Large Agency of the Year: Ketchum
After a year in which the revenues of the global public relations industry declined by more than 10 percent, it is worth remembering that at the end of the day, building a great PR agency is largely about doing great work. And over the past 12 months, no agency did more great work than Ketchum, which is why the Omnicom-owned firm is our Large Agency of the Year for 2009.
Ketchum’s work on behalf of Doritos—inviting consumers to “Crash the Super Bowl” with user-generated advertising—was recognized by this publication as the Campaign of the Decade and enjoyed its fourth year of success in 2010. The firm also took home the Campaign of the Year award at the PR Week awards for its work on behalf of Dreyer’s Ice Cream, and led the way among all agencies with 22 finalists for the North American SABRE Awards competition: managing public relations for the 50th anniversary of Barbie, a campaign that revitalized the image of Mattel’s most iconic brand; helping FedEx respond to the economic downturn with a much-imitated Free Resume Printing Day; supporting IBM’s vast Smarter Planet initiative; working with Walgreens to help consumers prepare for flu season.
Beyond all that great work, it wasn’t a bad year for new business either: Ketchum picked up assignments from clients such as Philips (as part of Omnicom’s One Voice agency team), Applied Materials, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Newell Rubbermaid and more; added more multi-market, multidiscipline
assignments to a roster that includes blue-chip brands such as FedEx, IBM, Kodak, Nestle and Nokia; and retained all of its top 50 clients.
Finally, the firm expanded its global footprint more significantly than any of its multinational peers via a merger with sister agency Pleon in Europe.
Midsize Agency of the Year: WCG
WCG, formerly the WeissComm Group, has exploded on to the public relations scene over the past five years—it was named our Healthcare Agency of the Year in each of the past two years—and continued its impressive upward trajectory in 2009 despite the global recession, with fees increasing from close to $17 million in 2008 to in excess of $26 million (organic growth was about 27 percent, with the remainder coming from acquisitions) and headcount increasing to 150, including some impressive senior hires: social and digital media experts Bob Pearson (former head of corporate communications at Dell) and Neville Hobson (a leading U.K. blogger); chief creative officer Paulo Simas; and global managing director Gail Cohen (formerly chair of the global healthcare practice at Burson-Marsteller). The year also saw the launch of a new integrated creative department (including interactive and social media capabilities), the WCG Academy professional development initiative, and several major new business wins.
Small Agency of the Year: Allison & Partners
Since its launch in in September 2001 (a week before the terrorist attacks), Allison & Partners has grown impressively (fees were up 12 percent in 2009 to just under $15 million) to become one of the leading independents in the U.S. market. The plan was to fill the void between large, global agencies and the smaller niche firms, to create a national firm while retaining its independence and entrepreneurial spirit, and last year demonstrated that the strategy continues to resonate with clients. Allison now has offices
in San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, San Diego, Washington, D.C., and—new in 2009—Seattle, and practice expertise that spans consumer (still the largest group, accounting for about a third of revenues), healthcare (new but fast-growing), technology, social impact, public affairs, and corporate communications. New business in 2009 came from Johnny Rockets; L’Oreal USA; Samsung’s
information technology division; TrendMicro; the California Department of Public Health for its statewide anti-tobacco effort; and GE Healthcare. They join a roster that includes Best Western International; Progressive Insurance; Vitamin Shoppe; Sony; PhRMA; Hyundai Hope on Wheels; and The Goldman Environmental Prize.
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.