The data tell a compelling story: 5W Public Relations has led the public relations industry in terms of growth over the past few years, with 85 people and fee income up from $3.1 million in 2004 to just shy of $12 million in 2008, enough to earn the firm a place just outside the top 20 independents in the U.S. The firm has clearly expanded its corporate client list dramatically over the past three years, with particular strength in the food and beverage sector (Evian Natural Spring Water, Anheuser Busch, Patina Restaurant Group, IHOP and Proxima Spirits) and a healthy mix of consumer and corporate accounts (Barnes & Noble Online, NICE Systems, the National Licensing Show, Weatherproof Garment Company, The Loews Regency and Ahava Skin Care) in other sectors.
Founder Ronn Torossian—who is still only 34 years old, a generation younger than most of his competitors in the New York marketplace—offers a compelling explanation for the firm’s success. It has matured and evolved in recent years, and while it has lost none of its aggression (which manifests itself in both its business development and client service), none of its hunger (its read and react initiative means staffers read relevant media on a daily basis, looking for potential news hooks and opportunities to showcase clients), none of its creativity (its ability to tap into urban and popular culture that older firms seem barely aware of), and none of its formidable media relations expertise (the ability to deliver traditional top-tier coverage, particularly in New York, supplemented more recently by fast-growing digital capabilities), it has also developed broader brand-building credentials that make it solidly part of the mainstream.
And many of the firm’s clients tell the same story. Evian senior brand manager Jeff Caswell is a serious fan of 5W’s methods: “In the last two and a half years the Evian brand has experienced more media coverage than it has in the previous ten years,” he says. Eyal Danon, senioir vice president of marketing at NICE Systems, says:“I’ve worked with and for some of the largest PR agencies in the U.S. for nearly 10 years and can honestly say that I’ve never experienced a company as talented as 5W Public Relations. Its ability to synthesize new concepts and turn them into viable story angles is unparalleled. I’d recommend the firm to anyone.”
The firm’s critics—and they remain legion—tell a slightly different story, pointing to Torossian’s willingness to pick fights with competitors (“dinosaurs” and “old men in suspenders”), former employees (most recently in a lawsuit with his former HR executive, which included the publication of some expletive-laden e-mails), and even the media. Torossian tells of a New York Times critic who turned up to review a client’s restaurant and was outraged to find himself standing behind hip-hop star Kanye West, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. The critic left without reviewing the establishment. Most PR firms—and even more clients—might have tried to make nice, but 5W took the attitude—gutsy, but entirely appropriate for the client in question—that “this place is not for you.” Still, even Torossian concedes, in his mellower moments, that he could pick his fights more carefully.
Those same critics point to 5W’s significantly slower growth in 2008—fee income was up by 3 percent as the economic crisis took its toll—but Torossian looks at other metrics of success: the continued strength of the food and beverage practice; the creation of a new beauty practice, which enjoyed tremendous growth in 2008, adding brands such as Decleor, Ahava, and Ted Gibson); the development of significant mobile marketing and social media capabilities, with guerilla marketing and other non-traditional capabilities deployed for innovative brands such as Ping Mobile, EZ Texting, Predicto, Conversive, Bradley & Montgomery Advertising, M3X Media, WEbook.com and GotVmail.
The firm also added an intriguing new practice working with Russian oligarchs and other high-profile individuals from the former Soviet republics, forming a strategic partnership with TriGlobal Strategic Ventures to focus on Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe. So 5WPR represents Rinat Akhmetov, ranked as the 127th richest person in the world, providing personal publicity, crisis communications, and support for philanthropic projects. It was also hired to handle foreign press for Vitaly Klitschko, candidate for mayor of Kiev, securing an endorsement from and Ukraine visit by Rudy Giuliani; and represents Ara Abramyan, a billionaire oligarch and ally of Vladimir Putin, who travels regularly to the U.S. and worldwide for diplomatic missions on behalf of Mr. Putin. And 5W continues to handle a unique but apparently lucrative mix of Israeli technology companies, Jewish causes, evangelical Christian leaders and groups, and hip-hop icons (Snoop Dogg and Ice-Cube as well as BET and The Source Magazine).
Highlights of the past 12 months include the firm’s work for Licensing International Expo, which came to 5W in January 2008 to increase pre-show business coverage and grow its exhibitor base. The firm generated a half-page feature in USA Today, two syndicated Reuters features, coverage on Fox Business, MSNBC, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, NBC Nightly News, WWD, Nikkei, Dow Jones, AOL.com, Advertising Age, Brandweek and others. For Pritikin Longevity & Wellness Center, meanwhile, the firm was charged with garnering national press, creating brand awareness and positioning the Center as the credible experts on weight loss and nutrition. Feature coverage included Newsweek to USA Today, and segments on the Today Show and PBS.
Finally, the firm added to its senior leadership in both the New York and Los Angeles offices. Steve Hoechster, joined as senior vice president of technology, bringing experience that includes leading the corporate and technology practice at Euro RSCG Worldwide and serving as vice president of corporate marketing and communications at Qwest Communications. Meanwhile, B.J. Coleman, assistant vice president, entertainment and talent, brought a strong background representing Dolce & Gabbana, Alicia Keys, and most recently serving as senior director of marketing and public relations for Russell & Kimora Lee Simmons’ Phat Fashions empire.