Large Agency of the Year: Edelman

Edelman last won our Large Agency of the Year award in 2005, which looks like an extraordinary oversight. In the intervening years, no firm has enjoyed better overall growth or made such an impressive contribution to the positioning and thought leadership of the industry. It’s no exaggeration to say that Edelman could justifiably have won the award in any (perhaps even all) of the years since then, and so this year’s Large Agency of the Year award is long overdue.

It is also well-deserved not only on the basis of the firm’s accomplishments over the past seven years, but on the basis of a stellar 2011. At a time when the public publicly-held PR agencies that make up Edelman’s peer group were growing on average in the mid-single digits, the only truly global independent saw fee income growth in the region of more than twice that level, ending the year with US revenue in excess of $380 million, with a team of 2,200 serving clients such as adobe, eBay, GE, Heinz, Merck, Microsoft, Shell, Starbucks, and Unilever. New business in 2011 came from AstraZeneca, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Novartis, and many more.

And no firm has made more of a contribution to the soaring standing of the public relations industry. Edelman was a pioneer in the digital and social media realm, and remains an industry leader; its Trust Barometer, now a decade old, has become the most quoted piece of intellectual property in the industry; it has produced groundbreaking research on cause-related marketing and developed new planning and measurement tools; and established itself as one of the industry’s employers of choice.

Honorable mention: GolinHarris, Ketchum, Ogilvy Public Relations, Weber Shandwick

Midsize Agency of the Year: Citizen Relations

Citizen Paine—the former PainePR, which rebranded in mid-2011—has been producing a dazzling array of creative work for a couple of decades now, so its seven nominations for North American SABRE Awards (more than any other midsize firm) were no great surprise. Those campaigns included work in the US for Procter & Gamble (the Future Friendly and Give Education CSR efforts, digital work for Old Spice, social media outreach for Pampers), Aflac (crisis management) and Duracell (cause marketing), as well as a Canadian project by Citizen Optimum for Future Shop. But the firm’s 2011 repositioning deserves at least as much attention. Chief executive Daryl McCullough says the new brand “reflects the democratization of communication and the changing landscape of how people receive and share information.” And it clearly resonates with clients. Says Bryan McCleary, director of external relations at P&G’s baby care division: “At P&G, we are trying to move away from thinking about people as consumers, to start to think about them as citizens and human beings, and the name really speaks to that need.”

Honorable mention: DKC, EuroRSCG Worldwide, Taylor, WCG

Small Agency of the Year: Mitchell Communications Group

Elise Mitchell founded her Arkansas-based public relations firm in 1995 and for a decade ran it as a sole proprietorship, barely registering on the national radar. In 2005, however, she began a transformative effort to create a national, full-service agency—an effort that has paid spectacular dividends. Six years later, Mitchell Communications Group ended 2011 with fee income in excess of $11 million (up by about 75 percent) and a team of 60 serving some major blue-chip brands including Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, Hilton, Tyson, Procter & Gamble, Southwestern Energy, and JB Hunt that would be the envy of most New York agencies.. But Mitchell’s success is about more than just growth: it’s about committing to an approach that puts business counseling first; building an agency culture that emphasizes both performance and values; and developing a broad array of creative services—from digital to research to training—that impact client success on many fronts.

Honorable mention: French/West/Vaughan, Kaplow, Padilla Speer Beardsley, RF Binder

Boutique Agency of the Year: Catalyst

Founded in 2005, when it spun out of Taylor to focus on its core sports and active lifestyles business (an entertainment practice was quickly added), Catalyst was our New Consultancy of the Year in 2009, and has certainly justified the predictions we made at the time. Last year saw growth of close to 20 percent, so that the firm ended 2011 with fees of almost $6 million and a client list that includes some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment: Consumer Reports, ESPN, Glaceau Vitamin Water, NASCAR, Powerade, Purina, Subway, Timex, Under Armour and Xbox 360 (which along with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Geico, and Skyy Spirits was new in 2011). The firm also strengthened its digital team with the addition of Shripal Shah (formerly with the Washington Redskins), opened an office in Washington, DC; and produced award-winning work for Dick’s (a cause marketing effort focused on athlete concussions) and Purina Dog Chow’s partnership with the movie Tintin.

Honorable mention: Borders & Gratehouse, Lane PR, Revive, Spectrum

New Agency of the Year: Finn Partners

Ruder Finn has already given birth to one hugely impressive midsize independent, RF Binder, and in May of last year announced the formation of another, with co-chief executive Peter Finn leaving to launch his own firm, Finn Partners (all three remain part of the Ruder Finn Group). Finn Partners launched with an impressive footprint (160 people in New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco); a strong client roster (the Jamaican Tourist Board, IEEE, Liz Claiborne, Logitech, The North Face, Rosetta Stone, StubHub, Vonage, Hyundai); a formidable leadership team (Richard Funess, Howard Solomon, Alicia Young, Gail Moaney, and Noah Finn; and strength in technology, travel, consumer and corporate affairs, and digital. The firm debuted just outside the top 10 US independents, with fees of $23 million, and quickly picked up new business (CTIA–The Wireless Association, NetZero and Vonage) and awards (for its CSR work with Hyundai). But Finn believes that in the long-term the firm’s key differentiator will be its culture and its focus on people: a “true partnership” model.

Honorable mention: Story Partners, the10company

Canadian Agency of the Year: Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Even when Hill & Knowlton’s US operations were in the doldrums, the agency’s offices north of the border (wholly-owned in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, plus affiliates in four other markets) were thriving, not only in terms of size and growth but in terms of the kind of strategic public affairs and corporate communications work the agency built its reputation on. Now that Hill+Knowlton Strategies (thanks to the merger of H&K and Public Strategies) is again a significant player in that business globally, it’s no surprise that the Canadian business is even more bullish on the future. Longtime president Michael Coates has built an operation with strengths in some of Canada’s key sectors—healthcare, energy and financial—and the firm’s work in the past 12 months ranges from launching Sun Life Financial’s Inspire the Nation fitness movement to assisting Cliffs Natural Resources with the controversial acquisition of iron mines in Quebec to crisis preparedness for low cost carrier WestJet to a high-profile presence for Dolby at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Honorable mention: Citizen Optimum, Edelman, High Road Communications, National PR

Latin American Agency of the Year: FSB

There’s plenty of interest in Latin America among big multinational agencies, with Burson-Marsteller and Hill+Knowlton Strategies well-established in key markets, Edelman and Weber Shandwick making acquisitions, Ketchum launching a sports practice in Brazil, and leading Spanish firms Inforpress and Llorente & Cuenca both expanding aggressively in the region. But our first Latin American Agency of the Year award goes to one of a handful of local firms that have emerged as market leaders in recent years. FSB was founded in 1980 by Francisco Soares Brandao and today has revenues of $55 million, employing almost 400 people across four offices in Brazil, and serving a client roster than includes the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Sports, the Brazilian National Agency of Oil and Gas, and the Ministry of Tourism, and private sector giants Exxon Mobil, Ultra/Ipiranga, GSK, Oi, Microsoft, Pirelli and Roche. Increasingly global in focus, its social media work for Rio de Janeiro state government won a Cannes Silver Lion last year.

Honorable mention: Burson-Marsteller, Jeffrey Group, Llorente & Cuenca, S2 Publicom

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