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

2015 North America Large PR 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.

Large Agency of the Year — Weber Shandwick

With revenue up by about 15% last year (organic growth in the double digits again), Weber Shandwick continues to outperform most of its multinational peers. Its success is the result of a successful effort to combine a new operating system that includes robust research and analytics, the “incite” planning process, an “idea factory,” and content creation capabilities; focused specialization—it’s hard to identify a weakness, with consumer marketing, corporate reputation, public affairs, and healthcare all among the industry leaders; and a culture of genuine collaboration across both disciplines and geographies.

That helped the firm retain all of its top 40 clients in 2014, and to generate new business from the likes of AB Inbev, Cargill, Exxon Mobil, Fannie Mae, GM, Mars, Novo Nordisk, and the US Army. Employee turnover at the top level was similarly impressive—leaders like Andy Polansky (CEO), Jack Leslie (chairman), Gail Heimann (president), Cathy Calhoun (chief client officer), and Sara Gavin (president of North America) have been together seemingly forever, and there were interesting new additions including Leslie Capstraw and Luca Penati from Ogilvy to lead the LA and Bay Area operations, and media and advertising veteran Joe Frydl as executive vp, strategic planning.

The quality of the work is similarly impressive, from supporting the UN’s first #girlsummit against female genital mutilation and forced marriage to pushing the envelope in social media for pharmaceutical giant Novartis and its MS community Living Like You; from its work promoting Healthcare.gov and driving Obamacare registrations to its global #WishesForBaby campaign for Fisher-Price. Digital and social accounts for about a third of the firm’s revenue: its content machine produced 90 terabytes of content last year, while its paid media capabilities expanded to include advertising support for Covered California, Mattel and more.

The firm also continued to invest in thought leadership, identifying the CEO Reputation Premium and working with the University of Missouri to apply neuroscience research to PR and social media evaluation. Weber Shandwick is as close as any of its peers to being the complete 21st century public relations firm.—PH

Finalists

Cohn & Wolfe (WPP)

Cohn & Wolfe is not only the top performing public relations agency in the WPP family, it experienced the fastest US revenue growth among the large, full-service global agencies last year, with fees up by close to 16% — albeit from a smaller base than many of its peers.

It picked up new assignments from Alcon, Novartis, and Pandora (beating out larger agencies in each case) as well as Margaritaville, Sanofi, Scientific Games, and United, while continuing its work for the likes of Bayer, Choice Hotels, Colgate, ExxonMobil, Footaction, Merck, Microsoft, Riddell, Samís Club, Sonic, and Tom's of Maine.

Its performance during the year makes a strong case for recognition in the consumer and healthcare spaces, and its digital capabilities are expanding too. The work was even more impressive than usual, garnering 12 SABRE nominations (the only firms with more were considerably larger) for work ranging from the introduction of Air Optix colored contact lenses for Alcon to helping Exxon Mobil encourage young people to study engineering, from crisis management around an incident of racial insensitivity for Sonic Drive-In to launching a new tablet for Panasonic.

The firm has been rolling out its new DDIM (Dig Deeper Imagine More) process across the network, drawing on its own research and insights as well as WPP data and using its 'incubator' and trained planners to generate creative insights. And it has been investing in thought leadership, from its research into 'authentic brands' and a new diagnostic tool that evaluates brands based on their authenticity, engagement and inspiration.— PH


Edelman
(Independent)

No agency worked on more signature campaigns in 2014 than Edelman: the firm shared in a Cannes Grand Prix for its work on Chipotle; it supported CVS as the pharmacy chain made its transformative decision to abandon tobacco products; it worked with Dove Men+Care on a Fatherís Day campaign celebrating real dads; it helped Trojan parody 50 Shades of Grey to start a conversation about pleasure in the bedroom; and it helped Samsung Mobile break through at SXSW.

All of that is the payoff from Edelman's investments over the past decade, including major investments in digital and social media across paid, earned, owned and shared media. The firm continues to lead the way in that arena, managing 950 communities on social platforms, and in 2014 acquiring United Entertainment Group, a company that gives Edelman clients access to sports and entertainment celebrities, properties and companies — expanding its content capabilities even further.

Revenue growth was a very healthy 8.6 percent in 2014, enough to bring Edelman over $800m in fees and hold on to its position as the worldís largest PR agency. And of course, Edelman continues to produce the industry's single most-quoted piece of research, the Trust Barometer, as well as its Brandshare study of the evolving relationship between people and brand.— PH


FleishmanHillard
(Omnicom Group)

Last year was extremely impressive in terms of business metrics: FleishmanHillard saw its revenues increase in the high single digits (among the best in the top 10), with impressive client retention (98 out of its top 100 clients) and around $170m in new business (including additions such as Jet Blue, Kellogg's, SAP, the US Olympic Organization, Volkswagen and Wal-Mart, and expanded assignments from Barclays, Barnes & Noble, Hallmark, Monsanto, and Samsung). Globally, FH now has 95 seven-figure clients.

The quality of the work remains strong, with SABRE Award nominations for clients such as BMW (an Olympic sledding campaign), AT&T (continuing employee engagement work), the Illinois Department of Insurance (selling Obamacare in the president's home state), and Levi Strauss (a blend of sports sponsorship and CSR that saw the 49ers field covered with donated jeans). The firm also helped rally soccer fans around the US national team at the World Cup and supported Chevy as it turned a bungled interview during the World Series into a social media marketing opportunity.

But what stands out even more is the firm's leadership in data and analytics, from its use of diagnostic and prescriptive research tools in campaign planning, to its structured approach to drawing inspirational insights out of all that data, to new metrics that help measure the exposure, engagement, influence, activation and advocacy impact of campaigns. Add in strong content creation capabilities and industry-leading expertise in areas from public affairs to data security and FH is clearly among the industry leaders.— PH


Ketchum
(Omnicom Group)

There are a number of things that Ketchum has historically done better than most of its peers: it was a pioneer in applying research techniques to public relations; it has always had a strong commitment to creativity; it enjoys a reputation for exceptional client service; and it has long prided itself on a supportive, collaborative culture and first-rate professional development.

The past few years have seen major changes in the PR field, but Ketchum continues to honor its traditions — albeit with a fresh spin. In terms of research, the firm is expanding its data and analytics capabilities and its approach to measuring efficacy. In terms of creativity, the firm has developed a new StoryWorks approach to content creation across paid, earned, shared and owned, while continuing to rack up awards nominations: 16 SABRE nominations for work such as helping MasterCard generate interest around the debut of Apple Pay; running the 'Farmland' campaign for US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance; and managing the 'Ick Awards' for Clorox.

In terms of client service, it has developed a new approach it calls client experience 3.0, building on its 'best teams' approach to offer what it calls 'liquid teams,' crossing geographic and practice area lines to handle complex challenges. On the culture front, the firm has invested in helping its existing staff develop the new skills needed for the digital age, using a suite of social learning tools and collaborative ideas to develop its people. The result is strong performance, with fees up in the mid-single digits to around $510m; new business from American Pistachio Growers, Dun & Bradstreet, H&R Block, Hormel, Lenovo, the World Gold Council, and Zespri.