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

2016 Global Digital Agencies of the Year

The 2017 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 of the Winners and Finalists across specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners were announced at the 2017 Global SABRE Awards, which took place at the PRovoke17 Global PR Summit in Miami on the evening of 25 October.

Winner: Weber Shandwick (Global/IPG)

Weber Shandwick's inarguable leadership position in the PR industry has owed much to its recent ability to elevate its offering above its rivals — with its service expansion, particularly into content, creative and digital, proving especially crucial in this regard. Under the leadership of such figures as global president Gail Heimann and chief digital officer Chris Perry, Weber Shandwick has invested deeply in upping its digital capabilities, spearheaded by the Mediaco content unit that has helped define the nascent world of brand publishing for the firm's clients, and delivered strong growth across all of its global regions, with digital now accounting for 40% of global revenue.

In EMEA, the Mediaco rollout helped the firm win Digital Agency of the Year for 2016, as did the sheer quantity and quality of Weber Shandwick's digital content. As a result, digital contributed 30% of Weber Shandwick’s revenues across the EMEA region, having grown by 25% last year, bolstered by numerous hires in data/analytics and content creation, and reflected in several eye-catching campaigns: in London, the #washedaway billboard campaign for charity Action Aid that used a weather data-activated billboard to catch the eye of shoppers, while Esso deployed virtual reality to help consumers experience Formula 1 from a unique perspective; in Sweden, a video of the nation’s synchronized swimming team under the influence helped insurer Trygg Hansa draw attention to drunk driving; in Germany, the firm helped Deutsche Telekom use YouTube to amplify its corporate storytelling. — PH

Finalists

Edelman (Global/Independent)

Edelman’s digital capabilities have always remained a notch above most of their rivals, and continue to power growth while many other large agencies continue to struggle to adapt to the new digital and social environment. 'Pure' digital revenues are growing by about 10%; the firm has hired more than 400 creatives and planners for its multi-channel content creation operation; and it now manages more than 900 social media communities for clients from Olive Garden to Disney.

That growth rate, of course, only accounts for the firm’s pure-play digital activity—the content creation, digital design, and community management work delivered by a specialist team. The real story, instead, lies in the network’s fundamental restructuring of its operating structure to ensure that all aspects of digital — including those more readily associated with advertising agencies — are delivered across its agency model. Edelman has invested significant sums in this initiative, across such areas as search engine marketing, social media optimisation and measurement/analytics, building centralised hubs that features skills and talent that each of its markets can tap into on a local basis.

The work suggests that Edelman's moves to stay ahead of its rivals are bearing fruit, highlighted by numerous eye-catching campaigns from across the world. — PH/AS

 

North Strategic (Canada/Independent)

Founded in 2011, North Strategic is not only one of Canada’s fastest-growing national PR firms, having grown to 65 people in less than five years, but has also forged an impressive reputation for creativity and digital expertise under the leadership of co-founders Mia Pearson and Justin Creally. One year ago, the firm consolidated its early gains by winning our Canadian Agency of the Year honours, and its progress in 2015 proved that the award was hardly a flash in the pan.

Revenues grew by an additional 36% last year to more than $10m, across its offices in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary. Much of this was again powered by the firm’s focus on redefining PR beyond media relations to encompass a broader range of influencer and digital activity — with its sister company Notch Video, an online video marketplace, growing by almost 50% in 2015, providing clients with a realistic alternative to the traditional advertising model for content creation.

It is an approach that has clearly struck a chord in the market, helping North Strategic net significant new business from Avignon, Enercare, GoodLife Fitness, PWC, and Canadian Tire, who join a client roster that already features Twitter, Airbnb, Samsung, Canada Goose, Diageo and Ubisoft. The firm’s senior team also grew in tandem with its operational expansion, with Paula Worthington arriving last year to lead its Calgary office; Alice Choe joining as a senior advisor on digital and social; and, Wendie Godbout hired to oversee Montreal.

North’s creativity continues to catch the eye — last year it launched a strategic partnership with Ten Thousand Coffees that resulted in North Navigate, a conversation platform designed to bridge the gap between marketers and millennials. The firm also rolled out an influencer marketing practice — and both of these initiatives helped it produce some innovative work for Cadillac Fairview, Shomi, Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons. Each of the campaigns was notable for an ability to blend innovative storytelling with digital platform expertise. — AS

Precision (US/Independent)

When Barack Obama was re-elected as President in 2012, much of the credit for his victory went to his campaign’s sophisticated use of digital and data analytics — an effort that resonated widely in a corporate world that sometimes struggles to innovate. So it stands to reason that the architects of President Obama’s re-election campaign have achieved considerable success with Precision, the firm they launched in mid-2013.

Founded by former deputy campaign managers Stephanie Cutter and Jen O’Malley Dillon, along with Teddy Goff, who served as digital director for Obama’s re-election drive, Precision’s growth since it launched has been eye-catching — it now numbers 50 people across Washington DC, New York and Los Angeles, and has more than 25 clients — including companies such as the Bank of America, Pfizer, GE, Fusion, Under Armour, Humana and the Sacramento Kings, along with organizations and causes like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Liberal Party of Canada/Justin Trudeau, Americans for Responsible Solutions, the DNC, the ACLU, and Hillary for America.

Across all of this work, Precision demonstrates an ability to drive earned, digital and paid media by deploying a rigorous approach to data and analytics, enabled in large part by the vast expansion of digital media and platforms. In this, Precision approximates a next-generation communications agency, even if its work focuses squarely on the public affairs sector. The arrival last year of Matthew McGregor — described as ’Obama’s digital attack dog’ by the Guardian — has only added more heft to Precision’s offering.

In particular, three of Precision’s campaigns catch the eye. For the Coalition of Public Safety, Precision helped make meaningful progress on the issue of criminal justice reform, despite a gridlocked Congress. For the John F. Kennedy Library, meanwhile, Precision drove unprecedented results for the Profile in Courage Award. And, perhaps most high-profile of all, Precision crafted and executed a field and messaging strategy for for the Liberal Party of Canada’s election campaign, helping elevate Justin Trudeau to Prime Minister. — AS

W2O Group (US/Independent)

Fifteen years into its founding, the W2O Group has followed an astonishing growth trajectory that’s fueled by its ability to leverage precise, custom analytics to inform strategy and creative for clients. With its blend of proprietary algorithms, platforms and approaches, the W2O Group stands out amongst its peers — larger and smaller — for making analytics a core part of its business.

W2O has demonstrated clients are willing to pay for analytics as the holding group bounds towards the $100m threshold. Global revenue is up 15% to $95m with profitability nearing 20%, while headcount is around 425.  The tenure of its top 20 clients is notable with many with relationships exceeding seven years. US offices include Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Napa, New York, San Francisco (HQ) and Silicon Valley.

Prior to last year, the analytics offerings were somewhat disparate across the firm. But under the leadership of CEO Jim Weiss and president Bob Pearson, W2O’s analytics was centralized to equalize access across its agency brands — WCG, Twist, and Brewlife. The agency brands have each carved its own niche across W2O’s practice areas (mostly healthcare and technology with ambitions to grow further beyond this). Twist surpassed WCG as the largest operating company within the group ($48m) with a focus on healthcare, pharma and biotech. WCG closed the year at $39m with its clients split almost evenly across health and tech, meanwhile Brewlife is around $10m focused on emerging brands in the healthcare space.

Yet, W2O’s most distinct market differentiator remains its analytics offering that includes  MDigitalLife that maps the footprint of more than 700,000 health ecosystem profiles; the “SocialGraphics” analytics operating system that pulls data from a host of sources for statistical analyses; the Digital Health Influencer Index which is a proprietary database; and Inception, an analytics-driven crisis tool.

Notable work includes Sanofi “Flu + You” to raise awareness around the importance of flu vaccines, Tejava Tea “Nothing is Perfect” for influencer targeting and LAP-BAND “It Fits” a brand revitalization effort. — AaS