Global Public Affairs Agencies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2018 Global Public Affairs 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: APCO (Global, Independent)

There have been times in recent years that APCO’s search for new investment seemed to consume too much of the management team’s time and energy, with growth taking a back seat to securing long-term stability. But when APCO finally found a solution — minority shareholder WindRiver was bought out with support from longtime banking partner Citibank and private credit company Monroe Capital in July — the change in mood was almost palpable. APCO founder and chairman Margery Kraus and CEO Brad Staples were able to lay out a clear vision for the firm going forward, and with 70 employee-owners joining them, there was an excitement about the future that helped the firm record 5% growth, ending the year with record fee income of $128 million — more than half of it in the US.

If the firm’s growth has been hindered by its ownership struggles, its ability to innovate in the public affairs space never was. In fact, APCO has been redefining and expanding the definition of public affairs, both in its early embrace of research and analytics, and in its investment in digital and social capabilities. Its “Telescope” model identifies emerging influencers and redefines stakeholder mapping. As the worlds of politics, business, and civil society have intersected in ever more controversial and confusing ways, APCO’s unique ability to help clients see around corners has become more valuable in the policy arena and beyond, in areas ranging from investor relations to CSR. Its new report on “Corporate Advocacy in Five Acts” helps companies understand evolving consumer and societal expectations.

This manifests itself in the agency’s work, from working with Honda around the idea that what the company stands for is now just as important as what it makes, engaging with consumers, dealers and policymakers around a wide range of issues, to helping McCormick articulate its new mission and vision, and public its first purpose report. There has been new business from IKEA, Microsoft, Cargill, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and from several government clients—a key strength that has been formalized though the firm’s new global solutions offering, which works with government agencies and other sovereign clients at a highly consultative level. 

Elsewhere, APCO’s EMEA operation has long been built around twin pillars of strength in London and Brussels — the two most significant public affairs markets in the region — but under the leadership of Claire Boussagol, who joined the firm in 1995 and took the helm in Europe after Brad Staples was elevated to the global CEO role at the end of 2014, it has expanded both geographically and in terms of the kind of work it does in the corporate reputation and crisis and issues management spaces, its operations in Germany (offices in Berlin and Frankfurt, up 31% last year), Italy (Rome and Milan, 31% growth), and France are all making a significant contribution. The Middle East operation, meanwhile, was up by 21% last year and with 170 people is the UAE and Saudi Arabia is a major player in the region and a significant contributor to APCO’s EMEA region.

New business wins and expanded assignments came from across the region: American Express, a new global assignment; Boeing in France and Germany; Celgene in Brussels and Paris; and the Copper Alliance in the UK and the US. They also came from across a wide range of industries, from a public affairs and corporate communications assignment for Roche in the healthcare space to a Yum Brands win the consumer arena to work for Palo Alto Networks in the growing technology practice to the Republic of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, indicative of the firm’s strength in representing government clients. As a result, EMEA growth was a robust 12%.

EMEA work last year included public affairs and executive leadership communications for Facebook and support for organizational change at Tui in Germany; crisis management support for Whirlpool around plant closings and support for Apple during CEO Tim Cook’s meeting with the Pope in Italy; corporate and CEO positioning for NetJets and issues management around sexual health for Reckitt Benckiser’s Durex brand in the UK; and helping to secure EU funding for Rotary International’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Brussels. — PH


Finalists

Ewing (Czech Republic, Independent)

Founded 25 years ago, Ewing’s current owners took over in 1999 when the firm had just employees. Today, there are 55, generating around €3m in fee income, an impressive 33% jump from the year before. Underpinning that growth is Ewing’s superior corporate and public affairs capabilities. And with 2017, being the first of six straight election years in the Czech Republic, Ewing reaped substantial rewards from its decision to up investment — creating an-house video production studio; inking a joint venture with a polling firm; and, perhaps most notably, buying and merging with sister digital agency Manage Social. Ewing followed that up with an internal restructuring that that focused on its specific industry expertise in financial real estate, energy, environment and healthcare.

All of that paid off for a client roster that now includes synlab, Arriva, AVE, Metrostav, Home Credit International, Gordic, Veolia Water, the City of Prague, Passer Invest and presidential candidate Michal Horacek. There was also eye-catching work — helping to clear the name of Southern Bohemia governor Jiri Zimola; SABRE-nominated work on Horacek’s presidential campaign; and, another SABRE-nominated effort for Arriva.

Ewing’s leadership team includes a number of partners who have helped drive the agency’s transformation. Ondrej Kubala has played a critical role in driving non-PA growth; Jakub Hrabovsky came onboard from Manage Social; Martin Jaros leads all energy and environment clients; Radka Hrstkova led the Zimola effort; and Jan Sedlacek leads financial and real estate. — AS


Farner (Switzerland, Independent)

Farner, now 66 years old, has been the Swiss market leader in corporate and public affairs for as long as anyone can remember, with seven offices in Switzerland: Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen, Lausanne, Geneva, Basel and Lugano. Traditional expertise includes campaign management for business and politics, crisis and issues management, and financial communications, working with clients across the financial services, pharmaceutical, energy, technology and public health sectors. But in recent years its dramatic growth has been fueled by diversification: Farner can now offer fully integrated campaigns including content creation, community management, real-time marketing and video storytelling, its integrated capabilities further strengthened in 2016 with the acquisition of brand marketing specialist YJOO, Switzerland’s third largest PR firm. 

With 140 employees and fee income of more than €26 million, Farner is now number one among all creative agencies—advertising and PR—in Switzerland. It represents a host of leading Swiss companies and multinationals, including PostFinance, McDonalds, Coop, Die Post, Julius Bär, TCS, Roche, Swissport and Johnson & Johnson, Nespresso, and numerous regional and governmental agencies. New business success in 2017 included PostFinance, MSD, Tezos, Comet Group and SwissMilk. A new innovation and startup practice, meanwhile, is making inroads into next generation companies.

As far as the work is concerned, highlights of the past 12 months range from traditional corporate work like internal communications for the launch of a complex new strategy for Allianz Suisse, a corporate change communications program for Johnson & Johnson, and a rebranding project for Bank Cler to more creative and consumer work like an integrated campaign for TCS, a lead generation quiz for Emmi Benecol, and an influencer marketing campaign targeting younger audiences for Fondation Beyeler. — PH


Global Strategy Group (US, Independent)

There’s a pretty good case for Global Strategy Group as the most prescient public affairs firm on the planet: the firm — well known for its work with Democratic candidates and progressive causes — might not have predicted the rise of Trump, but it was way out ahead of the politicization of business in America. Drawing on its rich heritage in polling and research, GSG produced a report three years ago suggesting that consumers and other key stakeholders were increasingly demanding that corporations take a stand on critical political and social issues — that neutrality would no longer be an option — and 2017 meant that those who listened to that advice were not blindsided by the polarization produced by Trump.

Needless to say, the trend GSG identified has been a boon to its business, since the firm operates squarely at the interaction of business and politics and the firm has once again been involved in some of the most high-profile issues in the new landscape, advising foundation and advocacy clients on issues such as criminal justice reform, gun control, immigration reform, healthcare, funding for the arts and humanities, LGBTQ rights, women in leadership, and choice. GSG worked with the Rockefeller Foundation on its widely-recognized 100x25 Campaign that aims to have 100 women in Fortune 500 leadership by 2025, and supported efforts to save arts and humanities funding from budget cuts, close Rikers Island and reform criminal justice in its home market of New York, and secure free school lunches for 1.1 million New York public school kids.

Historically, GSG has seen overall revenues decline slightly in non-election years, because of a drop off in polling, but the effect was diminished in 2017 as GSG’s public affairs and communications practices set records. In the public affairs realm, the firm worked with General Motors to promote autonomous vehicles amid the patchwork quilt of local regulations across the US; with CVS Health to advance pharmacists as caregivers; and with America’s Health Insurance Plans to protect Medicare Advantage for seniors. And the growing corporate impact practice supported Subaru’s CSR thought its foundation, other philanthropic efforts, and volunteerism; the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance,m and FSG. — PH


SKDKnickerbocker 
(US, Stagwell Group)

Bucking the challenges of a non-election year, SKDKnickerbocker spent much of the past 12 months making sure the year’s hot-button issues — from Obamacare to sexual harassment — were top of mind among the American people. Coordinating the campaign to save the Affordable Care Act, serving as a hub of the “resistance,” and helping companies navigate the new Washington ensured that the progressive public affairs firm played a pivotal role during a unique political era. SKDK was one of the lead agencies supporting the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, Hollywood’s organization to help victims of sexual harassment. When a government scientist was reassigned after speaking up on climate change, meanwhile, SKDK launched an aggressive media campaign aimed at halting other transfers.

Under the leadership of high-profile political veterans Hilary Rosen and Anita Dunn, SKDK's growth continues to impress, up almost 20% in 2017 to $43m, thanks to the addition of new clients including Delta Airlines, Under Armour, Pepsico Foundation, Google, Center for Reproductive Rights, NAACP and Time's Up Legal Defense Fund. They join an impressive list of existing companies and organizations such as Planned Parenthood, American Airlines, Human Rights Campaign, AT&T, Open and Fair Skies, Disney and Rockefeller Foundation.

SKDK also expanded its offering in 2017, hiring Heather Wilson to lead public affairs on the West Coast and adding a new digital division to better meet clients’ objectives by examining the cultural signals, human insights and industry context that affect business. The firm also stepped up its focus on litigation and regulatory support, along with cybersecurity prep and response. Most notable, perhaps, is that SKDK’s efforts reaped results. Representing a coalition of Affordable Care Act advocates, the agency fought to save Obamacare by mobilizing community activists, developing strategies to reach members of Congress and leveraging paid media, all centered around dispelling misperceptions about the program. The repeal ultimately failed. — DM