Twenty-one of the top 25 firms in O'Dwyer's 2018 rankings enjoyed positive growth in fee income, with 11 charting double-digit gains.
Richard Edelman said business at his firm was slow during the first-half of 2017, but picked up as the year progressed. He noted that Edelman had outperformed the big agency networks. The CEO refuses to accept single-digit growth as the "new normal," saying the independent shop must battle ad agencies and digital outfits for market share.
W2O "had another breakthrough year," said CEO Jim Weiss as the firm exceeded its revenue target and improved in key areas of efficiency, profit margin, talent development and client service.
APCO Worldwide remained in the No. 3 slot with fees of $128.2M, up 6.3 percent. Finn Partners held steady at No. 4 with $81.2M in net fees, followed by financial PR/IR specialist ICR with $63.4M in net fees, up 13.9 percent.
Jennifer Prosek's firm hopped ahead of Padilla to come in at No. 6, posting $40.8M in net fees. Prosek Partners posted the biggest gain of the top ten, up 33.2 percent. Padilla checked in with a 1.5 percent gain to $40M.
Technology PR dominated Hotwire ($33.2M, up 4.9 percent) made the top ten for the first time at No. 8, followed by Coyne ($28M, up 2.6 percent) and another first-timer in the top ten, Ronn Torossian's 5W Public Relations was up 13.3 percent to $27.5M.
Leading gainers in the top 25 are: Prosek Partners (#6, $40.8M, up 33.2 percent), Highwire PR (#25, $17M, up 21.3 percent), W2O Group (#2, $144.3M, up 17.6 percent), Spectrum (#16, $24M, up 20 percent), and ICR (#5, $63.4M, up 13.9 percent).
Of the firms ranked #26-50, representing a range in fees from $8.4M to $16.3M, 21 posted gains with 12 in the double-digits. Leading gainers in this range are: KYNE (#42, $9.6M, up 64.3 percent), Bravo Group (#30, $14.3M, up 25 percent), Crosby (#28, $15.1M, up 23.8 percent), rbb Communications (#37, $11.4M, up 23.5 percent), and JPA Health Communications (#45, $9.1M, up 19.2 percent).
Of the firms ranked #51-100, representing a range in fees from $1.7 M to $8.3M, 33 posted gains with 16 in double-digits. Leading gainers in this range are: Vested (#58, $6.1M, up 73.4 percent), Champion (#84, $2.8M, up 65.7 percent), North 6th Agency (#59, $6M, up 38.1 percent), Idea Grove (#80, $3.2M, up 34.6 percent), and Schneider Associates (#78, $3.2M, up 20.2 percent).
Of the firms ranked #101-123, representing a range in fees from $477K to $1.5M, 15 posted gains with eight in double-digits. Leading gainers in the range are: Wordwrite Communications (#109, $1.2M, up 46 percent), Hemsworth Communications (#102, $1.5M, up 41 percent), Power Group (#104, $1.4M, up 27 percent), Dale Curtis Communications (#122, $481K, up 25.8 percent), and ARPR (#101, $1.5M, up 17.7 percent)
Overall, 90 of the 123 ranked firms had a positive change compared to last year when 93 of 124 firms were up.
New to the rankings this year are: Matter Communications (#24, $17.1M, up 3.1 percent), Tonic Life Communications (#35, $10M, up 2 percent), Tunheim (#60, $5.7M, even), Lazar Partners (#63, $5.3M, up 6.4 percent), Infinite Global (#68, $4.6M, up 16.9 percent), March Communications (#71, $4M, up 9.8 percent), Brownstein Group (#88, $2.6M, even), Stanton Communications (#94, $2.1M, down 3 percent), Hollywood Agency (#97, $2M, even), Bellmont Partners (#103, $1.5M, up 3 percent), Merryman Communications (#110, $1.2M, up 16.5 percent), RMD Advertising (#113, $1.1M, up 2.9 percent), Butler Associates (#115, $878K, up 9.5 percent), Weiss PR (#120, $573K, down 6.4 percent).
New York firms dominate
O'Dwyer's ranks firms in 13 key cities/regions such as New York, Boston, D.C., southeast, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the west.
New York area dominates again with 39 firms either calling New York City their home or having a presence there. Top firms are Edelman, Prosek Partners and Hotwire.
Twenty-five firms cover the Southeast from North Carolina down to Florida. French | West | Vaughan, which makes Raleigh, NC its home, continues multi-year reign at the top of this chart followed by Jackson Spalding and Edelman in Atlanta.
Twenty-four firms hail from the midwest with 14 in Chicago, including chart-topper Edelman. Columbus-based Fahlgren Mortine and Minneapolis-based Padilla round out the top three Midwest firms.
Firms tracked by the rankings with locations in cities throughout California and Oregon total 37 with 21 showing offices in the San Franciso area and 14 showing offices in the Los Angeles area. W2O tops the San Francisco chart and Edelman is No. 1 in L.A.
Rankings by PR specialty
Only O'Dwyer's ranks firms by 12 PR specialties.
Technology and healthcare PR are the most popular specialties, with 67 firms in each. Edelman tops both of these rankings with $157.3M in healthcare PR fees and $259.8M in technology. W2O Group is #2 in healthcare at $124.2M followed by APCO Worldwide at $27.5M.
Hotwire ($33.2M) and Finn Partners ($26.4M) round out the top three technology PR firms.
Edelman dominates the specialty charts, including beauty & fashion (28 firms), entertainment (30 firms), financial (45 firms), food & beverage (47 firms), home furnishings (27 firms), professional services (53 firms) and travel & economic development (43 firms).
Edging out Edelman for agriculture PR is New York's G&S Business Communications with $17.4M in net fees to Edelman's $14.1M.
APCO Worldwide takes the top spot for environmental PR & PA with $37M in net fees to Edelman's $17M. Davies is a close third at $10.4M.
Taylor is #1 for sports PR with $9.6M in net fees, followed by French | West | Vaughan at $5.7M, Coyne at $2.8M and Edelman at $1.6M.
A basic measuring tool of the O’Dwyer ranking is the ratio of wages paid to employees. For most of the firms, that figure should be close to 50 percent. Firms are supposed to devote at least half of their income to counseling and press relations.
Rankings participants were required to submit the top page of the latest corporate income tax return and W-3. O'Dwyer's is the only ranking that requires this documentation.