Corporate PR Agencies of the Year, North America | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2015 North America Corporate 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.

Corporate Agency of the Year — Sloane & Company (MDC Partners)

When it comes to high-stakes corporate communications counsel, there’s the establishment—a handful of white-shoe firms that tend to dominate the M&A rankings—and then there’s Sloane & Company, a challenger brand that’s a little brasher and a little bolder.

Over the past two and a half decades, Elliot Sloane has made a virtue out of a necessity by representing underdogs, and occasionally big dogs who want their bite to match their bark, building an $11 million business with a team of about 20 and a reputation in broader corporate and financial communications, crisis and issues management, and public affairs rather than focusing on high-profile transactions.

That’s not to say Sloane can’t handle major deals—it has become a leader in the activist investor space, often supporting hedge funds and others in campaigns targeting Hess, EMC, Compuware, Juniper Networks, and others.

Other highlights last year included representing bond investors during the bankruptcy of Detroit, supporting New York Life's investment management business and its acquisitions; handling regulatory issues for the likes of Exelon; supporting Tribune Media as it emerged from bankruptcy and began trading as a new public company; providing PR expertise to Michael Steinberg during the ongoing litigation around his insider trading case. Clients include athenahealth, Cablevision, Charles Schwab, Exelon, Liberty Media, Starz, Walgreens, and Viacom, with new business—fueling double-digit growth in 2014—from Elliott Management, charter school company Success Academy, Altisource, and Sandell Capital Management.

And while several firms in this space run the risk of being labeled one-man bands, Sloane has invested in the next generation, with a leadership team that includes managing directors Darren Brandt (a media and investor relations who previously worked at Morgen-Walke); Whit Clay (formerly with Edelman Financial); Boston-based John Hartz; Joshua Hochberg (formerly founding partner of Vistance Group); and Dan Zacchei (formerly of Ruder Finn).—PH

Finalists

Burson-Marsteller (WPP)

In a year during which many of the larger holding company owned agencies bounced back from the doldrums of the past few years, Burson-Marsteller enjoyed topline growth of around 5%—the best in some time—and made significant investments in “data driven creativity” and senior strategic counsel.

Those capabilities are in demand in the consumer space, where the firm is making inroads, but BM continues to stand out for the exceptional senior-level advice it brings to its corporate clients as it balances traditional expertise in crisis—from its SABRE-nominated efforts to help Texas Presbyterian Hospital tell its story after criticism of its ebola response to work with Target in the data security space—with a proactive, content-driven approach to helping clients tell their stories, exemplified by social media work for Bank of America at Davos, helping the company stand out among a crowded field at one of the world’s most important events.

Other notable work included leadership training for Bayer; employee engagement for Pitney Bowes and Walmart; and ongoing support for Accenture, Hormel, and Intel among others. New hires including US public affairs and crisis practice chair Ann Davison (previously with Vox Global), head of US media Steve Naru (from Fleishman), managing director Dag Vega (formerly broadcast director in the Obama White House), joined an already-impressive senior lineup. The firm’s Corporate Perception Indicator and American Values Survey contribute to the thought leadership.—PH

G&S Business Communications
(Independent)

Nearing 50 years in business, Gibbs & Soell recently evolved its identity by changing its name to G&S Business Communications. This shift was set in motion three years ago when the agency repositioned as a business communications firm. But what didn’t change is the agency’s culture, people — led by CEO Luke Lambert — and its services designed to help clients achieve business success.   

Since debuting its repositioning, G&S has seen three consecutive years of double-digit growth and record-setting revenue. Most recently in 2014, revenue spiked 13.1% to $25.4m with headcount up to 140 across offices in New York, Chicago, Raleigh and Switzerland.

While G&S has modernizing its positioning, its deepest client relationships remain consistent. The firm maintains decades-long relationships with Commonfund, the Dow Chemical Company, Million Dollar Round Table, Ply Gem, Schindler and Syngenta. On top of these lonstanding relationships, G&S won new clients in 2014 including Coeur Mining, Disaster Recovery Institute International, GE Power & Water, Energy Foundation, Martin Marietta Materials, Miele USA, Panasonic AV and Stericycle.

Notably in 2014, G&S created a joint venture with rbb PR — Gibbs-rbb Strategic Communications — that focuses on outreach to food and beverage companies that seek to engage a growing segment of discerning shoppers who care equally about a brand’s social values and its product features.

The firm’s creative work includes asking the question: can algae and biofuels be sexy? Client Algenol Biofuels needed a way to generate discussion and get people excited for its algae-to-biofuels technology. With corn ethanol and food-to-fuel issues dominating biofuel discussions, G&S produced a provocative “Algae Sex Tape” that engaged key advocates. G&S also worked with Dow to raise awareness around industrial water use on World Water Day 2014 with a brand journalism initiative that resulted in its content being seen in more than 670 trade and consumer media outlets. — AaS

ROI Communications
(Independent)

There are indications that employee engagement is finally emerging as an area of growth for the public relations industry, a reflection of the importance of attracting and retaining talent and of the power of employees to undermine brands or act as their most influential advocates in the social media age. California-based ROI Communications is well placed to take advantage, a specialist firm with 80 employees focused almost exclusively on internal communications, generating fee income in excess of $13m (up by about 36% in 2014).

ROI focuses on employee engagement, change management, executive communications—and a newer competency in visual storytelling—and produces an annual ROI Communication Benchmark, based on a survey of 100 Fortune 500 companies and quantifying the business impact of employee communications. The firm’s first client was Hewlett-Packard—ROI supported the acquisition and integration of Compaq and has worked with tech giant through four CEO transitions and numerous other changes. Other notable clients include The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Apple, Walmart, PepsiCo, Chevron, and Comcast, with new additions in 2014 including Toyota, Baker Hughes, Cemex, Citrix, eBay, McKesson, Nvidia, Twitter, and VM Ware.

Interesting work includes the One Toyota transformation initiative, a multi-year employee communication and culture change program as Toyota merges three North American businesses into one new location, and new global communication strategy and message platform for Cemex, designed to galvanize leaders, drive employee engagement and strengthen understanding and support for the company strategy, values and culture. —PH

Singer Associates
(Independent)

Nicknamed “the Fixer,” Sam Singer formed Singer Associates in 1990 and has become the go-to reputation shop in Northern California. In 2014, Singer had its best year-to-date growing 30% to $10.8m and — perhaps more impressively — achieving 62% profitability with a staff of 16 experienced professionals.

The work is heavy duty — solid crisis communications, public affairs, PR, litigation real estate development, healthcare, labor issues and regulatory issues. The clients are accustomed to top-notch seasoned counsel: Chevron Corporation, Stanford University and Hospitals, The Irvine Company, California Hospital Association, AirBnB, RadiumOne, Recology, City of San Bruno, Transbay Joint Powers Authority and Bay Area Rapid Transit District.

At the helm, “top gun for hire” Singer remains integral to the firm as its president. The leadership also includes CFO Sharon Rollins Singer, EVP Adam Alberti. New hires include former business editor at the San Francisco Chronicle Kevin Keane.

Singer Associates is credited with assisting Chevron’s communications team in beating back charges against the oil company in Ecuador and, separately, win a permit to modernize its Richmond California refinery. The firm also worked with the City of San Bruno following a major Pacific Gas & Electric fire and explosion that resulted in the loss of life and homes. The work led to the resignation of the president of the California Public Utilities Commission and contributed to the ongoing federal and state investigation into illegal activity between the regulator and utility. — AaS