Global PR Agencies of the Year 2019 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2019 Global PR Agencies of the Year

The 2019 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 AmericaEMEAAsia-Pacific and LatAm.

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 2019 Global SABRE Awards, which take place at the PRovoke19 Global PR Summit in Washington, DC, on the evening of 23 October. 

 

Winner: Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

After a year in 2017 during which Weber Shandwick’s performance made the market leader look a lot like every other giant publicly-owned agency, 2018 provided evidence of a return to form, with mid-single digit growth for the year overall and even stronger numbers (healthy double digits) in the fourth quarter. The firm retained 49 of its top 50 clients (with growth from the likes of AB InBev, FMC, GM, Mars and TIAA) and recorded its strongest new business year in a decade with wins such as The Coca-Cola Company, Honeywell, IBM, Kellogg’s and Novartis, with additional wins including green power company Enel, healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente, consumer electronics leader Sony, and biotech pioneer Vertex.

One thing that didn’t flag, even in a disappointing 2017, was the firm’s commitment to innovation, and in 2018 Weber Shandwick continued to disrupt both itself and the entire industry with new thinking and new products. With a new focus on solving clients’ most challenging problems, global CEO Andy Polansky and president Gail Heimann (surely the strongest senior partnership in the business) have prompted everyone at the firm to think more deeply about the range of critical issues clients are facing—and come up with new products, new services, and new offerings that look dramatically different from the PR industry’s traditional toolkit.

In EMEA, Weber Shandwick has been on a healthy growth trajectory for the past four years, enjoying 16 consecutive quarters of topline growth, with fee income up by 8% in 2018, even before adding in the revenue from recent acquisitions in the UK of content marketing specialist Flipside and social creative agency That Lot. In Asia, meanwhile, the firm picked up Large Agency of the Year honors due to strong 8% growth, to around $120 million. A cohesive regional strategy means that Weber Shandwick has added considerable geographic breadth and specialist depth across the region, much of which is the by-product of a stable leadership team that is overseen by chairman Tim Sutton and CEO Baxter Jolly. The firm has also established itself as a regional leader in Latin America, where the firm earned our Mexican Agency of the Year honors. — PH


Finalists

BCW (WPP)

When WPP brought together its Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe brands (initially as Burson Cohn & Wolfe, and more recently under the abbreviated BCW banner) a little over a year ago, CEO Donna Imperato was clear about the strategy. The corporate and public affairs, crisis and issues management expertise of Burson would provide a perfect complement to the digital and creative, consumer and healthcare strengths of Cohn & Wolfe. And the dynamism of the latter (which was our North American Agency of the Year in 2018) would help to re-energize the former, which had begun to look slow and stodgy compared to many of its peers.

Disruption was to be expected, Imperato made clear, and disruption there has been, particularly among senior leaders of the former Burson—although the firm has also added plenty of talent, while the creation of internal teams to focus on aspects of the post-merger integration (from real estate to client service) means that the firm has kept its eye on the new business ball: there have been major wins such as VW, Office Depot, Converse, the Republic of the Philippines, HP, Vivo, the US Army, and the US Census 2020, as well as new Unilever brands such as Comfort and Vaseline.

In EMEA, the merger brought together 1,000 people in 22 offices across 15 European and African markets under the considered leadership of president Scott Wilson, accomplishing continued financial growth and securing new assignments with leading brands including Aston Martin, Unilever, Nike, Britvic, IWG/Regus, BMW and IKEA. In Asia, the merger has not been without challenges, but for the most part, the complementary nature of the two operations has ensured a relatively undramatic process, with Asia-Pacific president Matt Stafford bringing particular focus to bear on employee engagement and professional development, with overall headcount growing to 1,100 from 900 at the time of the merger. BCW’s other numbers also impress too: growth of 8% in 2018 and 12% forecast for 2019, with the agency on track to crack the $100m barrier in Asia-Pacific by the end of this year, while also scoring seven SABRE Awards for its campaign work on behalf of a broad range of sectors and markets. — PH

Edelman (Independent)

Much has been made, not surprisingly, of the travails faced by Edelman during 2018. Seeing fee income decline at the world’s largest PR firm — and the pacesetter when it comes to growth over the past decade — came as a shock to many industry observers. Indeed, the 1% decline in global revenues, coming on the heels of a relatively modest 2.4% increase the year before, means that Edelman was not on the shortlist for Large Agency of the Year in North America for the first time in more than a decade. 

But whatever challenges the firm is facing in terms of growth, it’s important to remember that it has invested more than any other agency — with the possible exception of Weber Shandwick — in building out the kind of data and analytics and digital and social capabilities that will enable it to compete for creative briefs that span paid, earned, shared and owned channels and compete with advertising agencies to serve as the lead on creative briefs, and deliver the kind of ideas that can serve as platforms for everything a brand does. Richard Edelman is justifiably proud of the 600 creatives and planners the firm has added over the past few years, and remains "undaunted" by the challenge of reinventing his firm into a truly integrated marketing services player. That goal is underpinned by Edelman's formidable digital practice, which now accounts for more than 20% of the firm’s global revenues — almost $200 million, a number that doesn’t take into account the vast majority of clients where “traditional” and digital and social PR now work seamlessly together.

All of which helps to explain why Edelman was shortlisted for Creative Agency of the Year in both North America and EMEA, while winning Asia-Pacific Digital Consultancy of the Year for the second consecutive year. Put simply, the firm's work continues to be among the best in the business, including such iconic campaigns as ‘All-American Family” for HP and giving legs to the Dove's “Real Beauty” effort by forming a production company with Shonda Rhimes. In EMEA, the integration of Swedish agency Deportivo has resulted in standout work for such clients as Knorr, Coop, HP, Domestos, Heineken and Asics. And in Asia-Pacific, Edelman’s market-leading data and analytics capabilities are demonstrated best by the predictive intelligence centre (EPIC) it has formed in conjunction with Singapore’s Economic Development Board, which followed up the impressive Shell Emotion Tracking campaign by winning a string of assignments from HP, Turner, EndowUs Insights and two healthcare clients. — AS

FleishmanHillard (Omnicom Group)

Omnicom’s public relations firms continued to struggle in 2018, with growth just barely above inflation, but FleishmanHillard—still the largest of the group’s PR holdings—turned in the strongest performance, with revenues up by 6% globally and with North America slightly stronger than that (New York, the St Louis headquarters, and the California operations were the top performers). Globally, FH picked up $177 million in new business, including 26 accounts worth more than $1 million—there was new business from BNY Mellon, Elanco, GM, GoPro, Hanes, Johnson & Johnson, Philips, Roche, and of course the US Army, one of the biggest pitches of the year—while retaining all of its top 50 clients (a list that includes AARP, AT&T, Bayer, Emerson, Fitbit, GM, Pepsico, SAP and Samsung).

The latter can be attributed at least in part to CEO John Saunders’ continued investment in the global client leadership program, which has evolved into a community that shares knowledge and best practices around the globe, and which ensures consistent quality across the network—and beyond, as FH increasingly partners with sister agencies to deliver integrated campaigns. All of which has paid off in terms of the work: FH followed up its role in 2018’s biggest US award-winning campaign—the Aflac CSR and reputation management initiative—with more impressive work last year: helping Levi Strauss & Co tell its innovation story; working with Gatorade to ensure athletes understand the importance of hydration; supporting AARP’s efforts to educate about dementia; and continuing its work for the United Nations’ “He for She” initiative.

In addition to being named Large Agency of the Year in North America, FleishmanHillard Fishburn was our UK Consultancy of the Year, where CEO Jim Donaldson and deputy CEO Ali Gee have created something rather special within the FH network, where growth at the agency—with around 300 people in its Bankside offices—was a robust 7%, thanks to a robust client portfolio—including Fitbit, Bayer, J&J, Philips, Danone, Western Union, Novartis, Barclays and Samsung—and new accounts from FedEx, Facebook, Diageo and Dupont. — PH


H+K Strategies 
(WPP)

New global CEO AnnaMaria DeSalva inherits a network that is best known for its strength in EMEA, recognised last October when European heads Lars-Erik Grønntun and Richard Millar were elevated to global leadership roles, after wining Pan-EMEA Consultancy honours in three of the past four years. The elevation of Grønntun and Millar was followed by a restructuring of the firm’s global network to make it both flatter and more agile. The so-called “5 plus 5” strategy splits the network into five key markets; in EMEA, they include the UK and Germany, led by newly-promoted CEOs Simon Whitehead and Rüdiger Maessen respectively — and five “clusters,” including the Nordics, continental Europe, and METIA (the Middle East, Turkey, India and Africa). There was growth almost everywhere — H+K was up in 25 out of 30 markets in EMEA — but the UK, the Middle East and Russia/Ukraine are all performing well above average.

The agency enjoyed an impressive year in Europe in terms of new business, with work from Activision, ADNOC, the Azerbaijan Tourist Board, Barilla, British Airways, Cisco, Colgate, IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, La Liga, Norad, Oculus, Smart Energy, and more. There was growth from existing clients too, with the likes of Accenture, adidas, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Duracell, Facebook, Ford, Google, HSBC, Huawei, LG, P&G, Spotify, Shell and Visa either increasing their budgets or expanding to additional markets. And the work remains strong, with highlights ranging from brand work for Campari to educational efforts on behalf of Ford, to launching Huawei’s P20 to communicating Norway’s commitment to foreign aid for Norad.

In Asia-Pacific, meanwhile, Synergy H+K Strategies was named North Asia Agency of the Year. Like many international players in the region, H+K Strategies’ operations are weighted towards one market in particular — in this case Korea, where Synergy H+K Korea’s 65-person staff continues to outperform despite a difficult political and economic environment. Over the last 12 months, revenue rose 20%, profits rose 34% and headcount increased by 15%. — PH/DM