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

2019 Global Public Affairs 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: Grayling (Global, Huntsworth)

Grayling is not the only firm to have established a specialist Brexit unit, obviously, but it is one of the few that can bring together dedicated public affairs specialists from every EU country to share their perspective and it has been able to establish itself as a thought leader through its Brexit Breakfast Club, a forum for public-private discussions of Brexit-related issues, and its Brexit Bulletin, which it has been publishing weekly since 2016. The firm has helped to make Honda into a leading voice on Brexit, addressing the risk to the company’s supply chain and providing testimony to key select committees and also works with clients such as Bupa, Kraft-Heinz, spiritsEurope, Abbvie, Hilton and British Sugar.

Public affairs is only one pillar of Grayling’s business (the firm also works in the consumer and corporate space), but it was the strongest performing pillar in 2018, with the UK business up by an impressive 40%—new business came from Russian investment bank VTB, Molson Coors, Network Rail and Bet Stars, among others. The Brussels operation, which was up by about 15%, has a team of 36 consultants (from 15 nationalities) and picked up business from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Danone, the Environmental Defense Fund, Herbalife, MyTaxi, OLX Group and more. Those two offices are supported by PA experts in Grayling’s other offices—the former Mmd, which had operations in Central and Eastern Europe, was focused primarily on public affairs—bringing the European team to more than 100.

The firm’s public affairs leadership begins with chairman Richard Jukes, a veteran public affairs strategist; Russell Patten, CEO of the Brussels office and chairman of European public affairs; Victoria Breck, managing director of the Brussels office; and Alan Boyd-Hall, who leads public affairs in the UK. Additions in 2018 included Ben Gascoigne, a former adviser to Boris Johnson as both Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London, who joined Grayling UK as a director in its public affairs team, and Brexit expert Shanker Singham, director of the international trade and competition unit at the the Institute of Economic Affairs, who will serve as a special advisor to parent company Huntsworth.

In the UK, Grayling worked with Lloyd’s Banking Group to establish its leadership in diversity, digital inclusion and community investment, as well as articulating its economic importance; supported Calor to secure important changes to the proposed climate change levy; and advised newly established gas distribution network Cadent to ramp up its political engagement at party conferences. In Brussels, the digital advocacy team has been providing online public affairs support to ebay, European Soft Drinks Industry and Herbalife Nutrition and others, while the EU-Japan practice has been helping many European suppliers connect with Japanese companies and government purchasers. Multi-market assignments include work for PokerStars and OLX Group and local policy support for Amazon, HP and others. — PH

Finalists

APCO (Global, Independent)

It is now 18 months since APCO secured the financing to fund its future as an independent firm, and if the growth wasn’t exactly spectacular in 2018 — up 4% globally — there are clear signs that the firm is turning its positioning as a C-suite problem-solver into real competitive advantage. For one thing, there’s a mitigating factor in the modest growth — APCO divested itself of Strawberry Frog, the ill-fated ad agency acquisition that never quite meshed with the corporate and public affairs business at the core, which is why North American revenues were flat. For another, the firm has continued to restructure its leadership and integrate its global offerings — as well as adding new corporate and crisis offerings.

In EMEA, the firm was named Corporate Consultancy of the Year thanks to multi-year growth in crisis and issues, corporate reputation and digital and social. EMEA was up by 16%, driven largely by corporate assignments. There was a host of new business, with new and expanded accounts including American Express, Facebook, Gap, IKEA, Marriott, Match, Microsoft, Netjets, Roche and Whirlpool. The healthcare practice fared particularly well, up by 26% across Europe from clients such as AstraZeneca, Cigna, Johnson & Johnson, Reckitt Benckiser, Shire and Wrigley’s oral health programme.

A range of new tools underpin a wide variety of work, from using innovative tools and technologies to build on the agency’s public affairs heritage to bringing together strategic and creative thinking for corporate and even consumer clients. For Bayer, for example, APCO used its “telescope” influencer tool to help the company position itself as a leader in self-care, driving conversation about access to OTC medication. For Germany, the firm helped cut through concerns about a troubled political relationship by creating events and content around German culture and history as part of the “Wunderbar Together” campaign. For Roche, APCO created a healthcare index that tracks patient outcomes across the 28 EU member states. And for Bombardier, the firm worked to block—against all odds—the Siemens-Alstrom merger. — PH

FSB (Brazil, Independent)

Since its founding in 1980 by entrepreneur Francisco Soares Brandão, FSB Comunicações has made it a point of pride that the firm takes on the toughest, most high-profile assignments in the Brazilian market, such as the Platinum Award-winning work at our first ever Latin American SABRE awards for its work on behalf of the Brazilian Ministry of Sports and the 2014 World Cup as well as a host of public affairs and government-sponsored campaigns through the years—and a good deal of work in recent years protecting corporate reputations during that which was known as Operação Lava-Jato (Operation Car-Wash), a country-wide crackdown on corruption. It’s an approach that has helped FSB grow to around $68 million in revenues, making it the highest-ranked Latin American firm on our global agency ranking, at number 33.

But heritage is only half the story: FSB has been modernizing and innovating too, making its first acquisition last year and integrating digital, content and consumer marketing specialist Loures Consultoria and its founder Alexandre Loures. Key Clients include Brazil’s National Confederation of Industries (CNI), Nestlé, JBS, Banco BTG Pactual, Disney, L’Oréal, the Ministry of Health, Ipiranga, the City of Rio de Janeiro and McKinsey, with new business from Huawei, Empiricus, Editora Abril, CMOC, Eleva, Neoenergia, Paranapanema, Valor Capital, Lex Finance and law firm Kincaid Mendes Vianna. In addition to the ongoing Operação Lava-Jato work, highlights last year included developing an integrated communications strategy to promote Disney Parks’ attractions in the Brazilian market, and a SABRE-winning campaign against fake news for the Ministry of Health.—PH

Singer Associates (US, Independent)

When it comes to high-stakes public battles on the West Coast, Sam Singer’s firm is very likely to be involved on one side of the aisle. And that reputation has only improved in recent years, powering another year of impressive growth — up an eye-catching 34% in 2018 to $13.1m, from just 17 staffers, including a new office in Silicon Valley to join its existing San Francisco HQ.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that Singer’s revenues have grown 300% since 2013, thanks to a loyal client base that includes Chevron, Stanford and Bayer. But there was plenty of new business last year, from such names as Tetra Tech Environmental Engineering, the Denver Broncos, the Hotel Council of San Francisco, the California Hotel & Lodging Association, the San Jose Water Company, Blue Shield of California and Kylli Real Estate Development. They join a roster that also features American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Bayer Crop Science Hawaii, Jay Paul Development Company and Sand Hill Property Company.

Singer’s offering includes its long-running (and award-winning) corporate-sponsored community-based newspaper/news site, The Richmond Standard for Chevron. The online publication has garnered significant media coverage nationally and internationally as a groundbreaking community journalism concept and as a corporate news delivery service. Meanwhile, the firm’s work continues to showcase its aptitude in handling sensitive public issues, whether Monsanto/Bayer, the Outside Lands music festival or the successful RM3 bridge toll campaign. 

Sam Singer continues to head the organization with a growing leadership bench that includes Adam Alberti and Jason Barnett. New hires included partner Pete Hillan and account director Christie Farrell — AS 


SKDKnickerbocker 
(US, Stagwell Group)

For many years a leader in supporting progressive political causes in Washington, DC, and beyond, in 2018 SKDKnickerbocker found itself leading “resistance” efforts on a range of fronts, from managing the media during key Supreme Court nomination fights to protecting a woman’s right to choose to helping enact legislation aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic, while also producing award-winning television and direct mail that helped elect new Democratic Governors in Kansas, Connecticut and Wisconsin, and a new Democratic attorney general in Michigan, as well as helping re-elect Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia.

With about 120 people in its four US offices (Washington, DC, New York, Albany and Los Angeles), SKDK supports a roster of corporate and not-for-profit clients that includes Dominion Energy, Planned Parenthood, American Airlines, Human Rights Campaign, AT&T, Open & Fair Skies, Waymo, Disney, Rockefeller Foundation, SEIU, Gillette, Delta Airlines, Under Armour, Save Our Care, the Pepsico Foundation, Google, Center for Reproductive Rights, NAACP, Immigration Law Center. New business from the likes of IBM, Land O'Lakes and the Times Up Legal Defense Fund helped to drive revenue growth of around 35% last year.

The firm’s leadership team includes a number of political heavyweights, including Hilary Rosen, former head of the RIAA; Anita Dunn, former communications director for President Obama; Jennifer Cunningham, called the “most powerful woman in Albany” by the New York Post; Josh Isay, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer and veteran New York media consultant; and Bill Knapp, nationally recognized campaign strategist. Heather Wilson, who joined the firm last year as managing director, was promoted to lead the Los Angeles office, with Emily Campbell, heading the west coast political offer.

Among the highlights of SKDK’s work in 2018, it earned a SABRE nomination for helping the Americans for Securing All Packages coalition with its work to prevent Chinese Fentanyl coming into the US. Rosen, meanwhile, partnered with other powerful DC women and the National Women’s Law Center to secure a home and funding to support women bringing cases as part of the Time’s Up campaign. New practices, meanwhile, included one focused on working with philanthropic organizations and another helping clients deal with litigation and a range of investigations. — PH