Public Affairs Agencies of the Year, North America 2015 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2015 North America Public Affairs 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.

Public Affairs Agency of the Year — SKDKnickerbocker (Independent)

Led by Washington, DC, managing directors Anita Dunn (former White House communications director and senior adviser to President Obama’s presidential campaigns) and Hilary Rosen (inter alia a former interim director of the Human Rights Campaign), SKD Knickerbocker is not surprisingly best known for its work in support of progressive issues: it provided media relations support for the President’s signature healthcare law in the King v Obamacare case before the Supreme Court; it has worked on an integrated campaign for Mayors Against Illegals Guns following the school shooting in Newtown, Mass.; and it received two SABRE nominations this year for its efforts to free Alan Gross, an American imprisoned in Cuba for more than five years, until the Obama administration’s decision to relax sanctions.

The firm also works on its share of corporate assignments: it handled regulatory aspects of the US Airways-American Airlines merger, and has triggered an “ethical fashion” movement for client MADE. Other corporate clients include Microsoft, Pfizer, AT&T, and the Walt Disney Companywith new additions last year including Pepsico, Herbalife, Time Warner, GE, CVS and Starbucks. With its roots in politics and additional offices in New York City, Los Angeles and Albany, the firm has 85 employees—up from about 25 in 2010—and offers a sophisticated blend of services: research, message development, digital strategy, content creation, advertising, media relations, event planning, influencer outreach, and crisis communications. It added executive communications and millennial PR practices in 2014.—PH

Finalists

Agenda (Independent)

Agenda is a boutique public affairs firm with national reach, operating from offices in Washington, DC, Albuquerque, Austin, Denver, Jackson, Wyo., and San Francisco and providing expertise in campaign management, strategic messaging, third-party alliance, and advertising. The firm is led by three partners: Doug Turner has worked on numerous Republican campaigns, including those of presidential hopeful Steve Forbes and New Mexico governor Gary Johnson; Max Hamel is a veteran of Allied Public Affairs and Dutko; and Craig Pattee has worked with a number of Republican governors.

Clients include AT&T, the American Petroleum Institute, BHP Billiton, Conoco Phillips, DuPont, Ebay, Eli Lilly, Feeding America, MGM Hotels & Resorts, Pfizer, and the Navajo Nation, with new business in 2014 from Borana Conservancy, Fort Sill Apache Industries, Goal Advocacy, Green Mountain Power, Trademark East Africa, USA Funds, and Wind Energy Foundation, all helping to drive fee income from $3.4 to $3.75 million.

Outstanding work in 2014 included the firm’s work for Detroit Driven, an organization telling the story of Detroit’s economic recovery, and its campaign for NM31, which highlights the contribution of the oil and gas industry to New Mexico’s economy—both integrated campaigns that showcase the firm’s digital and creative capabilities.—PH

Global Strategy Group (Independent)

Global Strategy Group has not missed a beat since winning Public Affairs Agency of the Year in 2014. The firm remains led by co-founders CEO Jon Silvan and president Jefrey Pollock, who launched the firm two decades ago, and now oversee nearly 100 professionals across New York, Washington DC, Hartford and Los Angeles. Originally founded as a polling firm, Global Strategy Group has evolved into one of the nation’s leading public affairs, corporate reputation, and issues management firms, offering a range of communications, research, and advocacy services to clients across business (Airbnb, Comcast, Con Edison ESPN, Google, Microsoft, Motorola); politics (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand); and non-profit sectors (Coalition for Opportunity in Education, Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, MacArthur Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation).  

In 2014, GSG generated $32.4m in revenue, an impressive 30% increase in 2013, fuelled by double-digit growth across all offices and a strong 2014 election cycle that included work for a number of candidates for office.

The firm’s work continues to showcase a sophisticated understanding of public affairs issues and research, including helping the Rockefeller Foundation and The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement a competition for $1bn in federal funding called the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC); promoting reform school districts in the Northeast and Midwest; and, raising awareness of Airbnb in New York City and its positive impact on individual hosts, guests and neighborhood economies.— AS

Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications
(Independent)

The 2014 merger of Boston-based Rasky Baerlein with Washington-based Prism Public Affairs elevated one of the nation’s strongest state-level public policy and issues management firm’s on to the national stage in a serious way. To be fair, RSBC—led by founders Larry Rasky, Joe Baerlein, and Ann Carter and managing directors Justine Griffin, George Cronin, and Jim Cabot—had been performing well for some time, offering strategic communications, government relations, grassroots, crisis and litigation support and digital advocacy to a roster of both regional and national clients, and growing at a healthy pace, but the addition of Prism founders Dale Leibach and Amanda Deaver and their issues-driven campaign capabilities contributed to growth of better than 30 percent last year, as the firm ended the year with fees of $13 million.

Key clients include the Submarine Industrial Base Council, US Mortgage Insurers, GPS Innovation Alliance, The Boston Red Sox, Dell, MasterCard, Boston Medical Center, Toyota, GDF Suez, with new business from the Embassy of Japan, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, and Arthur T. Demoulas, who was forced out as CEO of Market Basket late in 2013. The firm worked with customers and employees unhappy at the ouster and managed their client’s negotiations to purchase the company—an effort that involved Massachusetts lawmakers and widespread editorial support and ultimately proved successful.

The firm also helped argue against the repeal of Massachusetts’ casino laws, provided litigation support to a preeminent academic medical center accused of gender discrimination, and helped GPS makers launch a digital advocacy campaign for the FindMe911 initiative.—PH


Story Partners (Independent)

Founded in 2010 by well-known DC veteran Gloria Dittus, Story Partners has emerged as one of the best of a new breed of public affairs firms, one that recognizes the ways in which public policy has been affected by the rise of digital campaigning techniques. For anyone familiar with Dittus, furthermore, Story Partners’ growth in its five years to date should prove unsurprising; 2014 revenues, for example, surged 32% to $4.8m, generated by a headcount of just 20 people.

Dittus serves as chairman of the firm, with public affairs vet Debra Cabral handling CEO duties. The duo are supported by principal and digital specialist Amos Snead and EVPs Trudi Boyd and new SVP Carrie Blewitt, who recently arrived from Qorvis.

The firm’s growth was powered by new business from a range of clients, particularly in the energy, healthcare, transportation, finance and tech industries. These include AdvaMed, Alabama Power, American Petroleum Institute, Entertainment Software Association, Home Depot, Mead Johnson, National Retail Federation, Noble Energy, the Rural Broadband Association and the US Travel Association.

For many of these clients, Story Partners’ work encompasses the kind of broad public affairs activity that increasingly exemplifies the best of the discipline. For US Travel, for example, the firm developed a video series to increase member engagement, and for AdvaMed it refocused its key ‘Life Changing Innovation’ campaign to incorporate an employee engagement and grassroots program.— AS