2019 Financial PR Agencies of the Year, North America | Holmes Report
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2019 Financial PR Agencies of the Year

The 2019 North America PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 150 submissions and 50 face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across the US and Canada.

Analysis of each of the 70 finalists across 14 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are unveiled at the 2019 North American SABRE Awards on May 7 at Cipriani 42nd St in New York. 

Winner: Joele Frank Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher (Independent)

While the vast majority of its peers have been emphasizing the global reach (the merger of Kekst and CNC being the latest example, following the example of Finsbury and RLM and seeking to replicate the resources of FTI and Brunswick), Joele Frank Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher continues to thrive as an independent US firm with 120 people across just two offices (New York and San Francisco), its lack of physical presence in overseas markets apparently no impediment to cracking the top five global M&A advisors (by value of deals worked) as compiled by industry authority mergermarket.

The Deal’s Corporate Control Alert again ranked Joele Frank as the top M&A public relations advisor by deal count in the US, reflecting work on 110 transactions. Among the highlights, the firm advised the Dell special committee in connection with the company’s acquisition of tracking stock related to Dell’s economic interest in VMware; GGP on its sale to Brookfield Property Partners; and Perry Ellis following take-out proposals from multiple potential buyers. The firm’s fast-growing financial sponsors practice, meanwhile, advised on more than 80 sponsor-backed transactions, including several of the largest buyouts of the year and counseled five companies, with a combined market capitalization of more than $10 billion, on their initial public offerings.

The M&A work remains the most high-profile, but like many of its peers Joele Frank has diversified its offer quite considerably in recent years, and works across a wide range of mission-critical situations, including financial restatements, product recalls, litigation, and unplanned management changes, as well as gender and diversity issues in the age of #MeToo, unprecedented natural disasters and a volatile climate in Washington. Last year, the firm was called upon to advise Papa John’s on a cultural audit and investigation of the company following controversial remarks made by its founder and former CEO, and Wynn Resorts following allegations of sexual harassment by Steve Wynn. It also supported David’s Bridal through its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, maintaining a focus on the customer during a troubled period, and helped Lowe’s communicate with stakeholders around the appointment of a new CEO and two new board members.

The firm maintains a singular focus on delivering successful outcomes for its clients by providing actionable, honest advice and executive counsel with integrity and intensity. That’s one reason why 70% of project clients stay on after the initial assignment is completed. New clients in 2018 included Barnes & Noble, Biogen, Cardtronics, Cronos Group, Donnelley Financial Services, International Flavors & Fragrances, Papa John’s, and Syneos Health, while the firm continues to work with American Airlines, Broadcom, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, MGM Resorts International, Procter & Gamble, Prudential Financial, S&P Global, and Twitter, among others.—PH


Finalists

Finsbury (WPP)

It has been eight years now since the former Robinson Lerer & Montgomery merged with UK financial specialist Finsbury, and more than four years since the US operation adopted the Finsbury brand, and the progress has been impressive. The firm now ranks fourth in the US Mergermarket ranking and also brings a formidable reputation for its corporate and crisis work.

In particular, Finsbury is now among the leading players in the cross-border transaction business, thanks to its partnership with the firm’s heavyweight London office and German financial PR powerhouse Hering Schuppener. That has helped the firm play a lead role on such deals as Takeda/Shire, Linde/Praxair, Express Scripts/Cigna, ABB/Hitachi and Marsh & McLennan/Jardine Lloyd Thompson. 

Neither should the firm’s crisis expertise be overlooked, demonstrated best by its ongoing support for Volkswagen through its diesel emissions crisis; counselling Dick’s Sporting Goods through its high-profile firearms policy change; and advising Petrobras on its corruption scandal. All of which has been accomplished while strengthening the firm’s performance in other areas. Its partnership with WPP sister agency Glover Park Group has added a new dimension to Finsbury’s M&A work as well as expanded public affairs capabilities. — AS

FTI Strategic Communications (FTI Consulting)

2017 was a year of change for FTI Consulting’s “strategic communications segment”, with longtime CEO Ed Reilly replaced by Mark McCall and Brian Kennedy elevated to lead the Americas. But the firm’s 2018 performance confirmed its return to form, with revenues up 16% to $223m. The firm added a slew of new clients in the US, helping it achieve one of its strongest M&A advisory years to date, including 228 deals worth $312.2bn.

That included major deals such as Shire’s acquisition by Takeda, Cigna’s acquisition of Express Scripts, and British American Tobacco’s acquisition of Reynolds American. And the regulatory approvals secured in all of these industry-shaping transactions continue to illustrate the impact of FTI’s strong public affairs capabilities when it comes to successful transaction execution.

In 2018, the firm also launched a new digital and insights practice led by Brent McGoldrick, combining its longstanding expertise in opinion polling, investor research and digital communications. And campaign highlights for the transactions above reflected FTI’s ability to understand stakeholder concerns and develop strategies that led to successful outcomes. — AS

Kekst CNC (Publicis Groupe)

It was an eventful year for New York-based Kekst & Company, which a decade after its acquisition by Publicis Groupe merged with sister agency CNC, the German-headquartered corporate and financial consultancy that itself became part of Publicis in 2012. It was a merger that supplemented Kekst’s formidable US presence with a truly global presence: Kekst CNC has 250 professionals serving more than 600 clients from 12 offices, adding Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, London, Tokyo, Brussels, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Seoul, and Stockholm (where the firm continues to operate as JKL) to Kekst’s New York headquarters.

The strength of the combined entity is apparent from its position in the financial sector’s various rankings. It was second in mergermarket’s ranking of US M&A advisors by volume of deals worked (and similarly placed on the global list) and the only firm to rank in the top three advisors for M&A, private equity and bankruptcy according to The Deal’s 2018 Power Rankings. Among the M&A highlights, Kekst worked with Celgene to announce its acquisition by Bristol-Myers Squibb for $74 billion — the largest pharma deal in history; Vodafone’s acquisition of Liberty Global’s European assets; E.on’s acquisition of Innogy; Linde’s merger with Praxair; and Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto. The firm also advised on a number of significant North American spins and IPOs, including the closely-watched public offering of cannabis company Tilray.

But in the past three years, under the leadership of Jeremy Fielding (now co-CEO of the merged firm), Kekst has seen growth across a range of specialty areas: activism defense, corporate governance, change management, complex IR, litigation support, cybersecurity, bankruptcies and restructurings. Last year, the firm defended companies with a combined market cap of approximately $1 trillion (including PPG, Alexion, Progress Software, and Nestle) on activism matters. It also worked on a variety of cybersecurity incidents, data breaches, #metoo challenges, the opioid epidemic, and a host of other crises.

Kekst has also been investing in the future, adding significant talent including Liz Cohen, former head of the financial practice at Weber Shandwick, and Sherri Toub, former head of the restructuring practice at Finsbury, as partners in New York. The firm also created a global advisory board, with leaders from government, finance, business and advertising realms. The merger with CNC, meanwhile, adds several new capabilities, including improved data analytics and insights and expertise in sustainability and purpose, expanding its offering to clients. — PH

Vested (Independent)

In 2017, Vested was named the Holmes Report’s New Agency of the Year, a picture-perfect example of a young firm in the throes of skyrocketing growth. In the time since, the four-year-old firm has continued on that trajectory, growing into an $8m operation — with revenues rising an impressive 31% last year alone. With 39 people in the firm’s New York and London offices, Vested bills itself as a ‘new communications agency for a new financial industry.’ Vested was founded by CEO Dan Simon and president Binna Kim, who previously led the US offices of Cognito. Within a year, the agency onboarded COO Ishviene Arora and chief creative officer Ali Wells, both from Cognito. The leadership team continues to grow, with the additions of CEO of professional services Amber Roberts and managing director Christina Bertinelli over during the last 12 months.

Vested operates an integrated approach to both its work and its culture. The firm leverages multiple platforms and channels to tell a client's story, in the same way that it possesses a diverse team of employees with various backgrounds and expertise. The firm’s understanding of the transformation underway in the financial industry is evident in its work. Hallmark 2018 campaigns include Vested’s raising the visibility of PeerStreet, a real estate lending firm, by getting in with the many bloggers, podcasters, and industry figureheads that are talking about the space, and turning them into advocates for the brand. Vested also took the idea of media relations to the next level with the launch of Qwoted, a free platform designed to connect business and finance reporters with sources. The platform picked up traction among major publications in the financial services space including The Wall Street Journal, The Street, Marketwatch and Yahoo Finance.

As technology changes the way people think about financial services, Vested has focused on helping banks, asset managers and other institutions navigate this shift, resulting in new clients including NepFin, Foreside, Bailard, NEPC, Masthaven, Bailard, Morningstar and Roofstock joining a roster already populated by companies such as DTCC, Bloomberg, Clarity Money (Goldman Sachs), Morgan Stanley, PeerStreet, Elevate and Golub Capital. — DM