Holmes Report Names 2006 Agencies of the Year
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Holmes Report Names 2006 Agencies of the Year

GolinHarris has emerged as a leader over the past couple of years, distinguished by its new business successes and its thought leadership, proving that a firm does not need to be the biggest in order to set the agenda, and earning our Large Agency of the Year title for 2006.

Paul Holmes

Large Agency of the Year
GolinHarris

Among the multinational public relations firms, there are two distinct groups. One group includes Weber Shandwick, Fleishman-Hillard, Edelman, Burson, Hill & Knowlton and one or two others and is genuinely global and genuinely full-service. The second group consists of firms that don’t have the same critical mass, don’t have quite as many dots on the maps, and are typically very good at a number of things but not at everything. Of this second group, GolinHarris has emerged as the leader over the past couple of years, distinguished by its new business successes and its thought leadership, proving that a firm does not need to be the biggest in order to set the agenda, and earning our Large Agency of the Year title for 2006.

The firm grew by an impressive 13 percent in 2006, all of it organic. It kicked off the year by beating several larger firms to become corporate agency of record for Dow Chemical Company—leading an integrated Interpublic team—and followed that with a string of successes: AAA, Alcon, Corbis, Cord Blood Registry, Good Humor/Breyers, GlaxoSmithKline, IKEA, Killian’s Beer, the Kimberly Clark Foundation, the National Turkey Federation, NEC, Shire Pharmaceuticals, the Society of Actuaries, TransUnion and more. There was also significant growth from several existing clients, including BP, Toyota, McDonald’s, Nestlé and Cisco. It was a remarkable year for a firm that not many years ago was subject to speculation that it might be absorbed by one of its Interpublic sister agencies.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2006, it would have been easy for a firm with Golin’s rich heritage to spend some time looking back. Instead, it focused squarely on the future, producing a robust piece of research highlighting some of the key trends driving the growth of the public relations business, from globalization to multiculturalism to digitization to social responsibility. Various new practice areas, meanwhile, have been producing thought leadership research, like the integrated media practice’s survey of trusted media, which found that personal experience and word of mouth trump even the most credible mainstream media. Also of note is the work of the new strategic analysis and planning group, Brandguage, focused on the development of a process designed to build trust, leadership and preference for clients.

International Agency of the Year
Burson-Marsteller

Burson-Marsteller was perhaps the first truly international public relations agency, and in 2006 it made a strong case that it remains among the best as well as the biggest, going from strength to strength in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America.

Having laid the foundation for a turnaround in 2005, Burson-Marsteller has accelerated its European resurgence over the past 12 months, which have seen the best new business performance since the boom time of the late 90s, with major new assignments including an EMEA assignment for HP, European work for KPMG; Nuklearforum in Switzerland, support for McDonald’s in Denmark, the Asroc IPO in Spain; Glaxo SmithKline in the U.K.; Pfizer in Brussels; Fiat’s Fiat, Alfa-Romeo and Lancia brands; a major product launch for Novartis; and corporate work for Shell in the U.K. and the Netherlands. A management meeting in early 06 produced a new Manifesto for Growth, guided by eight core principles, that now sits on every desk across the region  and seems to be inspiring greater cooperation between offices and renewed creativity.

Burson has been in Asia since 1973, with offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo, and has grown to include 17 offices across the region, supplemented by affiliates in eight additional markets. And the network is more than just dots on the map: more than 60 percent of its work is regional or multi-market. The firm has been ranked number one in China by the China International Public Relations Association and its recent Indian acquisition, Genesis, is among the market leaders in that country. The firm’s extensive Latin American operation is managed from Miami and includes eight offices, including a new operation in Peru.

Midsize Agency of the Year
Alan Taylor Communications

When Alan Taylor Communications was acquired from its eponymous founder by a team of six senior executives two and a half years ago, new chief executive Tony Signore outlined an ambitious strategy to expand its reputation beyond the sports marketing niche where it had made its name and establish it as a strategic marketing partner to a roster of category leader, blue-chip brands. In many ways, ATC looked like a poor candidate for such a transformation. To outsiders, the firm could easily have been mistaken for a boy’s club of old school media relations guys who knew the sports world but were not exactly on the cutting edge of modern brand building.

Anyone who made such a judgment then must be feeling pretty silly now. When the new team took over, Alan Taylor Communications was an $8.5 million PR firm with a roster of 70-plus clients, growing consistently (about 4 percent a year) but not spectacularly. Thirty months later, the firm has more than doubled its fee income to more than $18 million and has cut its client roster to a third of its previous size, partnering with just 22 companies, a shift that underscores how successfully Signore and his team have developed deeper, broader relationships with some of the world’s most prestigious brands, from Diageo’s Cuervo and Johnnie Walker and Guinness to DHL, Gillette, MasterCard, NASCAR, Reebok, Staples, and Microsoft’s Xbox. Revenue growth in 2006 was around 34 percent, and the firm added close to $5 million in new business.

Small Agency of the Year
Jackson Spalding

Now in its 12th year, Jackson Spalding has established itself not only as one of the leading independent public relations firms in the southeast—revenues were up by more than 15 percent to $5.3 million in 2006—but also as one of the few firms headquartered in that part of the world capable of handling national public relations assignments for some of the region’s largest corporations, clients such as Orkin, Delta Air Lines and Post Properties.

Jackson Spalding’s business is Image Creation, Cultivation and Communication (IC3), an approach that looks at public relations as a component of the overall branding process, and it is perhaps best known for its creative work—a reputation that is likely to be enhanced by the recent launch of JS Creative, a full-service branding, graphic design, multimedia and corporate identity division. But the firm offers a full range of crisis communication, litigation support, community relations, media training and media relations services, providing comprehensive brand stewardship for clients in a wide range of industry sectors, including consumer products and services; real estate (which now accounts for about 30 percent of revenues); professional services; healthcare; and not-for-profit.

The firm expanded its Orkin business in 2006 to include more work from Orkin Commercial and the addition of Orkin Canada, and the firm’s Athens office, which now contributes revenues of more than $650,000, added the University of Georgia to its roster of public sector clients. The firm also provided public relations support for Brand Atlanta, Mayor Shirley Franklin’s program to increase international investment and tourism in the city.

Boutique Agency of the Year
Linhart McClain Finlon

There aren’t a lot of big national agencies in Denver, but that doesn’t mean clients can’t find plenty of big agency experience there. They need look no further than Linhart McClain Finlon, which has brought together veterans of some of the world’s leading public relations firms, including Burson-Marsteller, Fleishman Hillard, GolinHarris, Ketchum and Ogilvy, and some of the nation’s largest PR markets, to offer clients top-notch strategic thinking, creativity, and counsel without the overhead and bureaucracy that would normally accompany such capabilities.

President and founder Sharon Linhart is a former Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist and longtime community activist, and has been incredibly successful (the Rocky Mountain lifestyle doesn’t hurt) in attracting top talent: vice president Dawn Doty joined LMF in 2003 after serving as PR director for Vail Resorts and previously worked at Orbitz, Burson-Marsteller and Ketchum, and Paul Raab joined as senior vice president in April after seven years as communications director for management consulting firm A.T. Kearney and 11 years at GolinHarris.

Since Raab’s arrival, the firm has competed successfully with some of the largest national PR firms for new clients including Frontier Airlines, Wild Oats Markets and the GTC Nutrition unit of Corn Products International, and has grown its relationships with existing clients including Johns Manville, MWH and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. Revenues grew by 15 percent to around $2.7 million, despite the conclusion of a multi-year contract with a state government department that had been among the firm’s largest clients.

New Agency of the Year
Kwittken & Company

When Aaron Kwittken, former chief executive of Euro RSCG Magnet and a veteran of senior agency positions at GCI Group and Middleberg & Associates, launched his new firm in January of 2006, he spoke of his desire to launch an “intelligent communications agency” rooted in seven non-negotiable principles: family/life balance obligations always come first; client relationships should be lifelong partnerships; we will work with clients that appreciate, respect and value our work; creativity is a renewable resource; our people are our greatest asset; our reputation is based solely on the exceptional results we produce for our clients each and every day; and “intelligence” is what makes us different—in the way we think, counsel, act and measure expected outcomes.

It’s an admirable approach, and one that so far appears to be paying off. Kwittken & Company has enjoyed a stellar first 12 months in business, with 18 professionals serving 20 clients and generating more than $2.5 million in revenues. With four principal practice areas—corporate reputation management, consumer and buzz marketing, executive leadership, and investor relations—the firm has attracted several marquee clients, including human resources consultancy Towers Perrin, medical device manufacturer Stryker, several units of global information services company Thomson Corporation, and most recently the business class-only trans-Atlantic airline Silverjet.

Consumer Agency of the Year
CKPR

CKPR, the public relations unit of Midwest advertising agency Cramer-Krasselt, might have the lowest profile of any $15 million public relations firm in the country. It’s the second largest privately-held public relations firm headquartered in America’s second city (trailing only Edelman), it expanded into New York four years ago with the acquisition of creative consumer boutique Nichol & Company, it increased its fee income by about 50 percent over the past couple of years, it is poised—through its relationship with parent company and advertising agency Cramer Krasselt, to take advantage of a growing demand for fully integrated marketing services, and yet it is still flying beneath the radar of most of its major competitors.

Not that the stealth strategy appears to be doing any harm. The firm’s existing clients know how good it is. “CKPR has proven to be a strong partner for Kohl’s,” says Vicki Shamion, vice president, public relations and community relations for the company. “They bring a strategic, creative approach to PR and an unprecedented level of commitment to our business.” The firm’s 12 percent growth last year—on top of 30 percent in 2005—was ahead of the industry average, driven largely by its ability to win supplemental public relations business from Cramer-Krasselt’s integrated clients, with a focus on the consumer sector and several opportunities in the new media realm. New business came from Brookstone, Evinrude Outboard Engines, Cellular South, Rockwell Automation, Massage Envy, R.H. Donnelly Yellow Pages, joining a roster that already included brands such as AirTran Airways, Briggs & Stratton, CTAM (cable television industry), HBO Video, Kenmore appliances, Kohl’s, and UNO Chicago Grill.

Highlights included the launch of Nicorette Fruit Chill smoking cessation product (a finalist in the PR Week Awards for Consumer Product Launch of the Year and promotional Event of The Year), which featured an experiential marketing component in the form of “pop-up counseling centers” in markets around the U.S. and helped spur a 221 percent sales increase even before TV ads went on-air. The firm also continued to provide broad PR counsel to AirTran, one of only three profitable airlines in the U.S., and to
Kohl’s department stores, helping the company launch a record 80 stores in 2006 while announcing new apparel lines in partnership with celebrity designers including Vera Wang.

Creative Agency of the Year
Shepardson Stern + Kaminsky

The old Sawyer Miller Group spawned an incredible amount of talent, now dispersed throughout the public relations industry: among the leadership of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, the world’s largest PR firm; leading the business consulting practice at Financial Dynamics; in various top corporate positions; and at Shepardson Stern + Kaminsky, which has built on the legacy of SMG—a research-heavy methodology, a multidisciplinary approach to getting the message across, a political campaign mentality focused on winning in the marketplace—while adapting to the changing media landscape and rising stakeholder expectations.

SS+K’s calls its approach “asymmetric communications,” and it supplements the traditional tools of public relations—media relations, special events, sponsorship—with a wide range of tools. Sometimes that means starting a movement, sometimes branding a wristband, sometimes launching a music tour, sometimes staging an urban game, sometimes writing the brand into a television script. It’s an approach the firm freely admits is not for everyone. It’s risky, which means it appeals to clients whose challenges are urgent and disruptive, who have found that traditional approaches fall short, who are willing to “break a few eggs” and who are prepared to be champions for change within their organizations. But the fact that the firm enjoyed 30 percent growth last year suggests that at a time of rapid change in the communications landscape, more and more are looking for that kind of bold approach: clients include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Comcast, Delta Air Lines, MSNBC, Microsoft, Pfizer, Time Warner, UNICEF, and Westin.

Today, SS+K has 100 people in New York, Boston and Los Angeles, many of them refugees from traditional PR firms, advertising agencies, design shops, interactive companies and political campaigns, but includes a former White House advisor, a former All-American quarterback, a ballet dancer, a drag queen and a human rights activist.

Crisis Agency of the Year
Sitrick & Company

Sitrick & Company is still the go-to firm on the west coast for executives or celebrities whose reputations are in crisis. Clients in 2006 ranged from Hewlett-Packard chairman Patricia Dunn, who faced charges of identity theft after detectives looking into board leaks employed underhanded and possibly illegal means to spy on directors and reporters, to actor Wesley Snipes, who found himself in trouble with IRS over alleged tax fraud, to Greg Reyes of Brocade, the first executive to be charged as a result of the options backdating scandal. The firm also represented two of the most prominent companies suing hedge funds for illegal stock manipulation, half a dozen bankruptcies (a specialty of the firm since its inception), and

Sitrick has earned the gratitude of clients and the (sometimes grudging) respect of reporters by approaching public relations challenges in much the same way a lawyer approaches a trial: the firm does its due diligence, researches the client and the issue, develops a strategy and then presents its case to the target audience the way a lawyer presents his or her case to a judge or jury. That means providing as much concrete evidence as possible to support the client’s argument to convince the “jury” (in this case, either the media or a client’s key constituents). It’s an approach well-suited to Sitrick’s areas of expertise, which typically find the firm working with corporations or individuals who are “on trial” in the court of public opinion.

Financial Agency of the Year
Brunswick Group

Brunswick was the dominant public relations firm in the global mergers and acquisitions business in 2006, topping mergermarket’s rankings by value of deals worked in both the U.S. and Europe, as well as in the U.K., France and Germany—quite an achievement for a firm that was not even ranked in the U.S. just five years ago. Major assignments included Blackstone Group’s $39 billion acquisition of Equity Office Properties, Google’s $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube, AT&T’s $89 billion acquisition of BellSouth, BASF’s $5 billion acquisition of Engelhard Corporation, Freeport-McMoran’s pending $26 billion acquisition of Phelps Dodge, and Euronext’s $15 billion merger with the NYSE Group, to create the largest exchange in the world.

Yet it would be a mistake to characterize Brunswick as a mergers and acquisitions firm, since it has continued to diversify its client portfolio in recent years to encompass a broad range of critical communications assignments—issues that matter to the chairman, board and CEO and have the potential to impact market capitalization. Specialties include litigation, crisis, restructuring, investor relations and investor activism. An increasing number of these assignments involve cross-border communications with shareholders and other stakeholders in major markets around the world, and having expanded significantly beyond its London headquarters, Brunswick now has offices in Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Milan, Paris, and Stockholm.

So Brunswick was called in by Visa for work on its restructuring and regional mergers and its ongoing IPO plans. It handled every aspect of communications for Owens Corning’s Chapter 11 emergence and successful listing on the NYSE, worked with General Motors on its continuing restructuring, and with Gap on management changes, ongoing IR and involvement with Bono’s Project (RED). It assisted Home Depot as it dealt with management changes, shareholder activism and other work, with HJ Heinz on an activist shareholder situation, and with Pepsi Bottling Group to communicate management changes.

Healthcare Agency of the Year
Chandler Chicco Agency

If there are limits to how far (or fast) Chandler Chicco Agency can grow while maintaining its exclusive focus on healthcare public relations, 2006 demonstrated that those limits are still a long way off. CCA continued to expand geographically, extending its presence in Europe and building an affiliate network in Asia; diversifying its service offering, adding new public affairs and research capabilities and fortifying existing advertising and medical education units; and benefiting from increased interest in health and wellness among companies outside the pharmaceutical sector by picking business from The Coca-Cola Company.

So 2006 was Chandler Chicco’s 11th consecutive year of double-digit growth, with fees up 12 percent to around $45 million. There was strong organic growth—the firm had more than 50 new or expanded assignments from existing clients—and came from new business with global assignments from GlaxoSmithKline (Cervarix), Novartis (cardiovascular franchise), and Bristol-Myers Squibb (medical imaging), and from U.S. projects for Allergan (Lap-Band and eye care), sanofi-aventis (cardio-metabolic risk), Johnson & Johnson (Procrit) and J&J/McNeil (Tylenol), Roche Diagnostics (coagulation products), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Coca-Cola.

The firm’s international expansion entered a new phase with the appointment of an impressive new leadership team in London: Fiona Hall joined from Weber Shandwick (where she had led the European healthcare practice) in a new position as head of CCA’s European operations, and Neil McGregor Patterson was appointed to lead the U.K. office. And the firm opened its first continental operation, in Paris, while continuing to work with local affiliates in Germany and Italy. The affiliate network also expands to the Asia-Pacific region, with relationships in Australia, China, India, Japan and Korea, and to Latin America, where CCA works through The Jeffrey Group.

New Media Agency of the Year
Text 100

It would be easy to look at Text 100’s decision in the fall of 2006 to open the first public relations agency office in the virtual world of Second Life and see a marketing gimmick (“see how cutting edge we are?”) but the reality is that Text 100 has a definite viewpoint on the growing importance of digital and social media and its likely transformative effect on the public relations industry, and the Second Life office is just one element of a social media strategy that saw the development of new products and services including peer media educational workshops, monitoring and measurement, peer media crisis counsel and peer media policy counsel.

Arguably, no public relations firm is better placed than Text 100 to take a leadership role in the coming transformation. With 31 offices in 22 countries around the world, the firm is the most global of the technology specialist firms and the most technology-savvy of the multinational PR agencies. The firm’s proprietary DARE methodology helps counselors across its network identify what is Distinct and Authentic about a client company; determine the core assumptions and messages that will Resonate with influencers; and ensure that programs effectively Engage influencers. It’s an approach that gives structure to the firm’s programming.

Public Affairs Agency of the Year
Davies Public Affairs

Five years ago, the leadership team at California public affairs firm Davies developed a strategic plan that set out ambitious growth objectives and acknowledged the need to diversify into new areas of activity in order to realize those plans. Today, the firm is on track to achieve—or even surpass—its financial goals: revenues were up by 60 percent in 2006 and Davies has grown from $3.5 million in revenues in 2002 to more than $13 million. And it has accomplished that growth almost exclusively by focusing on its core business, providing public affairs, issues management and community relations counsel to companies in the energy, healthcare and real estate sectors, while expanding its influence in all three areas beyond its California base to establish a national presence.

Davies has carved out a unique positioning in the public affairs market by specializing in helping organizations deal with the not-in-my-backyard sentiment that can derail major construction efforts even after legislative hurdles have been cleared. The firm’s energy practice, led by chairman and chief executive John Davies, continues to handle community outreach and crisis management assignments for clients in the California market, while the real estate practice is now a dominant player in California and has begun to develop a national footprint, handling assignments in 21 communities last year and the healthcare group—led by recently-named president Brandon Edwards—now accounts for 40 percent of the firm’s revenue and is serving hospitals and healthcare providers on a national in 18 states.

Strategic Agency of the Year
Kekst and Company

There’s no doubt that the past few years have seen increased competition in the high-stakes strategic communications sector, where Kekst and Company has traditionally made a living counseling clients on mergers and acquisitions, governance, litigation, bankruptcy and other critical issues. The growing internationalization of the business has sparked an invasion of British specialists and the acquisition of some of Kekst’s U.S. competitors by international holding companies, but Kekst has remained resolutely independent and has managed to hold onto its position as the market leader without opening additional offices or joining global alliances.

One reason is the firm’s incredible array of top talent. While most of its competitors rely on one or two rainmakers to bring in new business, Kekst can draw on the resources of senior partners who between them bring 200 years of combined experience in the strategic communications arena, and on the expertise a younger generation of equally impressive counselors, some of whom have 10, 15 or even 20 years of experience with the firm and most of whom are quite capable of leading the most challenging client assignments. More than half of the firm’s 30 partners have been with Kekst for more than 15 years and two-thirds have Ivy League degrees. They come from a wide range of backgrounds—the financial community, law firms, the White House, and top-tier media such as The New York Times and CBS—and most would never have considered a position with a traditional public relations firm.

Another reason for the firm’s continued success is its diversification beyond the M&A business into a broad array of corporate and financial communications work. While Kekst’s continued dominance of the M&A rankings (it was number one by volume in 2006, according to mergermarket, working on 154 deals) obviously attracts a great deal of attention, that work accounts for a smaller percentage of overall revenues than ever before. Growing practice areas, meanwhile, include crisis communications; bankruptcy and restructuring; litigation support; corporate governance; proxy and control contests; investor relations; regulatory matters; and labor relations, while the firm’s expanding private equity practice also generated significant revenues last year.

Technology Agency of the Year
Schwartz Communications

Schwartz Communications has developed a deceptively simple formula: it helps companies—primarily in the technology and medical technology sectors—obtain the kind of media coverage that turns technical innovation into market advantage. It’s a formula that has paid off handsomely. Schwartz is now one of the five largest independent public relations firms in the United States, with fees of more than $26 million (up 22 percent) in 2006 and more than 200 people operating from its Waltham, Mass., headquarters, its San Francisco office, and its first international location, Stockholm.

Founder and chief executive Steve Schwartz believes the firm works for more technology and healthcare companies than any other PR firm—of any size—and with 180 clients on the firm’s books he could very well be right. Those clients turn to Schwartz first and foremost for its ability to provide both quality and quantity of impactful media coverage. The firm works hard to deliver a high volume of on-target, on-message media coverage that moves the needle in terms of awareness and understanding and is particularly effective in helping smaller, more nimble, entrepreneurial companies level the playing field against larger, big-budget competitors. It’s an approach that makes Schwartz the agency-of-choice for entrepreneurial tech clients looking to level the playing field against larger entrenched competition or redefine the status quo in an industry sector.

New developments in 2006 included the creation of a new tool, Scout, which enables clients to track, monitor and impact editorial and commentary in the blogosphere and other online media, and the launch of a branded service using the latest in podcasting technology. Perhaps most interesting, though, was the launch of the firm’s first overseas office in Stockholm, and the appointment of a former Schwartz employee Kristina Eubenius as managing director responsible for meeting the European PR needs of Schwartz’s U.S. clients as developing business among European-based clients.

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