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Consumer Agency of the Year: Olson
Chicago-based Dig Communications, founded by Peter Marino in 2004, was already well on its way to being one of the hottest young PR firms in the country when it was acquired by Twin Cities ad agency Olson in December of 2010. That deal helped fuel an impressive 40 percent increase in PR fee income for the firm, now operating under the Olson banner, ending the year at close to $11 million. That growth was driven in part by new business from Mars, Reynolds and Dremel and in part by expanded assignments from the firm’s longstanding clients: MillerCoors, Wrigley and PepsiCo (which added brands such as Tropicana and Propel Zero to Brisk, Lipton Natural Iced Tea, Naked and others). Olson is best known for its creative consumer work, from an opportunistic effort on behalf of the Skittles brand after Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch celebrated a touchdown with a handful of the candy to the launch of Dunder Mifflin branded paper for Staples subsidiary Quill.com. But what catches the eye is the way the firm blends traditional consumer work with more corporate notions of CSR and community outreach through its proprietary Brand Anthropology approach.
Honorable mention: Cone, DeVries PR, Lippe Taylor, Zeno Group
Corporate Agency of the Year: FTI Consulting
When FTI Consulting acquired what was then Financial Dynamics in 2009, it was a watershed moment not only for FD but for the PR industry as a whole: the first time a top tier firm had been sold to a management consulting firm rather than an ad agency or marketing company. The first three years of the marriage between the two disciplines suggest a strong degree of compatibility. FD—renamed FTI in 2011—has continued to thrive, with revenues up by a healthy 7 percent last year, and to benefit from synergies in areas such as change communication and litigation and regulatory support. In the US, the firm picked up new business from Novartis while continuing its high-profile work for Transocean (one of the companies at the center of the BP oil spill), Allstate, Comcast, The Dow Chemical Company, and Independent Petroleum Association; added talent, most notably Robert Knott, who previously led the GE ecomagination work at Edelman; added new capabilities in digital and social media; and produced some impressive thought leadership, including a paper calling for CEOs to take on a more statesmanlike role. All of that took place in a year that saw Ed Reilly named global chief executive and Mark McCall promoted to head of strategic communication for the Americas region.
Honorable mention: Abernathy MacGregor, Brunswick, Glover Park, Kekst + Company
Creative Agency of the Year: M Booth
No practice within the public relations discipline has changed more as a result of the digital and social media revolution than consumer marketing, and M Booth has changed right along with it, adding new capabilities, new clients, and in 2011 a new positioning. It’s not just that M Booth has built an impressive social capability (though it has, with its own FirstWord digital practice and the shared resources of its parent company Next Fifteen doing strong work for brands ranging from American Express to The Macallan), but that it has developed a new approach, “creative science,” which places a heavier emphasis on research and insight alongside the firm’s well-established ability to develop breakthrough creative ideas. All of that helped M Booth to approximately 20 percent growth in 2011, with revenues of slightly more than $14 million and new business from brands like Allianz, Banfi Vinters, Disney Consumer Products, Foursquare, General Electric and longtime client Unilever.
Honorable mention: Carmichael Lynch Spong, Coyne PR, Fast Horse, Zeno Group
Crisis Agency of the Year: Sloane & Company
Eliot Sloane’s 10-year-old public relations agency works across three sectors: about a third of its business involves financial communications, a third is public affairs, and a third is crisis—but across all three sectors Sloane & Company earns its fees by delivering candid and courageous counsel directly to the C-suite at times of great stress. The past year was a good one for the firm, which saw revenues increase by 10 percent to around $11 million (though the bottom line has always been more of a priority than the top) and a host of high-profile assignments. Sloane was brought in by Philips Electronics to communicate with the global investment community a fundamental shift in its business; worked with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to address a prominent activist investor; helped Walgreens through a very public dispute with Express Script; and added Chesapeake Energy and the American Gas Association to its clients in the issues-rich energy sector (where it has picked up awards for its efforts on behalf of T Boone Pickens). Pound for pound—Sloane has a staff of about 20—few firms are doing as much contentious, high-profile business.
Honorable mention: Levick Strategic Communications, Singer Associates
Digital/Social Agency of the Year: Shift Communications
Shift’s investment in an integrated offering that blends paid, owned and earned media reaped rich dividends in 2011, spurring growth of around 15 percent. The firm’s digital capabilities encompass typical social media solutions, along with ecommerce, design/build and a content marketing facility that has proved a true differentiating factor. Shift leveraged this offering to land some impressive new business, including assignments from McDonald’s, AOL, Salesforce.com and H&R Block. And there was plenty of eye-catching digital work, for Overstock.com, Zeo, Everbank and, perhaps most notably, a crisis brief for Applebee’s that offers a model for crisis communications in the social media era.
Honorable mention: Edelman, Ogilvy PR, Weber Shandwick, Zocalo Group
Financial Agency of the Year: Joele Frank Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher
Last year was another strong one for Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher, most obviously in terms of the mergers and acquisitions arena: it was number one in mergermarket’s ranking by value of deals working (handling 87 deals worth a combined $170 billion) and climbed to number two in terms of volume (it actually ranked number one in Corporate control Alert’s similar league table), helping to keep companies such as Airgas, Clorox, Family Dollar, Lionsgate, Potash and Tenet independent. But M&A now accounts for less than a third of the firm’s overall work, with the largest part of its revenues coming from ongoing investor relations and corporate communications work and the rest split between proxy contests (the firm handled shareholder activism issues for Canadian Pacific, Family Dollar, Oshkosh and more) and crisis work including bankruptcies and restructurings and litigation and regulatory action.—PH
Honorable mention: Abernathy MacGregor, CJP, Kekst + Company, Sard Verbinnen
Healthcare Agency of the Year: Marina Maher Communications
Last year was a big year for Marina Maher Communications, which picked up a global SABRE Award, expanded its digital and creative capabilities, and was acquired by Omnicom. Amid all that activity, it would be easy to miss the fact that MMC, one known exclusively for its prowess in the consumer realm, has become a major player in the healthcare arena. A health and wellness practice that began life focused very much on the wellness side of that equation (a natural extension of its unparalleled expertise in marketing to women) has become a robust player in the pharmaceutical business too, drawing on the experience of practice leader Diana Littman Paige (formerly of Cohn & Wolfe) and others. The firm’s major clients include Merck, Novo Nordisk, and Pfizer, with new business from Genentech and Fibrocell contributing to 40 percent growth in the practice last year. Says Noreen Verbrugge, executive director of global communications at Merck: “MMC has keen insight about what is on women's minds, how to reach them and what are the upcoming trends.”—PH
Honorable mention: Biosector 2, ChandlerChicco, CooneyWaters Group, GCI Health
Public Affairs Agency of the Year: Ogilvy
Ogilvy may not seem an intuitive choice for the public affairs honor, but a summary of its 2011 record reveals a depth of performance that puts specialist and network rivals to shame. Ogilvy Government Relations racked up $20m in lobbying fees, making it the highest-ranked PR firm on the list, thanks to big-budget retainers from such clients as Blackstone Group, Chevron and Highstar Capital. The lobbying arm was in fine fettle, but it was Ogilvy’s broader public affairs offering that caught the eye. The firm consolidated its reputation as a go-to-player for high-profile government work, reeling in major new assignments for California’s new health insurance exchange; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Essential Health Benefits Coalition. The firm’s work for Mexico, overseeing efforts to reinvigorate the country’s global reputation and tourism appeal, took place at the highest levels of that country’s government. And, Ogilvy probably deserves some measure of credit for extricating itself from California’s ill-fated high-speed rail project.—AS
Honorable mention: APCO, Capstrat, Davies, Jones Public Affairs
Technology Agency of the Year: Sparkpr
Sparkpr’s growth story became a particularly compelling one in 2011, as it surfed the startup wave to deliver a topline improvement of 20 percent, and an expanded footprint that included new offices in New York and Los Angeles. The Bay Area firm lives and breathes startup culture, but has increasingly proved able to transfer that sensibility to more well-established clients, handling high-profile assignments such as Specific Media’s acquisition of MySpace, and NBC Today Show’s online presence at SXSW. Revenues of more than $10m are generated by just 36 full-time staffers, thanks to a unique business model that warrants commendation. And there was plenty of new business, from such companies as SocialVibe, the Bleacher Report, Vevo, MSNBC, HootSuite, Crowd Factory, Greylock Partners and Sugar CRM.—AS
Honorable mention: Airfoil, Atomic PR, Horn Group, Outcast
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