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Our 2016 North America PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 150 submissions and 50 face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across the US and Canada.
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Some of the things cutting edge firms of today are doing—the expansion into paid media, for example—French/West/Vaughan was doing 15 years ago, when the then-Richard French & Associates acquired local creative shop French & Vaughan, a deal followed by acquisitions spanning licensing, multimedia content creation, and last year entertainment and Hispanic marketing. The result is the FWV has evolved into a $21 million public relations agency (fees were up 13% last year) that can provide a full-service integrated marketing capability to national clients such as Wrangler (a client since the day the firm opened its doors), ABB, Bassett Furniture, German coffee purveyor Melitta, and Berkshire Hathaway-owned Justin Boots, while providing highly-specialized services, most notably in the sports and western lifestyle categories, to clients including athletes and sporting bodies.
A terrific example of what this means to clients is the firm’s 2015 work for Wrangler: faced with mainstream media lack of interest in professional rodeo, FWV helped principal sponsor Wrangler create its own media platform, the Wrangler Network, which has attracted 2.5 million unique viewers to the sport, and even attracted ad support. New business, meanwhile, came from Trailways, the national bus transit system; Paralyzed Veterans of America; Concord Hospitality, the nation's largest independent hotel management company; athletic shoe retailer Fleet Feet; and EA Sports; for its Need for Speed and FIFA 16 video games. — PH
360 PR (Independent)
The calibre of work that Laura Tomasetti’s boutique produces reinforces the creative potential that can be unlocked when brands are willing to genuinely embrace an integrated mindset. In this year’s SABRE Awards, the $7.5m shop was recognized as a finalist several times for its work with Peapod, Kaufmann Mercantile and Balance Bar.
The 50-person team operates across its Boston headquarters, New York, Washington DC and San Francisco working on new and longstanding clients, such as Liberty Mutual Insurance, Stride Rite, Jelly Belly, Juicy Juice, Peapod, Walkers Shortbread, Hasbro, PBS, Stonyfield, illy, Tommee Tippee, among many other household names.
Digital and branding are increasingly central to 360’s work, yielding creative and results-oriented campaigns that stand-out in a highly-competitive environment. This has compelled the firm to further modernize its model by doing things like offering more project-based options for digital work and investing more resources into data mining. 360’s top specialty areas are food & beverage (with a focus on naturals and organics), parenting & kids, home goods & services, entertainment & electronics, adult beverages and fashion & beauty. — AaS
H&M Communications (Independent)
This 13-year-old boutique was called in to boost Hispanic audience turnout for last year’s hit movie Straight Outta Compton. Drawing upon its longstanding expertise in entertainment marketing, H&M secured Latino superstar Pitbull to champion the movie, resulting in an unprecedented Latino turnout. Remarkable work like this earned H&M its debut appearance on our consumer agency shortlist.
President/CEO Etienne Hernandez-Medina has built H&M as an agency for entertainment, media, sports, consumer, and telecom brands looking to reach the fast-growing Latino market with campaigns that span the communications and marketing spectrum. The firm’s co-headquarters exist in Los Angeles and New York with supporting offices in Miami, Chicago and Houston.
Last year, the contraction of one of its larger clients compelled the firm to quickly diversify its portfolio which it did by formalizing Studio 2042 which now represents 25% of its overall billings. By the year’s end, H&M added more than a dozen new clients including Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Fox Home Entertainment, Ringling Bros & Barnum and Bailey, Penguin Publishing, among others.The firm’s revenues exceed $3m with more than 35% growth. — AaS
MSLGroup (Publicis Groupe)
Having produced the most award-winning public relations effort of 2015—the Always “Like a Girl” campaign—it’s no surprise that the client, Procter & Gamble, selected MSL as one of the winners in the review and consolidation of its PR business. Indeed, MSL also produced award-winning work for the Oral B, Dawn and Bounty brands last year, and under the leadership of new client lead Rema Vasan (who joined early this year from Pfizer) the firm is working more collaboratively with other Publicis agencies on a number of brands.
But P&G is only the most prominent client in a consumer practice that now accounts for 50% of MSL’s North American revenues and employs 400 consultants. The firm continues to produce stellar work for Netflix, both in the US and globally (coordinating a launch in 130 countries on a single day), and helping Similac bridge the breast-feeding divide with the “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign. Food remains a particular area of strength, with the Seattle-based test kitchen still going strong, and impressive work with clients such as Hass Avocado Board and the United Soybean Board. Doubling down on integration—MSL is the only PR agency in the Publicis Groupe and is partnering more closely with Leo Burnett, Fallon and other sister companies—is already having a commercial impact. —PH
Rbb Communications (Independent)
Rbb calls itself as “the champion of breakout brands” — defining breakouts as those that value putting the consumer first and build relationships that ultimately lead to sales. This strategy has led to notable consumer work like that for Hilton’s largest brand Hampton that caught the eye of SABRE Award judges earning a spot on this year’s shortlist.
The boutique is now up to $7.6m — 19% growth from 2014, with digital marketing and creative services up 29% from the previous year. In addition to Hilton, this growth was fueled by clients including Richard Branson’s Virgin Cruises, Thomson Reuters, Simon Malls’ Sawgrass Mills, PCS Wireless and Vitas Healthcare. These new clients join an existing roster that includes Bank of America, Mrs. Butterworth’s Syrup, DHL Express, Disney on Ice, Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, among others.
The firm’s 48 full-time staff partake in a culture that fosters retention (average tenure is 8 years) through a transparent environment that encourages employees to take risks and ask questions. CEO Christine Barney has led the firm to be a formidable player across travel & leisure, higher education and healthcare, among areas. Thought leadership like “Here’s What Consumers Really Want” demonstrate the firm’s capacity to continue to deepen its understanding of the modern consumer. — AaS
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