When Twin Cities-based integrated agency Olson acquired fast-growing Chicago creative shop Dig Communications at the end of 2010, it recognized the increasingly central role that public relations now plays in the brand-building process and instantly created one of the leading PR firms in the Midwest, with 70 PR staff (out of a total of around 400) operating out of offices in the region’s two largest marketing markets, providing outstanding brand-building counsel (as well as solid corporate and public affairs capabilities) to blue-chip brands such as MillerCoors, Wm. Wrigley, Southwest Airlines, Harley-Davidson, General Mills, and PepsiCo.

Dig had distinguished itself over the past seven years with an approach that combined smart strategic thinking and big creative ideas, embraced social media and its potential for deeper stakeholder engagement (all part of a philosophy of “putting the public first in public relations”), and drew on the big agency experiences of founder Peter Marino (now president of the merged PR operation) to create a culture light on bureaucracy and bullshit and heavy on entrepreneurialism and empowerment. Olson’s existing 12-person public relations operation, which had been winning a few creative plaudits of its own, has been quickly integrated, and the merged entity rebranded with the Olson name.

Robust double digit growth in 2010 meant that the firm ended the year with combined revenue of around $7.8 million, with strong growth in the social media space, multicultural marketing, and corporate and public affairs practices (although consumer work continues to account for about 70 percent of revenues). There was new business from PepsiCo (including its brands Naked Juice, Izze Sparkling Juice and Lipton) and from JR Watkins and Terlato Wines.

On the client front, the firm helped Southwest Airlines relaunch its Rapid Rewards program; handled PR support and strategy surrounding the Super Bowl XLV ad launch for Lipton Brisk with Eminem; provided PR support and strategy surrounding the launch of Lipton’s new 100% Naturals product line; and worked on the KraftMaid’s largest product launch, in conjunction with the brand’s new 360° ad campaign.

“Dig [now Olson PR] provides it all,” says Jonathan Stern, director of marketing communications for MillerCoors. “They always are creative, strategic and follow through with execution at or beyond our team’s expectations. I spent a lot of years on the agency side and its level of client service starting with Pete and going all the way down to an account executive is second to none. We truly value their MillerCoors team as an extension of our team and not a vendor or an agency.”

In addition to its Chicago and Minneapolis offices, Olson has offices in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Milwaukee, as well as in Toronto, following another acquisition in early 2011. The firm does some international work for the Global Brewers Initiative, a coalition of the four largest brewers in the world, which has taken the account teams to Europe, Russia and Africa in recent months.