Global Digital PR Agencies of the Year | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2015 Global Digital Agencies of the Year

Our 2015 Global PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 400 submissions and face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across North America, EMEA and Asia-Pacific.

Analysis of all agencies in each category can be accessed via the navigation menu or here. Winners are announced at the 2015 Global SABRE Awards, taking place at the Global PR Summit in Miami on the evening of 28th October​.

Winner — Edelman (Independent)

Edelman has long been known as a pioneer in digital and social media, leveraging its engagement expertise in the social realm and acquiring digital build and content creation expertise across all three major regions.

In North America, the firm has made major investments in digital and social media across paid, earned, owned and shared media. Edelman continues to lead the way in that arena, managing 950 communities on social platforms, and in 2014 acquiring United Entertainment Group, a company that gives Edelman clients access to sports and entertainment celebrities, properties and companies — expanding its content capabilities even further.

In Europe, meanwhile, the addition of the Deportivo team—coupled with an expanding Edelman Berland research capability that includes close to 40 people in the region—means that the firm remains on the cutting edge. Evidence can be found in work ranging from the Dove “Choose Beautiful” campaign to Shell’s “smarter driving” work to anti-smoking campaign that took place in the online game Minecraft, to a fine integrated branding campaign commemorating the Armenian genocide.

And Edelman’s digital practice contributes about 12 percent of its revenues across the Asia-Pacific region, a number that is slightly misleading because that’s only the firm’s pure-play digital activity—the content creation, digital design, and community management work delivered by a specialist team. But last year’s Asia-Pacific Digital Agency of the Year now sees digital and social elements—and expanding data and analytics capabilities—integrated into almost all of its work in the region.--PH

Finalists

BlueDigital (China, Blue Focus Communications Group)

China’s BlueFocus Communication Group reorganized its public relations operations under the BlueDigital brand in 2013, reflecting the decision by founder and CEO Oscar Zhao to ensure that digital—and in particular a major commitment to data and analytics—is at the center of the firm’s business model. The impressive track record, which has seen a firm founded in 1996 grow to become the world’s 14th largest public relations group, continued apace last year, with fee income up by about 40 percent to around $200 million.

From offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Xi’an (now supplemented by strong consumer and digital and social capabilities in the US and Europe following acquisitions such as Citizen Relations and We Are Social), a team of 1,500 serves clients such as Lenovo, Baidu, JD, Cisco, Canon, Haier, TCL, LG, Skyworth, Jaguar Land Rover, Infiniti, MeadJohnson, Pepsi, and SPD Bank, with key additions last year including Volkswagen Audi, Toyota and Microsoft. The work—almost all of which is driven by the firm’s proficiency on channels such as SinaWeibo, Renren, and WeChat as well as its expertise in mobile marketing—included two In2 SABRE-winning campaigns for work in content creation, as well as 14 Asia-Pacific SABRE nominations for work ranging from youth marketing for P&G to corporate reputation work for Lenovo (as it celebrates its 30th anniversary) to CSR work for Baidu.—PH

Ogilvy Public Relations (WPP)

Ogilvy PR’s new commitment to building “communities of excellence” builds on and goes beyond the [email protected] platform—the multidisciplinary and multi-agency team it has led in recent years—and includes communities focused on insights and strategy, social media, and content, all areas in which the firm can claim leadership. The social business grew by 35% last year, managing content and community for Firefox, Huawei, VMWare and others; providing integrated digital support to American Express and Coca-Cola; and supporting Interface and Merck with consulting and strategy.

Highlights range from an integrated campaign to help Spanish biofuels company Abengoa build its brand in the US to the “GIF that keeps on GIFing” effort for Lincoln Motor Company, using third-party storytelling to shift perceptions and increase share of voice. And Ogilvy is not resting on its digital laurels. There’s a new [email protected] “command center” in New York, providing real-time engagement for clients such as America Express, Coca-Cola and UPS, and a new partnership with Social.Lab to deliver paid social excellence.

There’s a strong emphasis on data and analytics—and on the planning process that helps extract actionable insights from all that data. And while so much digital and social work focuses on consumer engagement, Ogilvy has been thinking about corporate reputation, helping companies be more transparent, prepare for crises, and tell their stories online in a more proactive manner.—PH

The W2O Group
(Independent)

The W2O Group has come a long way from being the healthcare-focused entity that Jim Weiss founded in 2001. Weiss has transformed Weiss Communications Partners from a healthcare agency into an analytics powerhouse that is home to anchor firm WCG, Twist Marketing, Brew Life and W2O Ventures — as well as acquiring a handful of players to deliver on its analytics promise. The rebrand came in 2012 and W2O has reaped generous rewards as the company has seen double-digit year-on-year growth since then.

Total revenue up 10% 2014 to $82.7m and headcount was up 2% to 402 — but even more notably, the firm has more than 150 people working in its analytics division. CEO Jim Weiss announced another minor restructuring this year that codifies a four-person executive team with chief innovation officer Bob Pearson, CFO Tony Esposito and COO Jenn Gottlieb. Aaron Strout was also upped to president of WCG — signaling a stronger shift towards tech. Key clients include  Medtronic, Galderma, Merck, Roche, Pfizer, Otsuka, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon and Intel. New additions include Allergan, Astra Zeneca, Bayer, Harley Davidson and PepsiCo.

Ultimately what makes the W2O Group standout is its analytics expertise that is unparalleled in the industry. This year, Weiss moved the analytics and insights offering into its own entity that services all the W2O brands. Among its offerings are software-based models focused on identifying influencers, understanding the networks in which they operate, and providing targeted engagement and content; and MDigitalLife which has mapped the digital footprint of more than 500,000 health ecosystem profiles (including physicians, healthcare advocates and hospitals).

This has translated into memorable work like the Genomic Health “Your Prostate Your Decision” campaign in which W2O Group partnered with Genomic Health to educate patients and caregivers about the company’s prostate cancer diagnostic test. For HP’s “Always On” campaign the W2O Group created a content engine and agile content. Western Digital tasked the W2O Group with creating a social media campaign to engage fans around MyCloud, a personal cloud storage device for its #KeepItPersonal campaign. — AaS

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic)

Weber Shandwick’s “engaging, always” tagline underscores its commitment to the engagement that defines this new era of marketing and communications. Digital and social accounts for about a third of the firm’s revenue and its content machine produced 90 terabytes of content last year.

The past 12 months have seen the firm further strengthen its capabilities in key markets. Earlier this year, Weber Shandwick named Chris Perry chief digital officer globally, leading efforts to elevate and expand the firm’s digital strategy, content production and media innovation capabilities, which currently include more than 600 digital, creative, social media, content and analytics specialists.

In North America, the firm brought in veteran journalist Vivian Schiller, who was most recently head of news at Twitter, as editor-in-residence, working with Weber and its clients to "broaden thinking on media change and inspire brands to innovate the way they engage audiences in the digital era," and supporting the firm’s Mediaco content consulting and publishing practice.

The firm also recently appointed Jennifer Sosin to chair its global strategy and insights team, charged with integrating data, research and analytics across client teams and practices.

In Europe, meanwhile, Weber Shandwick hired Adam Clyne as EMEA head of digital from content specialist TVC Group. In his new role, he leads an operation that includes Mediaco and GoLive, the firm’s real-time production and live-streaming capability.

The investment was reflected in the firm’s work: pushing the envelope in social media for pharmaceutical giant Novartis and its MS community Living Like You; the global #WishesForBaby campaign for Fisher-Price; Unilever’s All Things Hair content channel (more than 160,000 subscribers); and its social media campaign for Kindle in China.--PH