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

2016 North America Digital 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.

Digital Agency of the Year

Precision (Independent)
When Barack Obama was re-elected as President in 2012, much of the credit for his victory went to his campaign’s sophisticated use of digital and data analytics — an effort that resonated widely in a corporate world that sometimes struggles to innovate. So it stands to reason that the architects of President Obama’s re-election campaign have achieved considerable success with Precision, the firm they launched in mid-2013.

Founded by former deputy campaign managers Stephanie Cutter and Jen O’Malley Dillon, along with Teddy Goff, who served as digital director for Obama’s re-election drive, Precision’s growth since it launched has been eye-catching — it now numbers 50 people across Washington DC, New York and Los Angeles, and has more than 25 clients — including companies such as the Bank of America, Pfizer, GE, Fusion, Under Armour, Humana and the Sacramento Kings, along with organizations and causes like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Liberal Party of Canada/Justin Trudeau, Americans for Responsible Solutions, the DNC, the ACLU, and Hillary for America.

Across all of this week, Precision demonstrates an ability to drive earned, digital and paid media by deploying a rigorous approach to data and analytics, enabled in large part by the vast expansion of digital media and platforms. In this, Precision approximates a next-generation communications agency, even if its work focuses squarely on the public affairs sector. The arrival last year of Matthew McGregor — described as ’Obama’s digital attack dog’ by the Guardian — has only added more heft to Precision’s offering.

In particular, three of Precision’s campaigns catch the eye. For the Coalition of Public Safety, Precision helped make meaningful progress on the issue of criminal justice reform, despite a gridlocked Congress. For the John F. Kennedy Library, meanwhile, Precision drove unprecedented results for the Profile in Courage Award. And, perhaps most high-profile of all, Precision crafted and executed a field and messaging strategy for for the Liberal Party of Canada’s election campaign, helping elevate Justin Trudeau to Prime Minister. — AS

Finalists

Beyond (Next15)

In its early days, Beyond did a little bit of everything that falls under the digital umbrella. Since CEO Nick Rappolt took over, the Next 15 shop has refined its positioning to web design and experience.

Last year, Rappolt oversaw the implementation of Applied Creativity — a process that uses data to uncover needs and pain points across the entire user (or customer) journey. The results of this can be seen in Beyond’s work for Google, for instance. To help provide consumers with a better retail experience on Google offerings, Google’s Retail team asked Beyond to create a platform to help retail sales associates at companies like Best Buy and Walmart learn more about Google products. Beyond launched a full version of Train Up online and through Google Play, available to retailers across the US. Beyond also refreshed Google’s DoubleClick web experience. Meanwhile, Beyond’s redesign of Virgin.com centred around the brand's updated target audience and content strategy — aimed at targeting a younger, entrepreneurially minded audience. The strategy focussed on delivering compelling content to this audience, through an immersive content platform.

Beyond has more than 75 people in North America and revenues grew by 60% compared to the previous year. — AaS


Group SJR (H+K Strategies/WPP)

Not only has Group SJR doubled in size since its acquisition two years ago, to about 100 people, but founder Alex Jutkowitz has taken on a broader role within Hill+Knowlton (as chief global strategist) and WPP (as CEO of its new Truffle Pig content marketing venture) but SJR members are now integrated into more than half of H+K’s top 50 clients and routinely called in on new business presentations.

Much of that is down to the firm's cutting-edge approach to digital content, which once prompted Fast Company to call SJR 'the biggest publishing company you've never heard of.' Creative highlights include a wide-reaching content “ecosystem” for GE, covering everything from e-commerce to social media, executive thought leadership to influencer campaigns, and providing support for Levi Strauss as it released the findings of its “lifecycle assessment” urging consumers to wash their jeans less often as part of the company’s CSR initiative.

But it's not just at the creative end of the spectrum where SJR stands out. The firm has launched a new digital analytics offering called SingleScore to provide a single metric of social media value. That approach is now embedded into H+K's overall methodology, and indicates how SJR continues to innovate in the digital marketing arena. — PH/AS

Shift Communications (Independent)

Since its inception CEO Todd Defren has pushed Shift to the forefront of all things digital. Last year, Shift was the first PR firm to become a Google Analytics Certified Partner. This means it has the capacity to tap into Google’s Web-measurement planning, advanced feature implementations, media analysis and consulting, and website optimization. And to further ensure Shift remained on the frontlines of digital, the leadership developed a training program that encompassed advanced analytics, social advertising and measurement, SEO basics, surveying techniques and other aspects of marketing technology. This was rolled out last year across the firm’s 150 employees across offices in Boston, San Francisco, New York and Austin.

Now in its 14th year, the firm  reported $20m in revenues  — up 10% from last year. Growth was fueled by clients like Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, Webroot, McDonalds, McKesson Orchard Supply Hardware (division of Lowes), RSA Conference, HIMSS Conference, Whole Foods, The Guardian, Bitly, Sierra Nevada (new), Pacific Gas & Electric (new), Foxwoods (new), Citrix (new), GoDaddy (new), Whole Foods 365 (new) and Trip Advisor (new). — AaS

Ruder Finn (Independent)
Since the spinoff of Finn Partners five years ago, Ruder Finn has embraced “transformation” as its watchword, deepening its digital expertise and integrating it into every practice. Led by chief digital officer Scott Schneider and RFI Studios president Maryann Watson, the firm is producing a vast array of content—from infographics to video to virtual reality—while its RFI Labs operation serves as an incubator for new ideas in mobile marketing, geo-targeting, ambient intelligence and crowd-sourced storytelling.

More recently, the firm launched “incubator agency” Bloom, which is testing new technologies, social channels and mobile platforms in an effort to create more personalized connections in a fragmented media landscape, and designing new storytelling approaches that cover a variety of formats, such as film and video, virtual reality, comics, print, mobile, web content, music, games and location-based marketing. The firm also brought in Katja Schroeder—formerly of Burson-Marsteller and her own agency Expedition—to lead the transmedia storytelling brand’s technology work. From using virtual reality in employee communications (helping GSK “sell” its new US headquarters location) to the analytics surrounding its influencer engagement, the work is increasingly impressive. — PH