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

2024 North America Midsize 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

APCO (Independent)

aoy-backstory-iconBackstory

Initially founded as the public affairs arm of the Arnold & Porter law firm in 1984—the firm is now in its 40th year—APCO later became part of Grey Advertising network, but it has enjoyed its best years since buying back its independence, solidifying its position as the world’s largest independent public affairs firm while expanding its broader corporate reputation and digital capabilities and generally helping C-suite clients anticipate and manage the kind of critical geopolitical issues that occupy a growing part of the average CEO’s day.

aoy-location-iconLocations

APCO’s headquarters are in Washington, DC, which is still the firm’s flagship office, but it has been building out a national footprint that includes a significant New York operation (delivering broader corporate and financial work) and additional North American offices in Raleigh, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle—supplemented by an extensive global footprint that includes all the major policy-making centers.

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

Last year was the most challenging for the public relations business in a long while, but you wouldn’t know it from APCO’s stellar performance. Globally the firm was up by 23% to $229.3 million; North America accounts for almost half of that total ($110 million, also up by better than 20%). Some of that came from the acquisition of Gagen MacDonald, a change management and employee engagement specialist, but there was plenty of organic growth too. key clients include Audi, IKEA, DP World, Microsoft and Brightmark. Newer additions include Southwest Airlines, Airport Holdings LTD, Tamil Nadu and Hevolution Foundation.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Key leaders are Margery Kraus, founder & executive chairman; Brad Staples, CEO; and Evan Kraus, president and managing director of operations; president of North America Kelly Williamson, and—a standout among several new additions in 2023—Maril Gagen MacDonald, whose eponymous employee communications and consulting firm was acquired in 2023 and adds a new dimension to APCO’s corporate capabilities. Inclusivity, curiosity, empathy and boldness have been bedrock APCO values since the firm’s founding and the firm’s most recent DEI Outlook found that more than 35% of APCO’s North America team was ethnically diverse—23% at the senior level. Recent initiatives include “Accelerate What’s Right, which includes ally development, community collaborations, and  equity of hiring opportunities at all levels. Also, the firm has expanded APCO Encore, a program designed to enable caregivers who have taken time out of the workforce to re-enter on a flexible basis to build their careers, while meeting personal obligations.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

The acquisition of Gagen MacDonald in March of last year gives APCO a resource few other public relations firms can match, a team of experts in change management and employee engagement, a firm that can help organizations with everything from post-merger integration to cultural assessments to DEI activation and engagement. The acquisition of Camarco in London, meanwhile, expanded the firm’s capital markets expertise while the addition of NGC International Advirsory adds more markets to its geopolitical consulting offer. The firm also continued to develop its AILab, founded in the Middle East back in 2018, with the launch of Margy, which gathers data from multiple sources and combines it with the experience of APCO counselors to handle real-time issues management, benchmarking and visualization services, and content generation. The marquee global assignment of the past 12 months involved working with more than 25 clients drawing on its sustainability and media relations capabilities to ensure clear communications at COP 28. In the US, the firm worked with IKEA to build its leadership position as a purpose-driven retailer, and worked with VERITY (Vehicle Equity Rules in Transportation), a bipartisan coalition, to address inequities in crash test standards.

Paul Holmes

Hill & Knowlton (WPP)

aoy-backstory-iconBackstory

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 domestic capabilities (even as its European operations in particular flourished). 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 first stabilize and then begin to rebuild, 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.

aoy-location-iconLocations

With 260 people in its New York headquarters and additional US offices in Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami (strengthened by the acquisition of Latin American specialist The Jeffrey Group), Orange County, San Francisco, Tallahassee, Tampa, and Washington, DC, Hill & Knowlton is no longer the behemoth it once was, but has focused on quality rather than quantity. H&K also has a substantial Canadian operation that includes offices in Calgary, Edmonton. Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Toronto, and Vancouver.

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

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 demonstrated resilience in 2023, at or around the industry average—which is to say flat. The firm’s client list includes a host of big corporate names: adidas, Ford, LG, P&G, Spotify, Activision Blizzard, Amazon, GSK, Johnson&Johnson, Mazda, Qualcomm, Shell and more—the top 30 clients have grown by 13% over the past three years. New business meanwhile came from Bose, Coveo, Hinge, Lam Research, Live Nation, Royal Caribbean and Visit Sweden.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

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).Elsewhere, Kelli Parsons (herself a veteran of in-house roles at United Technologies and New York Life and the incoming Page Society president) to lead the firm’s critical corporate affairs and advisory business. The firm also has a team of 80 data and technology experts under the leadership of global CTO Grant Toups. 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.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

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; Global Horizons, which builds on The Jeffrey Group acquisition to focus on the economies of the Global South; and Sonar, an AI tool for narrative intelligence and risk management. Highlights of the work include “Wrapped,” a massive internal and external influence and media initiative for Spotify, led from the US; the “SEA of the Future” sustainability effort for Royal Caribbean; and adidas activations around the Super Bowl in Las Vegas.

Paul Holmes

Imre (Independent)

aoy-backstory-iconBackstory

Baltimore's Imre started life nearly three decades ago with Dave Imre setting up shop in his basement and remains guided by its focus on turning consumers into brand believers. Guided by twin values of empathy and optimism, Imre's progress reflects its fiercely independent focus on producing top-tier work for a range of clients across consumer, corporate and healthcare. 

aoy-location-iconLocations

In addition to the Baltimore HQ, the Imre has offices in New York and Philadelphia. More than 95 of Imre’s 250 employees, however, span the country as part of the agency’s work from anywhere program. 

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

Imre capped 2022 as a $55 million firm, up from $49 million the year before. The agency’s 250-person staff handled new business from a range of new clients, many of which are in the healthcare industry, with a roster of existing partners including automotive companies and manufacturers. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

The firm still operates in the tone Dave Imre set at the outset, establishing empathy and optimism as values that continue to drive the agency’s culture of cohesion and inclusion. A mentor to staff and clients, Imre and his leadership team in 2023 doubled down on efforts like providing organizations pro bono support, charitable giving and initiatives tied to DE&I-driven business resource groups born out of the agency’s legacy as an LGBTQ-founded agency. Local efforts included donating toiletries to Baltimore Safe Haven clients, primarily Black trans women, and coloring kids for families staying at Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Foundation facilities. Executive chairman Dave Imre is supported by president Anna Kotis, executive VP of earned Stephanie Friess and chief creative officer Patrick Sullivan.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Imre produces a range of thought leadership efforts that support its twin values of empathy and optimism, while looking at issues like engagement, education and healthcare communications. Campaign highlights included a dance challenge to drive awareness of an OTC brand, and an influencer campaign for a major pharmaceutical company.

Diana Marszalek

Ruder Finn (Independent)

aoy-backstory-iconBackstory

Founded by David Finn and Bill Ruder in 1948, Ruder Finn celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2023, under the continued 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 specialist units covering Hispanic marketing, internal communications and AI creative. Ruder Finn has also 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.

aoy-location-iconLocations

Ruder Finn’s headcount includes more than 500 people in North America, across offices in New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago and Austin. 

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

Despite tough economic conditions, particularly in its core healthcare and technology constituencies, Ruder Finn’s global revenue grew by 9% in 2023, with the US helping to drive much of that expansion. There was new business from Allergan Aesthetics, Neo4j, Pfizer, OraPharma, Sanofi, Seagen, Teva, USDA, USP and the WWF, joining an existing client roster that features AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Citigroup, The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Metlife and Southwest. 

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

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. The firm’s JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) program focuses on DE&I progress, supported by numerous initiatives to bolster learning (particularly in emerging technologies), team building and wellness. 

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Ruder Finn’s willingness to invest and experiment with new technologies continues to set it apart from many of its peers, and that restless spirit of innovation has spread across the firm’s service offering. The firm’s Comunicad Collective is a communications and consulting network of Hispanic leaders, influencers and national/local organizations that serve the Latino community, while Studio53 is a full-service AI creative studio, and rf.engage focuses on internal communications. Campaign highlights included SABRE-nominated efforts for JC2 Ventures and EY, along with Ruder Finn’s own 75th anniversary initiatives. 

Arun Sudhaman

Zeno Group (DJE Holdings)

aoy-backstory-iconBackstory

Zeno was founded (as PR21) in 1999—it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year—as a classic conflict brand. The name was changed 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 distinctive identity and culture, with a mission centered on the “Fearless Pursuit of the Unexpected.” Perhaps best known for its consumer work—at least historically—Zeno has a balanced portfolio that includes a strong corporate expertise (now a third of revenue) 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 sophisticated data and analytics division.

aoy-location-iconLocations

With its headquarters in New York, Zeno has additional offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC, as well as a fast-growing Canadian operation. There’s a strong London office (the former 3Monkeys), and an expanding Asian operation.

aoy-performance-iconPerformance

Global growth was a respectable 4% last year, and Zeno ended 2023 with fees of $144 million. More than $122 million of that is generated in North America, More impressively, there was a very healthy 32% organic growth rate for the firm’s top 10 clients, a group that includes iconic names like Aldi, P&G, Coca-Cola, Hyatt, Kraft Heinz, SC Johnson, Newell, Chick-fil-A, Regeneron and Lenovo. It has been working ith automaker Kia for 20 years. There was particularly strong growth in the employee engagement practice, which more than doubled in size; the food and beverage sector (up 83%); analytics (up 58%); and health and wellness (17%). New business, meanwhile, came from Alcon, the American Association for Resppiratory Care, Blue Diamond Almonds, Bumble, Cirque du Soleil, Dymo, Johnson’s Baby, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Oracle Red Bull Racing, robinhood, and Shutterfly.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

There were new roles for some of Siegel’s veteran leadership team, with Grant Deady named president of Zeno US; Mark Shadle as chief reputation strategist; Byron Calabres as global head of innovation; Julie Georgas as president of Zeno Canada; Kim Metcalfe as head of corporate affairs; Allison McClamroch as head of consumer; and newcomers Rryan Wagman as chief creative officer; and Cheryl Forsatz as managing director of Zeno East. The firm has a strong commitment to both ESG and DEI, with the past 12 months including a comprehensive assessment of its carbon footprint, the development of a new three-year plan by the 60-member DEI Council, building on the existing “Zeno for Everyone” initiative; new mental health initiatives; and a $2 million pro bono and volunteer effort.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

The firm’s “Human Project” research continues to expand, with a variety of research studies tacking issues from “Middle Managers at Risk” to—in partnership with  partner agency Egami—“The New Multicultural Mandate.” The firm’s largest survey yet—7000 consumers and 200 C-suite execs—will focus on “The Responsibility Reset” and offer clients tools for navigating societal issues in a polarized environment. At the same time, Zeno is forging ahead to integrate AI, developing AI use principles, guiding clients on AI adoption, and developing its own test-and-learn models. Interesting work included bringing Lenovo and Queen Latifah together to support small Black-owned businesses; supporting Kind as it focuses on regenerative agriculture; developing a nutrition platform for Danone; helping Heinz #Findtheketchupboatguy; and introducing the “hot dog straw” for Oscar Meyer. And on the corporate front helping Aldi with its acquisition of Winn-Dixie, as well as transactions for P&G and Hyatt.

Paul Holmes