Global PR Agencies of the Year 2017 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2017 Global PR 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 (Interpublic Group)

There’s an impressive restlessness about Weber Shandwick, despite the fact that the world’s second largest public relations firm continues to outperform all of its immediate rivals in terms of growth—up 6.5% last year to $825 million (the strongest growth among the top 8). An evolving organizational structure builds on the firm’s existing strengths with the creation of internal “value-based communities” dedicated to client experience, insights, integrated media and content, while reinforcing a collaborative culture that is clearly one of the firm’s major competitive advantages. And, lest we forget, the agency this became the first to sweep our regional Agency of the Year honors this year in North America, EMEA and Asia-Pacific.

North America fees were up 11% last year, with 7% organic growth supplemented by the ReviveHealth acquisition, with new business from Chevrolet, Kellogg’s, the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid, Monsanto, Takeda, and Unicef, while clients such as Bayer, Ericsson, GSK, Mastercard and Verizon all grew—Weber Shandwick now works for almost half of the Fortune 100. 

EMEA revenues were up by close to 7% (on top of 11% growth the previous year) to around $125 million. New business came from Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, British Gas, Ericsson, Forever 21, HSBC, MasterCard, Pearson, Philips, Qualcomm, UNICEF, Unilever, and Virgin Atlantic. The flagship UK operation turned in solid growth; the Middle East and Africa both continued their impressive expansion; and six markets reported double-digit growth, including Spain, for the second consecutive year. 

And in Asia it is easy to forget that just a decade ago the firm’s presence often registered as less than the sum of its parts. Since then a cohesive regional strategy has added considerable geographic breadth and specialist depth across the region, with the agency tripling in size over the past seven years, to around $110m in fee income after another double-digit return in 2016. Much of that is the by-product of a stable leadership team and impressive growth in both multimarket accounts and Asia-based clients. — PH/AS


Finalists

Cohn & Wolfe (WPP)

Global growth of 12% last year cemented Cohn & Wolfe as the best performing of the WPP-owned agencies, and the fastest-growing PR firm in the world’s top 12, with every region making a contribution. The most interesting development, though, is an effort to go beyond “integration” to use the full range of paid, earned, shared and owned channels in order to create what Imperato calls an “immersive brand experience.”

The US led the way, up 15% thanks to a number of major global assignments from clients such as Barclaycard, Bayer, and Colgate. New business came from Applebees, Newell Brands, Novo Nordisk, 20th Century Fox, and a host of others. Just as impressive, the majority of C&W’s assignments are now genuinely integrated—typically traditional PR blended with digital, social, and a heavy dose of experiential; less than 10% of the business four years ago, integrated now accounts for almost three-quarters.

In EMEA, the firm was our Creative Consultancy of the Year as it brought its “Dig Deeper Imagine More” mantra to life in ways that emphasize just how different C&W is today compared to five years ago, and compared to most of its peers. The digital team in EMEA has expanded from 23 to 56 over the past two years, with capabilities in social analytics, community management, influencer marketing, film production, paid media, and mobile. As a result, the growth story is impressive: across EMEA, the firm has grown by 35% over the past five years (12% last year), with the UK doubling in size over the past five years.

And in Asia, after a series of acquisitions in Southeast Asia, Greater China and India, it now has impressive regional scale and more stability following the arrival of former Burson-Marsteller executive Matt Stafford to lead the region last year. Growth of 11% in 2016 took Cohn & Wolfe to around $22m in regional revenue—still smaller than many of its peers but clearly heading in the right direction. — PH/AS

Edelman (Independent)

Such is the blazing pace set by Edelman—still the world’s largest public relations agency—over the past decade that a year in which its financial results came in around the peer group average indicated a “transition” year, a shift to broader, more integrated work as Edelman seeks to develop is paid capabilities and build on its long-time leadership in digital.

US growth was a solid 2.3%, as Edelman came out on top in a Hewlett-Packard consolidation; picked up additional agency-of-record assignments from KFC, PayPal, and the American Optometric Association; digital work from the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau and Bush Brothers & Company; and played a key advisory role at Wells Fargo as the financial services company went through a high-profile client. But the real story was the growth from 33 of the firm’s top 50 clients and industry leading creativity—the firm won Best in Show at each of the last two North American SABRE competitions.

Edelman picked up Digital Consultancy of the Year honors in EMEA, the payoff from a pioneering approach that saw it invest heavily in social media and community building well ahead of the curve. Much of the firm's best work reflects both the integrated mindset and the blend of capabilities, often brought to life by its Swedish Deportivo unit. And while Edelman's growth dipped across Europe, digital proved to be a bright spot, driving expansion in the UK, Germany (+20%), France, Italy (+20%) and Spain.

And while Edelman’s Asia-Pacific revenues only grew 1% during its 2017 fiscal year, the regional offering remains one of the most dynamic in the region, encompassing considerable geographic breadth (1,340 employees across 11 markets) along with service depth in such areas as digital, research and creative. As a result, it is forecasting 10% expansion for the current fiscal year based on approach that brings earned media ideas to life across the full spectrum of marketing communications. — PH/AS

Golin (Interpublic Group)

It has been almost six years since Golin introduced its revolutionary g4 model, which restructured the agency into communities of strategists, creators, connectors, and catalysts, and there is no sign that the momentum generated by that move is diminishing, with global growth of close to 8% setting the pace among the world’s top 10, and a new leadership team: Jonathan Hughes, Matt Neale and Gary Rudnick sharing the CEO role.

In the US, last year saw growth in the mid-single digits, strategists, with new business from Abbott (fostering dialog on infant feeding), Atos (Olympic sponsorship), California Department of Public Health (tobacco control), Cancer Treatment Centers of America (corporate reputation), ConAgra (social engagement), Facebook Messenger, Hyatt Hotels (for multiple brands), Koch Industries (reputation management), J&J’s Motrin, and more.

Firmly established as one of this era’s iconic UK PR firms—after consecutive UK Consultancy of the Year honors in 2013 and 2014—Golin's London office now resembles a high-performance Formula One car, with momentum assured after a seamless leadership transition and another year of double-digit growth, with a 150-strong team combining serious consumer and corporate heft with some excellent digital and social media capabilities. The remainder of Europe may not quite have reached that level, but it is developing in both scale and quality.

And while the Golin brand has been present in Asia for the better part of two decades, it is only in recent years that the agency has made credible strides in turning itself from a federation of unrelated local offices into a cohesive network that aspires to the same kind of performance demonstrated by Golin’s operations in Western markets. The G4 model has now been deployed across all Asia-Pacific offices, which includes owned operations in Hong Kong, Singapore, China (bolstered by the acquisition of Magic Group), India and Taiwan, up around 9% in 2016 to an estimated $20m in revenue. — PH/AS

Ketchum (Omnicom Group)

Ketchum grew by 6% last year, and once again ranked in the top five in our Global Creative Index, reinforcing its status as the flagship PR agency of the Omnicom group. 

In the US, Ketchum is still generating more SABRE Award nominees than any other brand, and the firm has consistently ranked as one of the two or three most creative large agencies in North America. In 2016 the business performance matched the quality of the work, with revenue growth in the mid-single digits—with the digital business growing at four or five times that pace. A stellar new business record in 2016 included assignments from FC Barcelona, Corona, Macy’s, Philips Lighting, Samsung, 7-Eleven, Tostitos, and Zespri, while the firm continues to work for longstanding clients such as Clorox (35 years), IBM and Procter & Gamble (20 years each). 

In EMEA, the Benelux and Russian operations earned Consultancy of the Year nominations, as did the firm’s digital capabilities, which have not always punched at the same weight. The firm's Storyworks unit in London delivers real-time content marketing as sophisticated as anything in the market and the firm's sports and entertainment practice has also emerged since launching in London in 2014, developing a strong influencer marketing capability.

Meanwhile, in Asia-Pacific — long considered the weakest of Ketchum's three regions — a quiet transformation appears to be underway, led by a Singapore operation that now ranks as one of the best in the city, and supplemented by existing strength in China and India. In particular, there has been credible investment to build Ketchum's digital offering across the region, resulting in standout work for P&G and others, along with elevated capabilities in research, planning and analytics. — PH/AS