Charting the future of public relations

2015 North America Consumer Agencies of the Year

Our 2015 North America PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 150 submissions and 50 face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across the US and Canada.

Analysis of each of the Agencies of the Year and Finalists for each category can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Consumer Agency of the Year — Catalyst (WME/IMG)

Launched by principals who had been part of the Alan Taylor Communications sports PR specialist, the thinking was that Catalyst would focus on more traditional sports marketing and media relations. But less than a decade later, it’s clear that the firm is anything but traditional. While it continues to boast expertise in the sports arena, it has added expertise in entertainment and lifestyle marketing, and developed sophisticated capabilities that span traditional public relations, content creation, social media, and influencer relations.

Acquired in early 2013 by talent agency IMG (now part of WME/IMG following the merger with William Morris), as part of its consulting business, the firm partners with sister agencies such as droga5, Red Interactive and Grab Analytics, providing clients with access to a wide array of strategic and creative capabilities.

Under the leadership of managing partners Bret Werner, Bill Holtz and Ted Fragulis, the firm has grown consistently—doubling in size since 2011 and up by a healthy 10 percent last year—and in stature, picking up new assignments over the past 12 months from clients such as Facebook, Marriott, Purity Vodka, Tata and Warner Bros last year, joining a roster that includes Dockers, Subway, Timex and Under Armour.

High-profile work included enlisting A-list celebrities to help introduce the new Xbox One; launching the Sports Matter cause-related marketing initiative for Dick’s Sporting Goods; and managing the crisis that ensued after Under Armour’s speedskating suits came under fire at the Olympics.

The firm also continued its own thought leadership efforts with the latest iteration of its Fan Engagement Study, which provides insight into the continuing convergence of sports and digital media among sports fans.—PH

Finalists

Access (Omnicom/Ketchum)

When big agencies snap up nimble boutiques there’s always a risk of the smaller firm being crushed by the weight of its buyer. That hasn’t happened to Access Communications. Not only has Access thrived under its Ketchum ownership, the two firms have strategically mapped a plan that has moved Access from being a tech shop to a force in the consumer sector.

In 2014, Access added nearly $3.5m in new client revenue. Headcount is now above 100 employees. Consumer clients are more than 50% of its portfolio and include Annie’s Organics, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Blue Diamond, Luna, California Closets and all of Pernod Ricard’s whiskey brands, including Jameson. What’s remarkable is for an agency its size, these clients sit alongside Intuit, Toshiba, TrendMicro and EMC.

Founder & CEO Susan Butenhoff promoted Matt Afflixio to president when  she took on a dual role as global head of tech for Ketchum in 2014. The newly-launched Access Studio is designed to be an in-house storytelling resource and the new Lifestyle+ helps sports and fitness clients navigate emerging technologies and execute targeted customer communications.

Work includes the national roll-out for the Bay Area-based Peet’s coffee chain, a campaign with Mia Hamm to propel LeapFrog into the active lifestyle category and make EXOS the center of stories of athletes that resulted in top-tier media recognition. — AaS


Kaplow
(Independent)

Kaplow's commitment to using a full range of digital and social channels and content in service of client storytelling predates the recent fashion for such an approach, but the $10m firm continues to add sophisticated capabilities in an effort to stay ahead of the competition, investing further in its K-creative studio and its data and analytics expertise.

New hires included David Dapko, chief consumer strategist, background; Randi Liodice, senior VP, integrated strategy; and Emily Listfield, a media veteran from Parade, Fitness and Self, as chief content officer.

Still perhaps best known for its work in beauty and fashion, it has added expertise in health and wellness, food and beverage, and consumer tech, with new clients such as Amway (Artistry), Vitamin Shoppe, the American Kennel Club, Amba Hotels, Franciacorta and Alouette joins longstanding partners Target (15 years), Shiseido (13 years), Skype and CVS (both 10 years), The Avon Foundation, Conair, and Gurwitch Products (Laura Mercier and Revive) — all of which helped the firm rebound after electing not to re-pitch its Unilever business.

The creative work continues to impress, with a standout campaign for bra company Warner's/PVH coining the term 'sleevage' to describe 'unsightly underarm bulge,' making it into the Urban Dictionary and driving both consumer conversation and product sales. For St Ives, the firm leveraged social platforms and content creation to drive engagement and brand love. And for Skype, the firm partnered with O, the Oprah Magazine, and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta to address the issue of loneliness and the importance of human connectivity. — PH

MSLGroup (Publicis Groupe)

It is a little more than a year since Paul Newman took over as CEO of MSLGroup — following a couple of years of leadership turbulence — and while it may be too early to talk about a North American comeback, it is clear that the firm has been building on its already-impressive consumer marketing capability, particularly in New York.

Consumer accounts for about 60% of MSL's US business, with a client list that includes the likes of P&G — its feminine care, family care, oral care and consumer health businesses — GM, Home Depot, Paypal, Netflix, Mike's Hard Lemonade, and Marshalls, and with notable strength in food and beverage (particularly in Seattle, with its excellent culinary center) and fashion and beauty (MSL Canada has been named beauty agency of the year for three straight years).

Last year saw new talent, with the promotion of six-year MSL veteran Denise Vitola to North American consumer practice director, the appointment of Edelman's Andrew Silver as managing director in New York, Carolyn Samuel as lead on the P&G business, and Kris Garvey as consumer lead in Chicago.

There was new business too, from brands like Rover, TruGreen, 24 Hour Fitness, and Zico. But it was the work that really stood it, most notably MSL's efforts on P&G's Always #likeagirl campaign, which looks like an early favorite for the year's most awarded public relations initiative, but also its support for PayPal's positioning as a 'consumer champion' and its work on a Netflix social media campaign around spoilers.— PH

Spong (Interpublic Group)

Spong was founded on the idea that it would break out of the “off-the-shelf” mentality that can plague creative service. Twenty-five years later the firm is still delivering on this and standing out for its creative consumer work that steeped in strong metrics.

Last year, president Doug Spong refreshed the firm’s identity by simplifying its brand to simply Spong (previously Carmichael Lynch Spong). Double-digit revenues make Spong a solid player consumer category. The firm’s portfolio includes: H&R Block, Hormel Foods’ Jennie-O Turkey, MOM Brands, Jack Link’s Jerky, Bath & Body Works and BJ’s Brewhouse.  

For Genuine Thermos Brand, Spong thought to reinforce Thermos’ technological legacy and pop culture relevance by emphasizing a simple product benefit: the amazing heat retention of its product. To do this, Spong developed the Genuine Thermos Brand Overnight Coffee Challenge that engaged top influencers, generated compelling and shareable content and resulted in a 10.6% website lift. For Castello Cheese, Spong tapped into the gap between America’s growing sophistication around cheese but confusion between the varieties. The result was the “Discover the Art of Cheese” event that contributed to an overall sales spike for the company.— AaS