2016 Boutique PR Agencies of the Year, North America | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2016 North America Boutique PR Agencies of the Year

Our 2016 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 for every category can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Winners will be unveiled at the 2016 North American SABRE Awards, taking place at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York on May 3.

Boutique PR Agency of the Year: ReviveHealth (IPG)

The fact that Weber Shandwick made ReviveHealth its first US acquisition in 15 years is a testament to several things: the firm’s unique positioning as a leader in health technology, health systems and health services, at a time when healthcare practices are diversifying beyond pharma; the firm’s impressive growth, from zero to $10 million in six short years; and the firm’s strong culture—a multiple winner of this publication’s Best Agency to Work For title and a good match for its new parent company’s own empowered workplace.

The acquisition came at the end of another impressive year for ReviveHealth, during which revenues grew by 14% and the firm expanded its client list, which is split evenly between providers and technology/services companies, including big names such as Arcadia Healthcare Solutions, athenahealth, Cleveland Clinic, Hospital Corporation of America, Trinity Health, Connecture, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Tenet Health. The firm also expanded its digital capabilities: 30 percent of its revenues now derive from web design, UX, video production, advertising, and other digital services, up from zero a couple of years ago. — PH

Finalists

C+C (Independent)

Founded 10 years ago by Julie Colehour and Bryan Cohen, C+C distinguishes itself by focusing only on social issues that positively impact communities. It is a feelgood approach that has also brough strong business results for a 49-person firm headquartered in Seattle, with additional offices in Portland, Boston and Washington DC. By cultivating deep expertise in such issues as smart commuting, green building, financial responsibility, energy efficiency, water conservation and climate change, C+C has helped to developed a number of innovative sustainability efforts at a local, regional and national level.

Like many boutique players, C+C has a strong employee culture, highlighted by a commitment to transparency across the firm. Last year, the firm also ushered in a cross-functional structure, deploying content, creative and multicultural teams to work alongside the account functions. All of this appears to be paying off: C+C recorded another year of double-digit growth in 2015, up 23% to $6.5m in revenue.

Colehour and Cohen bring considerable experience in social issues work, wih the former responsible for supporting EPA’s Energy Star program since its national launch 20 years ago. Last year, the firm also added Cindy Jolicoeur as GM in charge of a new office in Boston.

In 2015, C+C's work showcased its ability to alter behaviour for social good, thanks to such assignments as a sustainability program for Smart Catch; continued work for EPA's Energy Star label; and, establishing Privateer as a professionalizing force in the budding cannabis industry. The firm also touts a strong multicultural capability. — AS


Highwire (Independent)

Like many of its Silicon Valley counterparts, Highwire has built an agency around entrepreneurial values that are reflected in its client portfolio. The rapidly growing firm now boasts offices across San Francisco, Chicago and New York (which grew from three people to 12 in the course of a year) — with a footprint in Los Angeles and Seattle. The firm’s growth trajectory continues to be remarkable: 34% uptick to nearly $11m.

Highwire has rapidly grown its consumer, enterprise and security practices over the last year. Key consumer clients include virtual reality company AltspaceVR, Edyn a gardening app changing the way food grows, and cloud security system Piper. Its enterprise team won business from major brands such as AOL, IBM & InsideSales.com, and the security team now includes a dozen+ companies including Veracode and Zscaler, which are considered forerunners in their industry.

Along with growing practice areas, Highwire also extended its list of offerings to include content and digital/social services like ghostwriting for CEOs, drafting ebooks and whitepapers and designing infographics and slideshares.

Notable work includes launching Primetime  for Blue Jeans Network, a video event service allowing 3,000+ people to attend a virtual event and enables audience members to raise a virtual hand and interact live and in real-time with the hosts. — AaS

Max Borges Agency (Independent)
 For the first 10 years after founding his own agency in 2002, Max Borges was focused more or less exclusively on providing media relations support to consumer technology clients from his base in South Florida. Borges is not a PR man by trade—he had been director of marketing for a chain of musical instrument stores and executive director of the Florida chapter of the Recording Academy—and he saw no need to over-complicate things, an approach that led to a focus on getting the basics of customer service and product publicity right.

But over the past three or four years, Max Borges Agency has expanded its capabilities—particularly in digital strategy (for the likes of AT&T’s Cricket) and content creation and curation—as well as its geographic footprint, opening offices in San Francisco and most recently New York. That expansion has been about talent as much as anything, and the firm’s New York operation brought in Frank Mantero—formerly of GE—as senior vice president, account services, and Text 100 and Edelman Digital veteran Peter DiBart as senior vice president, creative director. New business in 2015 came from Cricket, Polar, Jarden, 3D Robotics and more, joining Griffin Technology, Ogio, AOC, Philips and Voxx International and contributing to growth of 10% and fee income of around $11 million. — PH

Kwittken (MDC Partners) Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Kwittken has methodically transformed from a boutique — mostly B2B agency — into a fascinating firm that leads with “design thinking.” While the term may seem vague when applied to PR, co-founders Aaron Kwittken and Jason Schlossberg describe it as a fusion of PR, creative advertising, influencer engagement and social/content marketing. The results of this approach shows in work like the “Pantone Color of the Year 2016” — which the SABRE judges nominated this year.

This firm has also dropped practices areas to do more interdisciplinary work for clients like Amway (new), American Express, Zicam (new), BMW, HomeAway, Better Home and Gardens, Sharp, Windstream, Deloitte (new), Pantone, One Medical and Wyndham Worldwide (new).  

Global revenues were just over $10m across offices in New York, London and Toronto, with US revenues accounting for around 75% of that. In the US, growth was 15% — with the majority of that came from new wins.  The firm continues to invest in its culture with unique on-boarding initiatives in which new employees are required to make a “critical” contribution to the agency or client on their first day, then again on their 30-day anniversary. Kwittken maintains a healthy 20% profit margin.

For the first time, the firm added a managing director in its New York office with Shanee Goss from FleishmanHillard. She joins Sam Bowen, managing director of London, and Betsy Cooper who oversees Canada and delivered clients like ACE Bakery, Bank of Montreal, Orange Theory Fitness and Unilever, among others already. — AaS