Consumer Agency of the Year: Marina Maher Communications
Initially best known for its expertise in the fashion and beauty realm, and more recently for its broad expertise in marketing to women, Marina Maher Communications has expanded beyond its consumer roots (most notably into the health and well-being categories) but nevertheless remains one of the best brand-building public relations firms in the U.S. market. The firm’s ability to deliver strategic public relations support to consumer brands is evident from the fact that it has not only survived several waves of agency consolidation at flagship client Procter & Gamble, but prospered, adding new and broader assignments. Last year, the firm was named agency of record for Dial’s beauty products division; won the Post Cereals (Shredded Wheat, Raisin Bran, and Grape Nuts) account; added Poise, from Kimberly-Clark, and Priscilla of Boston (six designer lines of wedding-related luxury fashions); and expanded its food and beverage portfolio with Two Hands Wines from Australia. As a result, revenues were up by around 13 percent and MMC ended the year with fees believed to be in the $20 million range. The firm also added senior talent, naming Keith Hughes (who previously led the P&G business at MS&L) as a managing director of the consumer group.
Creative Agency of the Year: RF|Binder
It has been less than a decade since RF|Binder was spun out of Ruder Finn, and in that time it has reinvented itself more than once, but over the past few years it has emerged as one of the leading generalist firms in the New York market, with a broad portfolio of clients spanning financial services (Bank of America), healthcare (Eli Lilly), consumer products (Dunkin’ Donuts) and business-to-business (McGraw Hill) sectors and expertise in branding, community relations, issues management and corporate reputation. The unifying factor isn’t an industry sector or practice expertise but the agency’s “Ideas Matter” philosophy, a belief that “ideas, finely articulated and forcefully expressed, change the world,” which helps the firm (a formidable research capability doesn’t hurt) develop distinctive thought leadership platforms for its clients. It’s an approach that helped RF|Binder garner seven Gold and Silver SABRE nominations this year—more than any other midsize firm—and to deliver breakthrough programming ranging from its Banking on Neighborhoods community outreach effort for BoA to a $4 million integrated marketing campaign for Malaysia Kitchen.
Crisis Agency of the Year: Sloane & Company
Crisis is not all that Elliot Sloane’s firm does, but over the past couple of years it has become apparent that the agency’s roots in the financial communications arena, coupled with its growing expertise in public affairs, have made it one of the go-to firms in New York for high-profile crisis and issues work that goes beyond financial transaction work to include a surprisingly wide range of high-profile “special situation.” Over the past couple of years, Sloane & Company has worked with a coalition of companies including AT&T, Cisco and Viacom put together an alliance to help content providers protect their copyright interests; provided counsel to T. Boone Pickens on an award-winning initiative to ensure that natural gas was part of the national energy debate; helped Cablevision with the campaign against a new West Side sports’ stadium in Manhattan; was called in to provide PR support to several victims of the Bernie Madoff scandal; and in 2009 was hired to represent the bondholders of General Motors and secure a better settlement than bondholders received in similar situation, and helped a defense contractor secure budget for a controversial program.
Employee Communications Agency of the Year: The Grossman Group
Whether because employee communications programs are more often run out of human resources departments than corporate communications, or because the majority of public relations firms have failed to address the strategic internal needs of their clients, employee communications remains a great source of untapped business opportunity for the bulk of the PR industry. But not for The Grossman Group, which has developed a suite of proprietary tools and methodologies designed to help clients address some of their most critical challenges: facilitating changes in leadership at the C-suite level; introducing new ways of doing business, including global performance management systems, customer focus, new cultures and employee behaviors; measuring the communications effectiveness of communications functions and leaders; and tackling tough business imperatives such as improving compliance and environment, health and safety, and challenging long-standing cultural norms. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2009, the firm formalized many of its employee communications methodologies while continuing to serve a roster of clients that includes CVS/Caremark; Heinz; Johnson Controls; Lilly; Lockheed Martin; McDonald’s; Microsoft; and Rockwell Automation.
Financial Agency of the Year: FD
Last year was not a great year to be a financial communications firm—the global economic crisis put the brakes on the mergers and acquisition and IPO businesses where such agencies make most of their money—but the downturn did underscore the wisdom of FD’s decision to partner with management consulting firm FTI, which specializes in restructurings and is thus (a) counter-cyclical and (b) a good source of interesting, crisis-related work. So despite the downturn, FD continues to have the largest capital markets practice in the world, with approximately 250 practitioners helping clients with ongoing communication with the investment community during a time of increased uncertainty and need for financial transparency, while the firm was once again the most active global PR adviser on mergers and acquisitions, according to mergermarket. Interesting assignments including working with Allstate Insurance to highlight the company’s longstanding commitment to finding and promoting solutions to middle class financial challenges, producing a series of surveys examining the ways in which Americans are navigating the post-recession economy, their faith in key institutions and their concerns about the future; supporting Dow Chemical around issues arising from the acquisition of Rohm & Haas, to the successful articulation of Dow’s go forward strategy; raising the profile of the Tata Nano for Tata Group; supporting the Dollar General IPO: and providing communications support to Reader’s Digest Association Inc. leading up to and through its Chapter 11 filing.
Healthcare Agency of the Year: Cooney Waters Group
Since its launch in 1992, Cooney Waters Group has consistently provided expert healthcare public relations counsel to an impressive roster of clients, building consensus around important health-related issues, introducing new products and managing disease awareness campaigns across a wide range of categories. The firm has a strong and long-tenured senior leadership team that includes founder and chairman Lenore Cooney; executive VP and general manager Timothy Bird; executive VP's Fred Lake and Lisa Weiss, and Sherri Michelstein, president of the firm’s Alembic Health Communications public affairs unit, and a client list that includes Abbott Fund, the American Lung Association, The Coca-Cola Company, Sanofi Pasteur, and UCB. And 2009 was one of the best years in the firm’s history: along with six other healthcare communication agencies, CWG formed The Health Collective Network, a multinational consultancy dedicated to developing and managing healthcare communication programs across international markets (clients include GlaxoSmithKline, Therakos and Nucletron), while new business from Par Pharmaceutical, the National Association of School Nurses/sanofi Pasteur Voices of Meningitis campaign, and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, helped drive an impressive 20 percent increase in fee income to around $12.5 million.
Public Affairs Agency of the Year: Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications
Arguably the best public affairs firm beyond the Washington, D.C., marketplace, Boston-based Rasky Baerlein specializes in developing and executing strategic public relations and public affairs programs, from providing executive-level communications counsel to managing a crisis to winning a referendum. Its capabilities include corporate communications counsel, media, government, investor and media relations, crisis and reputation management, community affairs, integrated communications, re-branding/re-positioning, and grassroots initiatives and lobbying, and it has sector expertise in education, energy and the environment, financial services, healthcare, non-profit, real estate, retail, and sports. Last year saw the expansion of the firm’s D.C. operation with the addition of Christopher Cooper, a 10-year veteran of The Wall Street Journal, and new business from clients such as Iron Mountain, MediaCom, Cambridge Consultants, Emerald Development, St Raphael’s Healthcare, Next Street, and CeltiCare Health Plans of Massachusetts, contributing to 8 percent revenue growth (fees are around $8.8 million) and joining a roster that includes the Boston Red Sox, MasterCard, Toyota, Eli Lilly and GDF Suez.
Strategic Agency of the Year: MWW Group
Talking with MWW chief executive Michael Kempner, it’s clear that he enjoyed himself in 2009, despite—or perhaps because of—the challenges posed by the global economic meltdown. It was a year for MWW to prove its metal and to demonstrate that its positioning (a full-service agency that remains more nimble, more aggressive and more entrepreneurial than most of its multinational peers) was a source of competitive advantage. Historically best known for its work in financial communications (its bankruptcy practice is among the leaders in the space) and public affairs, MWW now has strength across a wide range of practices: its consumer group has really come into its own over the past three years; its healthcare practice is growing; and its Dialogue Media digital group is formidable. The firm’s ability to deliver strategic, results-oriented campaigns across all practices is what sets it apart, however. Highlights last year ranged from launching the Volkswagen GTI with an iPhone application to a “cankle awareness” publicity blitz for Gold’s Gym; from leadership positioning for Deloitte to an education-related CSR campaign for Target; from labor relations for Harrah’s to the largest NASDAQ IPO of the year for Verisk Analytics; from a social media campaign on behalf of the Coalition for Financial Choice to handling a plant closure for Beiersdorf in Connecticut.
Technology Agency of the Year: Atomic Public Relations
During a year in which clients were monitoring return-on-investment even more closely than usual, it should come as no surprise that Atomic’s distinctive analytical approach to communications—its ComContext process, developed before the firm took on any clients, is designed to provide agency teams with critical insights that fuel strategy, elevate creative thinking, and provide granular metrics on program performance—helped Atomic hold its own during a turbulent time in the tech sector. Founder Andy Getsey believes the firm’s analytics-enhanced strategy and creative thinking, its ability to mix traditional and digital and social media, video and search engine optimization, deliver superior results; he says clients often see a 100 percent increase on many measurement metrics after switching to Atomic. And clients from deep tech to consumer tech, from Internet commerce to digital entertainment—Verizon and Smule in mobile consumer technology, Bebo and Linkedin in social networking, Hotwire and RealtyTrac in web commerce—back that up.