2010 North American Agencies of the Year
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Holmes Report
News and insights from the global PR industry

2010 North American Agencies of the Year

The best performing North American Agencies of the Year, by practice area, specialty and size.

Holmes Report

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.


Boutique Agency of the Year: Kohnstamm Communications
Minneapolis-based Kohnstamm Communications provides conclusive proof that a boutique firm (about 15 people strong) in a smaller market can consistently generate prominent national media coverage, securing feature articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, Fortune, BusinessWeek, and on CNN, CNBC, NPR, NBC’s Today Show and ABC’s Good Morning America. The firm is probably best known for its work in the food and beverage area (about half of its revenues), where clients include the Thai Kitchen/Simply Asia subsidiary of McCormick, Mom’s Best Naturals, and Kettle Cuisine, but Kohnstamm also has expertise in professional and financial services, healthcare, corporate social responsibility, and—a new area in 2009—beauty. New business successes included assignments from Cascade’s Paper of Montreal, Elliott Wave International, ProUrocare, Happy Baby Food, La Tortilla Factory, and Lavera Naturkosmetik. As a result, fees were up by 17 percent. Kohnstamm is also a permanent fixture on our list of the Best Boutique Agencies to Work For in the United States.

New Agency of the Year: Revive
Revive opened its doors in September of 2009, which makes it an exceptionally new agency, even by the standards of our New Agency of the Year category, but under the leadership of Brandon Edwards (former president and COO of California public affairs firm Davies) and several colleagues, it hit the ground running, offering healthcare public relations communications expertise—including branding, issues management, social media, grassroots, public affairs, and crisis communication capabilities—to clients including hospitals, health systems, physician organizations, and specialty providers.
Consumer Agency of the Year: Marina Ma her 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-tobusiness (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.
Best International Agency to Work For: Fleishman-Hillard
After handing off its Best Agency to Work For trophy to Edelman last year, Fleishman-Hillard returns to the number one spot among the large multinational agencies for the third time in the past four years, a reflection of the priority chief executive Dave Senay has placed upon maintaining the firm’s reputation as an employer of choice and the professionalism of a human resources department led by chief talent office Agnes Gioconda. Together, Senay and Gioconda have helped Fleishman-Hillard to deliver on its service-marked promise to provide “The Best Career Experience of Your Life.” Fleishman scored high marks on almost every dimension of our employee survey, but there were three critical areas in which it significantly outperformed its big agency peers: professional development, values, and compensation. The firm’s values—respect for the individual; teamwork is everything; quality service; a commitment to the highest ethical standards—have remained constant for many years, and have been supplemented more recently by a strong ethics credo, outlining responsibilities to employees, clients, shareholders and communities.
Best Large Agency to Work For: Padilla Speer Beardsley
Minneapolis-based Padilla Speer Beardsley has featured regularly on our Best Agencies to Work For list, but this is the first time it has ranked number one in its weight class, a reflection of the commitment of chief executive Lynn Casey and vice president of human resources Barb Kuklock to ensure that as the firm grows—it now has more than 100 people—it continues to operate according to the strong Midwestern values that have earned it a reputation as one of the best managed firms in the country. The firm helps employees “keep learning” with a professional development program called Padilla University, where courses focus on topics such as ethical decision making; difficult conversations; new business development; and media relations best practices. Padilla Speer Beardsley also has a passion for giving back to the communities where its employee-owners live and in 2008 its philanthropic efforts were honored with the coveted Minnesota Keystone Award, presented annually by the regional chamber of commerce to companies with extraordinary philanthropic records. And finally, it’s clear that employee ownership remains one of the firm’s most important assets when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Says one respondent: “The fact that we’re an employee-owned firm means decisions are made here and they positively impact us all rather than a faceless leader or group of shareholders and we have a role in the decision-making process.”
Best Midsize Agency to Work For: Davies
Last year was a tumultuous one for Davies, which saw the departure of agency chief executive Brandon Edwards to launch his own firm, which took with it much of the California public affairs agency’s healthcare business. But it’s clear that the disruption did not distract the firm from its commitment to workplace excellence, and Davies was named Best Agency to Work For in its category for the fourth consecutive year. “Davies wins,” says one respondent, summing up the culture that helped the firm continue to prosper despite the changes of 2009. “We have a track record of winning with integrity. And after a very challenging year, it is that integrity that helped us survive very difficult moments.” Another sums up what he (or she) likes about Davies in one word: “Pride. At others firms I just worked for a paycheck…. At Davies it’s different. Every day I am truly proud to work here and the high caliber of work we deliver. Our company from top to bottom fosters excellence and encourages innovation, helping us create something to be truly proud of. I always know what is expected of me and I am consistently given all the tools and encouragement to surpass even my own expectations.”
Best Small Agency to Work For: Warschawski
David Warschawski describes his Baltimore-based firm as a “vision oriented organization,” and that’s a theme that’s echoed throughout any discussion of the firm’s workplace environment. Each new employee attends a seminar to learn how a vision-oriented organization functions and the role vision plays in the firm’s day-to-day operations. And people are encouraged to learn how they can apply vision orientation in their personal lives. There’s a unique emphasis on work-life balance, tailored to individual needs. Says senior vice president Shana Harris: “We do not believe that everyone has or wants the same ‘work/life balance’ equation. Therefore, we believe the company should not set or mandate each team member’s proper work/life balance by instituting company-wide policies. Rather, we believe each team member should determine the work/life balance that makes them happiest. We believe in the philosophy of freedom and responsibility. As a company, we then do everything we can to support that team member’s individually optimal work/life balance approach.”
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