Global Digital PR Agencies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2018 Global Digital Agencies of the Year

The 2018 Global PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 450 submissions and face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across North AmericaEMEA 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 are announced at the 2018 Global SABRE Awards, which take place at the PRovoke18 Global PR Summit in Washington, DC, on the evening of 24 October. 


Winner: Edelman (Global, DJE Holdings)

The ambition for Edelman is not only to cement its place as the world’s largest PR agency, but to ensure that it can perform as a serious competitor to the ad agencies and digital firms — and even content producers like CNN — competing for clients’ marketing dollars. That has meant expanding the firm’s digital and social capabilities, so that its creative department—now more than 600-strong around the world, with 350 in the US—includes growing numbers of advertising and paid media specialists and formidable data and analytics team. 

Those investments are reflected in new business success. There was organic growth from clients like Adobe, Citadel, Hologic, HP, Mars, and the State of Florida’s Department of Citrus, and new business from Ajinomoto, Genentech, Puget Sound Energy, ServiceNow, and Sonos. But there were also digital assignment from the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau and Sears Holding Company, and advisory services business from Bridgestone and Microsoft.

In Europe, Edelman acquired Swedish creative shop Deportivo (which describes itself as an “earned advertising agency” that helps brands shape culture) in the summer of 2014, and is turning it into a global creative hub, with 30 people now in the UK, where Toby Gunton, a veteran of OMD and WCRS, was hired to embed some of Deportivo’s creative DNA in the region’s largest office.

In Asia-Pacific, meanwhile, Edelman’s digital capabilities now account for more than 15% of the firm’s regional revenue, even if that number  is slightly misleading because that’s only the firm’s pure-play digital activity. A broad restructuring has moved those capabilities into a horizontal construct that spans the firm’s brand and reputation practices across all markets. So while there were some key departures (including digital president and MD Gavin Coombes and Martin Shaw, respectively), the restructuring has ensured that all aspects of digital — including those more readily associated with advertising agencies — are delivered across Asia-Pacific.

Edelman has invested significant sums in this initiative, across such specialist areas as search engine marketing, social media optimisation, paid media and measurement/analytics, building centralised hubs that feature skills and talent that each of its markets can tap into on a local basis. Edelman’s data and analytics operation, meanwhile, remains one of the sharpest in the region — demonstrated best by the predictive intelligence centre it has formed in conjunction with Singapore’s Economic Development Board. That approach is also illustrated by the SABRE-winning Shell Emotion Tracking campaign in Malaysia (which has since gone global), an analytics-based initiative that used wearables, chatbots and drive performance technologies to track, measure and correlate driver emotions with driver performance and contextual and environmental factors from personality to diet, music, health, weather and traffic. 

And Edelman’s best work continues to be among the best in the business, as evidenced by brand marketing and content creation for Unilever brands such as Dove and Axe; from a follow-up to REI’s massive award-winning Opt Outside campaign focusing on gender issues to empowering young adults to get tested for STDs on behalf of the American Sexual Health Association. 

As you would expect, there was also sophisticated digital marketing work in the brand marketing area — notably, a creative technology campaign for HP; an interactive lunchbox for Extra; and, superior digital video for Surf Excel and Johnson & Johnson Vision. Meanwhile, the firm’s digital savvy is also transforming its corporate reputation practice, via work for AstraZeneca and AIAC. And the firm has a new startup offering that helped to launch Japanese app Eight in India, developed global research for China’s Ecovacs Robotics, and drove global ecommerce through social media for Zerotech. — PH/AS


Finalists

Clockwork Media (South Africa, Independent)

Launched just five years ago, South Africa's Clockwork Media has already reached $5m in fee income, making good on its vision of changing the way PR is perceived in Africa, and across the globe. The consultancy now number 100 people, focused on four key components — strategy and data, concept, production and dissemination. Led by two former tech journalists — Tom Manners and Nic Simmonds — the firm brings a refreshingly agile approach to its business, investing in such areas as as influencer marketing, video production and data analytics, helping it to become one of the largest consultancies in the country, one capable — more importantly, perhaps, of winning global remits.

In that respect, 2017 marked something of a watershed year for Clockwork Media, with growth of 50% powered by a £1m Microsoft assignment to run Windows.com, Xbox.com and Surface.com in 46 markets – establishing the firm's 15-strong interactive team and marking it out as one of the world's agencies to watch. There was also new business from LaLiga, Lafarge and Exxaro, media relations accounts that have expanded to encompass the full spectrum of public relations across offline and online. In addition to Microsoft, Clockwork's client roster also features such names as NBCUniversal, LG, Lafarge, Exxaro, Tile Africa, Tata Motors, Mimecastand L’Oreal.

Clockwork's capabilities also expanded considerably, with the firm adding a data and insights component to its strategy division, a conceptual team featuring a creative director, copywriter and art director, an interactive team focused on producing digital work on a global scale and an activations team aimed at bringing concepts to life in the physical realm. All of that helps to explain the firm's remarkable progress in such a short space of time, further highlighted by brand repositioning for Dell Alienware, content strategy for L'Oreal, TVCs for Tile, radio ads for Lafarge and websites for Microsoft and Exxaro. 

And there have also been some notable hires to help manage the growth, including Monica van der Spuy to oversee the PR business unit and three former Wunderman execs — Emilia Brooks, Ciaran Burnand and Lisa Cohn — to oversee operations, interactive and strategy, respectively. — AS

Huge (US, Interpublic Group)

It was one year ago that Kwittken co-founder Jason Schlossberg joined Huge to add public relations to the IPG firm’s core offering of digital design. The PR team that Schlossberg now oversees is about 30 people working on traditional PR, thought leadership, editorial, content and  social strategy for its client portfolio. Already, the agency’s PR portfolio has grown in the last 12 months to include Broadridge, United Technologies Corporation, OneMarket, Zelle and Harley Davidson Canada,which joined existing clients such as Think with Google, Kohl’s and Eli Lilly, among others.

What stands out at Huge is the way communications is fully integrated into its existing services —  which include research, analytics, design, media, and creative technology. Over the last 12 months, a major part of integrating PR into the organization involved an internal education campaign on the ways PR could complement the firm’s more developed offerings. Impressively, this led to incremental client projects — which led to success, which led to more steady work. The communications team also built a new innovation methodology/ framework called Future Making that has been adopted by clients and by Huge more broadly. Other notable work includes a campaign for United Technologies Corporation to recruit talent for its new Brooklyn-based innovation hub by developing and promoting “UTC’s Principles for Designing Really Big Things.”

In addition to Schlossberg, other notable talent include VPs Rebecca Moeller, Brittany Slattery, Brad Wellen and Nicole Kuang. Globally, Huge has approximately 1500 employees based out of 12 offices around the world. — AaS


W2O Group
(US, Independent)

With revenues now hitting $144m — up nearly 18% from 2016 — W2O has undeniably earned its place as one of the industry’s most formidable large players. It’s also worth reflecting on how extraordinary W2O's trajectory has been. Just five years ago, the firm was at $62 million with 72% of revenues coming from traditional communications work. While earned is still at the firm’s core, communications work is now at 47% followed by digital at 37% and analytics at 16%. Among the most significant turning points for W2O was in 2016 when it sold a stake to Mountaingate Capital, followed by a series of acquisitions to make its long-standing market differentiator — digital analytics — even sharper and more disciplined.

A few notable things haven’t changed for W2O over the last 17 years. Founder/CEO Jim Weiss maintains a single P&L across its 13 offices that, together, employee more than 650 people. Management is comprised of long-standing leaders — Jenn Gottlieb, Bob Pearson, Seth Duncan — along with a growing number of business unit and regional leaders as the firm now maintains five sub-brands and a centralized analytics offering with more than 110 analysts. And despite some investments in other areas, healthcare continues to be W2O’s most robust sector with longstanding clients  Merck, CVS Health, Incyte, Takeda, Genentech/Roche, KOWA, Sarepta, along with new additions  Symbiomix Therapeutics LLC (now Lupin), Horizon Pharma, National Pharmaceutical Council, Athenahealth, Helix, Dermira, Alcresta, Circassia. Other notable clients include Comcast, IBM and Intel.

The caliber of work has also evolved with the firm taking home three Innovation SABRE Awards this year — including an impactful drug integration with General Hospital for pharma client Incyte. Socialgraphics — among W2O’s signature analytics offering — won the marketing technology category. W2O Group is also a contender for four Gold and one Silver SABRE Awards. The firm also maintains partnerships with Syracuse University and the Newhouse School through the W2O Center for Social Commerce and the LaGrant Foundation, in addition to investing several professional development  and recruiting programs. — AaS


Weber Shandwick (Global, Interpublic Group)

Across Europe, Weber Shandwick has seen a radical transformation of its offering in recent years, with major investments in insights (data, analytics and strategic planning), content (creative, video, production and design) and integrated media (digital and social). The London office has been one center of digital excellence, developing the agency’s new MINDS (Media Intelligence & Data Science) offer, influencer identification and tracking tool FLUENT, and community management AI tool PRODUCT Q. The acquisition in 2016 of mobile marketing specialist Flipside added yet another future-focused capability, offering the kind of content-to-commerce capability sales and marketing clients are now demanding.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, Prime’s unique United Minds offering—founded presciently in 1999—is now helping the agency prepare for increased competition from the management consulting business, combining the kind of business intelligence that doesn’t often come from PR agencies with the creativity that has long been Prime’s trademark, and thus delivering the kind of strategic thinking that will give Weber Shandwick access to the C-suite. And while the London and Stockholm operations stand out, there is new digital and social thinking everywhere, like a new influencer identification and measurement tool in Germany, for example.

Examples of the work over the past 12 months include the “72 Hour Cabin” campaign for Visit Sweden, promoting sustainable tourism by taking five people with stressful jobs and relocating them to cabins in the Swedish countryside; the UK team developed “The Little Chicken Named Pong Pong” campaign for Pearson’s Project Literacy, turning a story told to her children by a mum who could not read into an actual book; in the Netherlands, the firm is creating online wish maps for the Make-a-Wish Foundation so that donors can select and follow deserving recipients close to home; and for GSK’s Fentisil brand, the agency is using mobile mosquito forecasts, in partnership with The Weather Channel, to directly impact sales. 

After several years of sustained investment, meanwhile, Weber Shandwick’s digital operation now stands as one of the strongest in Asia-Pacific, accounting for around 12% of overall regional revenue, although this proportion only includes purely digital activity. Indeed, the firm has seen a major uptick in integrated and digital briefs, accounting for particular growth in Hong Kong (+173%), Korea (+48%) and Singapore (+14%), for a client roster that was bolstered buy the addition of Fidelity, Hotels.com, General Mills, GSK, Inditex Group, Nespresso, ExxonMobil, Victoria’s Secret and American Airlines.

In China, meanwhile, the acquisition of data and insights consultancy Bomoda brings specific expertise into Chinese social media platforms, helping to drive some inspiring work, including a confidential data-driven initiative on behalf of a major beauty player, which helped to reshape its entire social media and CRM story. All told, the agency now employs more than 40+ content specialists in China alone, along with 25 analytics specialists across the region. And the firm’s product range has proven especially compelling, underpinned by a content to conversion offering that helps to turn mobile and online campaigns into lead-generating ecosystems, on behalf of such clients as AWS and GSMA. The China operation, in particular, serves as global innovation centre for the firm’s new X Practice, developing the C3 and Kloud tools that are now deployed globally by Weber Shandwick. — PH/AS