched a new fellowship with an eye on attracting more diverse talent to healthcare PR. Professional development and mental health initiatives, including Advanced Inclusion through Mentorship (AIM) and Time to Connect, recognized by HBR as a best practice. 

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Given that Weber Shandwick is investing heavily in AI—it’s clearly among the industry leaders—it’s interesting to hear the firm talking about an approach rooted in “extreme humanness,” but the idea that public relationships are built on contributing value in order to earn value is at the heart of Heimann’s philosophy—the value of which is underscored by the firm’s new “Primacy of Personal” research study. The firm’s proprietary AI suite, meanwhile, includes tools like the Earned Impact Score, a Scenario Planner for assessing likely corporate reputation changes, and tools designed to identify and counter misinformation and disinformation. The Futures AI accelerator is being developed in a secure sandbox by a cross-functional team and promises to deliver even more valuable tools. Noteworthy work last year ranged from high-profile consumer work like “Pop Tarts: The First Edible Mascot” for Kellanova and “Fluid” for Tresemme; purpose-driven work like the launch of the first Barbie doll with down syndrome and Hispanic outreach for US Bank; healthcare work life flu awareness for Sanofi; and corporate reputation assignments such as helping Norfolk Southern communicate its post-crisis cleanup in East Palestine—all of which are nominated for SABRE Awards this year.

Paul Holmes