2005 Specialist Agencies of the Year
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

2005 Specialist Agencies of the Year

Cone, Chandler Chicco, Levick, Joele Frank, Pepperom, Text 100 among 2005 Specialty Agencies of the Year. Overall Specialist Agency of the Year award will be presented at our SABRE dinner on May 9.

Paul Holmes

Consumer Agency of the Year: Cone

There is a huge hunger among consumers for “authentic” brands; for brand messages that reflect the true personality of the products, services or companies they represent; for products, services and companies that stand for values beyond the strictly utilitarian. Few public relations firms are better position to satisfy this hunger than Boston-based Cone.

Over the past decade, Cone has firmly established itself as the thought leader in the cause branding arena, developing a methodology that links companies with strategically-appropriate causes, creating and implementing some of the most high-profile signature programs in the business, commissioning and publishing a wealth of original research into public perceptions of cause branding initiatives. But the cause-related practice is only one of three divisions at Cone: the firm also boasts strong mainstream brand-building capabilities and, building on a historic competence in crisis and issues management, an evolving expertise in corporate responsibility. All of which makes Cone an expert in “building brand trust” and creating stakeholder loyalty.

Over the past couple of years, the firm has leveraged that expertise impressively, and 2005 growth of 12 percent, following 28 percent growth the year before means Cone is now back above $10 million in fees, slightly above its historic high and fully recovered from the doldrums of the previous three years. New business in 2005 came from some of the firm’s long-standing marquee clients: Gillette, which is working with Cone on its partnership with Major League Baseball’s prostate awareness efforts; Nestle; and the American Heart Association’s Go Red initiative. And it came from new clients: Harley-Davidson (for a cause marketing campaign); CVS/pharmacy (crisis and issues management); Timberland (back with Cone after a two year hiatus); Perrier (new product introduction); Outward Bound (crisis planning); Hasbro; and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Creative Agency of the Year: Chandler Chicco Agency

After another year of double-digit (17 percent) growth in 2005, Chandler Chicco has doubled in size over the past three years. The firm now has fees of slightly less than $40 million globally, close to 200 people, and an increasingly diverse business. The firm remains focused on the healthcare sector, but it now offers advertising capabilities and public affairs expertise, and has expanded its roster of advocacy, not-for-profit and biotech clients in addition to its core of pharmaceutical company giants. In addition, it has expanded its geographic footprint: its D.C. office has been growing at a healthy rate after the acquisition of local policy and advocacy specialist Ignition, while the L.A. operation was up by close to 50 percent last year, with a burgeoning biotech base. The London office has firmly established itself as a leader in its market, managing a growing number of pan-European campaigns, and a new alliance with Eastwei in China and Macoll in Korea are giving clients such as Schering, Roche, and Bayer access to key Asian markets.

Chandler Chicco ranked among the top smaller firms in our Client Satisfaction study, and scored particularly high marks when clients were asked whether their agency delivered high-quality creative thinking, whether their agency was prepared to take creative risks, whether their agency delivered non-traditional ideas, and whether it produced programs that are measurable. “I really feel that CCA and I have more than just an agency/ client relationship,” says one respondent. “I see them as true partners that are entrenched in my business. They continue to challenge me and with new ideas and thinking and produce great results.” Says another: “My brand teams have come to rely on CCA to provide brand positioning for use by our other agencies.”

Crisis Agency of the Year: Levick Communications

Richard Levick, an attorney, launched Levick Strategic Communications in 1998 to provide strategic communications counsel to professional service firms, and was quickly able to count more than half of the American Lawyer 200 law firms among his clients. But working closely with attorneys, Levick soon spotted an even more exciting opportunity: working on high-profile litigation and other crises, partnering with them to ensure that their clients received the best representation in the court of public opinion as well as in the court of law.

The firm has since established itself as a leader in litigation, crisis, financial and public affairs communications, doubling its revenues over the past three years to close in on $10 million in fees—enough to make it one of the five largest independent firms in the Washington, D.C., market. The growth came in both the litigation and marketing sectors, with many firms working with Levick on both fronts. Product liability, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, and SEC-related issues (including corporate and individual actions), were particularly active.

The firm has handled some high-profile issues, both domestically and globally, from the Guantanamo Bay controversy and the crisis in the Catholic Church to the Rosie O’Donnell Rosie magazine lawsuit and the largest civil litigation arising from the war in Iraq.

Financial Agency of the Year: Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher

Founded in 2000 and now established among the leaders in its competitive field, Joele Frank’s firm offers clients straightforward, independent, strategic advice; deep experience in the most complex and stressful corporate situations; around the clock availability; established relationships with Wall Street opinion makers, the financial press, and the arbitrage community; experience across a broad range of industries; strong cross-border relationships; and a deep bench of talent.

The firm works in three broad areas of expertise: transaction communications, including hostile and friendly takeovers (the latter being increasingly likely to get “jumped”), proxy fights, spin-offs and IPOs; crisis communications, including restructurings, bankruptcies, management changes, earnings surprises and (a growing specialty) litigation and regulatory actions; and ongoing investor relations and financial communications: an impressive 70 percent of the firm’s clients stay on after the initial project is completed.

One area of particular growth in 2005 was driven by activist hedge funds and other dissident shareholders. As those groups grow increasingly critical of corporate management—and savvier in the use of the media to gain leverage for their demands—JFWBK has been called in to counsel management on the appropriate response. The firm worked has worked with clients such as Knight Ridder, Novell, Saucony, Weyerhaeuser, and Steve Madden in response to activism. Other high-profile recent assignments include work with Cisco Systems, Nextel, Groupe Danone, and adidas-Salomon and Reebok on friendly mergers; Engelhard, Boston Scientific, Mentor, Unocal, and Verizon on contested takeovers; Motorola for litigation support and management change communications; and Krispy Kreme, HealthSouth, Spiegel and Revlon on bankruptcy and restructuring.

Healthcare Agency of the Year: Dorland Global Health Communications

The public relations operation of Dorland Global Health Communications, one of the nation’s largest integrated, full-service healthcare communications agency, enjoys many of the benefits of being part of a larger organization—notably access to specialists in advertising, medical education, and other marketing services—while maintaining its independence from the giant holding companies. Thus Dorland is able to create cross-functional teams of creative and medical affairs professionals to ensure that clients have access to both scientific expertise and marketing savvy.

With revenues of around $11 million—a fourfold increase since 2001—Dorland now ranks among the top five healthcare PR specialists in the country, big enough to handle blockbuster drug launches for top-tier pharmaceutical companies, but small and flexible enough to work with midsized biopharmaceutical companies, startups, and device clients, and to invest in growing that business for the long-term. New assignments in 2005 came from existing clients such as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Guidant, and new additions including Myogen and Vertex, and the firm was able to expand its range of activities to include several consumer health assignments in addition to the pharma, biopharma and device work that is its bread-and-butter.

Innovative Agency of the Year: Peppercom

Peppercom’s work ranges from a massive program for 50 states attorneys general to create awareness among men aged 18 to 29 of the dangers of reckless SUV driving to a national social responsibility initiative for Honeywell to work with management at Tyco as it seeks to reposition the company in the wake of the Dennis Kozlowski crisis.

Having established itself as a pioneer in the dot-com space in the late 90s, Peppercom was hit hard by the collapse of the Internet bubble, but unlike so many of its peers, it was resilient enough to reinvent itself. Today, Peppercom is a full-service strategic communications firm with capabilities in the corporate, business-to-business, consumer and technology sectors and an expanding roster of Fortune 1000 clients.

The link between the old Peppercom and the new, the common thread that has run through the firm’s approach since it opened its doors, is innovation. Its “pain-based selling” philosophy helps clients identify the issue that keep them awake at night and then finds solutions that ease that pain. It has also helped the agency develop new tools for clients: a partnership development product that helps clients forge mutually beneficial alliances; a proprietary crisis simulation service called CrisisRx; SalesShield, which blends the strategies of crisis communications with those of sales training to help companies continue to sell and maintain forward momentum during times of duress; a proprietary benchmarking system called BusinessOutcomes; and the newest manifestation of its passion for innovation, its executive leadership forum, a new professional development service offering that helps executives drive innovation within their organizations

Public Affairs Agency of the Year: Singer Associates

While firms that specialize in consumer public relations or corporate reputation management lose sleep over how to measure the success of their efforts, Singer Associates founder and chief executive Sam Singer has no such worries. He has a simple definition of success: he knows he’s achieved it when his clients emerge victorious in litigation, labor and land use disputes; when they win political campaigns, defeat unwanted regulation, or manage issues so they don’t turn into crises..

The firm ended 2005 with $4.1 million in business, up from $3.4 million in 2004. The agency was tapped by Lennar Corporation as agency to handle its entire western United States region (California, Arizona, Nevada) as well as to help expand its urban development division. Chevron turned to the agency for assistance in land use and political issues as well as a number of environmental matters. And for the third straight time, the Bay Area Rapid Transit District turned to Singer Associates to help with its labor negotiations with the Service Employees International and the Transit Workers Union. Other new clients included the California Pacific Medical Center, for crisis communications during a strike by SEIU health workers, and two major ballot initiatives. Other interesting assignments included the San Francisco 49ers announcement of Mike Nolan as the team’s new head coach, preparing two national clients for Chapter 11 filings, and assisting the U.S. Tuna Foundation in its reputational and litigation battle after a lawsuit by the California attorney general calling for warning labels on tuna cans.

Strategic Agency of the Year: Abernathy MacGregor Group

It is 21 years since James Abernathy and James MacGregor launched The Abernathy MacGregor Group, one of the first public relations firms focused on the high-stakes world of financial communications, with an emphasis on mergers and acquisitions. While the field is more crowded today than it was then, AMG remains a leader, involved once again in many of the most important deals of the past 12 months: Viacom’s proposed acquisition of Dreamworks SKG; Comcast’s joint venture with Sprint Nextel and Time Warner; the Washington Mutual-Providian Financial merger; Adobe Systems’ pending acquisition of Macromedia.

The key to the success is impressive bench strength: the two principals are joined at the top of the organization by 13-year veteran Adam Miller, who was named president in 2005, and a cadre of nine managing directors, many of whom have been with the firm for a decade or longer. Steven Bruce joined the firm when it was just three years old; Charles Burgess has been there 12 years, Michael Pascale 11, and Rhonda Barnat is celebrating a decade with AMG. That leaves Carina Thate (nine years), Jason Thompson (eight years) and the west coast team of Ian Campbell and James Lucas (eight years and six years respectively) as the relative newcomers.

Last year saw healthy growth in the two practice areas where the firm has the highest profile: financial services and media and entertainment, and significant expansion in the manufacturing, transportation, energy and high technology sectors. The financial services practice works with longtime clients such as Bank of New York, Washington Mutual, and Wachovia and added Sovereign Bancorp (for Grupo Santendar’s minority investment and the acquisition of Independence Community Bank Corp), Ameriquest (a major regulatory and media relations assignment) and the New York Mercantile Exchange in 2005. The media and entertainment practice, led by Miller, advised Comcast on its acquisition of Adelphia, Loews Cineplex during its acquisition by AMC, and R.H. Donnelley on its merger with Dex Media, and added new clients including Entercom Communications.

Technology Agency of the Year: Text 100

The foundation is Text 100’s success is its reputation as one of the best workplaces in the industry. Text 100 uses its statement of values to underscore the importance of people policies to its success. Those values emphasize respect for the individual (“everyone is unique; we encourage the character of our people”) and liberating employees’ potential (“we believe our people all have amazing potential and we are dedicated to providing a work environment where this potential can flourish”) and are the foundation of the firm’s impressive PRotocol University professional development program. In our Best Agencies to Work For survey, Text 100 employees were most likely among midsize agencies to say that they planned to build their career with this agency, and gave their firm top marks when asked if the work was intellectually stimulating. “Text 100 provides growth opportunities at all levels and in all directions,” said one respondent. “It allows employees to explore what they personally want from life…. It’s a great place to work and I don’t plan on leaving, because I know that as my life changes, Text will be supportive, caring, encouraging, and respectful.”

Now embarking on its 25th year of operations, Text 100 ranked second among technology PR specialist firms in terms of U.S. revenues and in the top 10 among those reporting fee income to PR Week. New clients included wireless clients such as Adobe Wireless, Dwango Wireless, Qpass, Siemens Wireless Modules and Sprint Nextel; software companies Akimbi, Ariba, Par3 Communications, PC Tools, and Visto; and computer services companies including eBay, Getronics, Persistent Systems and Yahoo! Other additions included Philips Semiconductor, Data Domain, Fabric7, the World Cyber Games, and Fujifilm. They join a roster that includes IBM, Xerox and ARM.

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