Global Agency of the Year: Weber Shandwick Worldwide
After another year of solid growth—best estimates are that the firm grew by close to 7 percent—Weber Shandwick is not only the largest public relations brand in the world, it is also the strongest, perhaps the only firm that ranks among the top three in both size and quality in all three of the major regions in which it operates.
Its performance in North America was impressive, with a host of new business including assignments from Bayer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, HP, PepsiCo (including digital work), Samsung, the U.S Department of the Treasury, and expanded Unilever work, as well as organic growth from major clients such as American Airlines, GM, Honeywell, Microsoft and the U.S. Army. There were strategic personnel moves too, with the addition of three senior VPs in the burgeoning healthcare practice, the transfer of Robert Dowling to Silicon Valley to lead the tech practice, and a new chief executive for the KRC research operation. The firm can justifiably claim to be among the leaders in all major practice areas, with public sector, crisis and digital work spurring much of the growth.
With 1,000 people across Europe, Weber Shandwick is clearly one of the leaders in the region, and over the past 12 months, the firm has continued to grow at a healthy rate: 2007 saw growth in the high single-digits (at or slightly above the industry average) for the entire region, with the first half of 2008 similarly robust. The growth came from some of the firm’s largest clients—revenue from top 40 clients in the U.K. was up by nearly 30 percent, for example—with new business from some big brand names, including the Bahrain Economic Development Board, the Barclays Premier League, Black & Decker, Carbon Trust, IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Samsung, Singapore Airlines, the Sochi 2014 Olympic bid, Toshiba, Waitrose, and Wrigley.
And with an additional 550 people in the Asia-Pacific region, Weber Shandwick had almost certainly nudged its way into the three largest in the region over the past couple of years—fees are believed to be slightly north of $40 million—and 2008 was another year of growth in the high teens, with some operations (most notably China, which was up by better than 30 percent) outperforming that number significantly. There was about $4 million in new business in 2008, including assignments from Singapore Airlines, ExxonMobil, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Etihad, the Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing, and Samsung.
Large Agency of the Year: Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
When Marcia Silverman took over as chief executive of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide in August of 2002, the WPP-owned firm was in disarray. Having made some large technology acquisitions, it had suffered more than any other full-service agency as a result of the dot-com bust, and relationships between the firm’s senior leadership had been fractious for some time. But Silverman was the perfect choice not only to restore harmony, but also to lead Ogilvy into a new century, restoring it to growth (the parent company does not report financials for individual PR firms, but Ogilvy has outperformed its WPP sister agencies in the U.S. for most of that period), building a strong and harmonious management team, and driving a series of innovations, including its 360 Digital Influence practice, among the industry leaders in the critical social media space, and most recently the launch of an Ogilvy Earth sustainability group. So with speculation that Silverman is likely to step down over the next 12 months, this is an ideal time to recognize her accomplishment—and the agency’s return to top form—with our Large Agency of the Year award.
While 2008 was a challenging year, Ogilvy ended it with strong single digit growth and picked up an impressive list of new clients, ranging from Livestrong (the Lance Armstrong Foundation ) to Nestle, from Virgin America to Wyeth, from Molson Coors to Chevron. The firm also added several key executives, including global corporate practice leader Kiersten Zweibaum from GCI, executive vice president of healthcare Sally Barton from Cohn & Wolfe, and two planners from Ogilvy Group to strengthen the firm’s strategic capabilities. It continued its dominance in the social marketing arena, adding $40 million in new contracts from 16 government agencies and enjoyed double digit growth in its consumer practice for the fifth consecutive year, expanding its Unilever business significantly.
Midsize Agency of the Year: DeVries
Many public relations firms acknowledge the desirability of building longer, deeper relationships with their key clients. Few have the discipline to make the difficult decisions that such a strategy entails: focusing on fewer clients; eschewing new business opportunities when pursuing them would have a negative impact of client service; turning away work that doesn’t have the potential to develop into the right kind of long-term relationship. Over the past 10 years, DeVries has been an exception to that rule, providing a template for successful growth through strategic discipline: celebrating its 30th anniversary year in 2008, fee income was up again, and while the firm is part of the Interpublic Group and so does not disclose its fees, its 120 people are believed to generate fee income of close to $30 million, providing strategic counsel to a roster of clients that includes Campbell Soup Company; E. & J. Gallo; LVMH; Procter & Gamble (a client for 25 years, De Vries handles a dozen brands including Crest, Olay, Pantene, Tide and Vicks); Starbucks; Tupperware; and—new in 2008—Warnaco Group (for its Calvin Klein brand women’s underwear); The Boston Beer Company (for Samuel Adams), NutriSystem and Hoover
Small Agency of the Year: Carmichael Lynch Spong
Pound for pound the most award-winning firm in the North American public relations business, Carmichael Lynch Spong firm has picked up 30 Silver Anvils and more than a dozen SABREs over the past decade, and has consistently ranked among the Best Agencies to Work For in our annual survey, so it should come as no surprise that it now has an Agency of the Year award to add to its collection—although its continued growth, somewhat obscured by its ownership by Interpublic, means that it is pushing up against any reasonable definition of the word “small.” Revenues were up by a healthy 8 percent again last year, expanding its capabilities (with a new experiential marketing group and an expanded social and digital media practice), its senior counseling team (notably through the addition of former Sard Verbinnen exec Laurence White to lead crisis and issues work), and its client roster (Digital River, Georgia-Pacific, Gerber, Jarden, New Balance, Sierra Nevada and SnowSports Industries America joined blue-chip brands such as American Standard, Buell, Cargill, Clorox, Harley-Davidson, Hasbro, Sherwin-Williams, Target and Trane).
Boutique Consultancy of the Year: rbb Public Relations
rbb’s success—it earned national recognition for work in marketing, corporate and crisis communications work, including a Gold SABRE and a PRSA Silver Anvil and PR Week’s Agency of the Year award last year—is built on a solid foundation: a philosophy that puts people first and has been rewarded with consistently high rankings in our Best Agencies to Work For research and outstanding loyalty: a third of its people have been with the firm for a decade or more. Not surprisingly, that kind of strong employee retention has translates into equally impressive client retention—almost three-quarters of clients have been with the firm for at least five years—and means that rbb can deliver impressive strategy and execution far beyond its Florida base: much of its work is national in scope. Last year was an eventful one: in addition to its Agency of the Year award, the firm picked up new business from AMResorts, Homewood Suites, BankAtlantic, and the American Airlines Arena, and made an acquisition, buying New York’s Cece Feinberg Public Relations and creating the rbb style group, focused on fashion, entertainment and lifestyle clients.
New Consultancy of the Year: Catalyst
Catalyst was founded in 2006, when Bret Werner, a 13-year veteran of Alan Taylor Communications, took advantage of the firm’s restructuring—it has since become simply Taylor—to launch a spinoff that both continued and built on the firm’s heritage. Like the old Alan Taylor, Catalyst is focused on sports marketing—which accounts for slightly more than half of revenues—but has also added a significant lifestyle marketing practice and a growing entertainment industry focus. And like the old Alan Taylor, the focus is on media relations, although Catalyst takes a sophisticated, strategic approach to the media—with an emphasis on media mapping, messaging and measurement—and has expanded beyond traditional channels to include digital and social media. In just two years it has doubled in size (fee income for 2008 was around $4 million) and built an impressive roster of clients, most of them new to the firm over the past 18 months, including major brands such as Consumer Reports, ESPN, World Triathlon Corporation, NASCAR, Purina, Subway, Timex and Under Armour, often providing specialized strategic support to larger firms with an agency-of-record relationship.
Canadian Agency of the Year: National Public Relations
Our first Canadian Agency of the Year (as we expand the scope of the SABRE Awards to North America), National Public Relations is Canada’s largest public relations firm, with 300 employees in eight Canadian offices (Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, and Halifax) as well as outposts in New York and London and fee income of around $49.2 million (Canadian—equivalent to $40 million U.S.) The firm operates across six major practices—corporate communications, investor relations, public affairs, marketing, technology and healthcare communications—with strong specialist capabilities in employee engagement, media strategies, and digital communications, which along with several large branding, community engagement and transactional assignments helped drive solid single-digit growth in 2008. The firm continues to work for a mix of Canadian and foreign multinational clients including Novo Nordisk, Enbridge, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Ontario Power Authority, Standard Life, Pfizer, Janssen and National Bank Financial Group and to work on some of the most high-profile projects north of the border: a global rebranding for mining giant Teck; counsel for the Crawford Committee, which is coordinating private sector efforts to address the credit crisis; sustainability efforts for Unilever; and stakeholder engagement for the Ontario Power Authority.