Spectrum Science Communications, Imre, LLC and W20 Group powered the Top 25 independent PR firms to a 12.9 percent rise in combined 2018 fee income to $2.1B and a 10.7 percent jump in employment to 11,702, according to O'Dwyer's Rankings of PR Firms released today.

O'Dwyer's May '19 PR Firm Rankings Magazine O'Dwyer's May '19 PR Firm Rankings Magazine

W2O (+23.1 percent to $177.6M) paced the gains among the Top 10 firms. Prosek Partners (+15.1 percent to $47M), Zeno Group (+13.6 percent to $73.4M), ICR (+9.0 percent to $69.2M) and Finn Partners (+8.0 percent to $88.1M) ranked as the other big gainers in the top grouping.

Edelman topped the list of independent firms with income of $888.4M (down 0.6 percent). 

Ruder Finn (No. 7 at $69.1M) and MWWPR (No. 9 at $42.6M) returned to Top 10 rankings. RF | Binder, Taylor and Peppercomm were among the top 50 firms in 2017 to drop out of the rankings this year.

Michelle GrossMichelle Gross

Spectrum earned the top gainer spot because "we "renewed our focus on clients and increased capabilities in key areas to ensure we are delivering best-in-class interwoven programs in the evolving communications landscape," according to president Michelle Gross.

In 2018, Spectrum saw the ahead-of-schedule completion of its sale to CEO Jonathan Wilson and established a new framework around four key pillars: strategy, engagement, innovation and creative.

The firm reorganized leadership into a new strategy council consisting of Wilson, Gross, Rob Oquendo (chief innovation officer), Michelle Strier (chief strategy officer), Scott Chesson (COO) and Jon Higgins (chief engagement officer).

Gross said Spectrum is positioned to take on the future of health and science communications—a space where it sees the overlap between marketing and communications disciplines expanding and the importance of taking a science-first perspective.

"As we move beyond simply integrated teams to interwoven client-centric teams—with our scientists, creatives, media specialists and account teams working in lockstep to deliver for clients every day and setting the agency model of the future—our uncompromising focus on client service and strategy rooted in science and innovation remain unchanged," she said.

Dave Imre
Dave Imre

Imre, the No. 2 leading gainer, attributed a portion of its success to  a "fiercely independent business model that clients find attractive when seeking an agency partner."  

Noting that the shop has hired people with diverse backgrounds, Dave Imre said, "We’ve especially doubled down on strategy to bring more true human insights to the table. And we’ve also seen the industry renew its creative focus on leading with ideas, followed by technology, which we’ve always done. The best ideas resonate with people and we’ve often seen them attract a lot of earned media as a result."

In 2018, Imre acquired JMPR, which has more than 40 years of experience in the automotive sector. That deal "has helped us bolster our integrated approach for clients and we expect to see that addition continue to support our growth in 2019 and beyond," said Imre.

No Categories, Just Solutions at W2O

W2O CEO Jim Weiss credited his firm's robust performance to its effort to redefine the communications and marketing landscape "with no lines between and among categories, just solutions to an ever-changing market complete with an expanded ecosystem of influence."

Jim Weiss
Jim Weiss

Launched by Weiss in 2001, the firm has invested heavily in data analytics/insights, digital/ social media, content creation/activation and strategic consulting. 

He said the firm's client-centric approach has attracted more than 24 of the top 25 pharmaceutical companies to its roster and a growing number of Fortune 500 clients.

"W2O prides itself on always working hard to punch above its weight because it’s on a mission to improve healthcare and the patient experience through strategic marketing and communications by achieving clarity, understanding and engagement," said Weiss.“It’s about never resting on our laurels and continually challenging ourselves and our clients to do better, to see what’s not in front of us, to dig deeper for the best approach, and to ignore labels and descriptions.”    

Zeno Keeps Rolling Along

Zeno CEO Barby Siegel noted that 2018 marked the ninth consecutive year of double-digit growth for the firm. It was up 17 percent in the US and 13.6 percent overseas. 

More than half (54 percent) of Zeno's revenues stemmed from multinational sources, up from 46 percent in 2017.

Barby Siegel
Barby Siegel

She said Zeno increasingly works at the intersection of communications and business impact with purposeful work that generates real and measurable business outcomes. 

"While innovation is at the heart of the firm, we continue to invest in our core competency of earned media relations while pushing forward into new and rapidly-evolving spaces such as paid social, owned newsrooms, data-driven story-telling and content developed specifically to optimize search," said Siegel. 

As Zeno grows and evolves, it strives to keep its soul, according to Siegel. "We continually reinforce core values that are non-negotiable—fearless, collaborative, committed, true to our word and human," she said. 

Acquisitions, Business Wins Drive Finn

During 2018, Finn Partners acquired MFA, a New York sports marketing, travel, lifestyle and consumer firm and later, picked up CatchOn, a PR and digital marketing agency that brought new offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and added depth in travel, lifestyle and health and wellness.

That acquisition drive continued into 2019 with the purchase of Small Army, a Boston-based digital storytelling agency and the addition of Moorgate Communications in London, a financial services specialist firm

Peter Finn
Peter Finn

“Our commitment to be a world class, best-place-to-work global agency, with a heart and a conscience, was core to our growth in 2018,” said Peter Finn, founding partner. “Our growth during the first quarter of 2019 has been unprecedented, especially in terms of new business as we have won significant accounts in health, technology, sustainability, education, travel and other sectors. When combined with our two acquisitions this year, we’re on a path that will deliver stronger growth this year than in 2018.”

The firm also stepped up its hiring, adding 34 staffers during the past 13 months. Key U.S. hires were managing partners Jodi Brooks (technology practice leader); Jane Madden (sustainability and social impact practice head); Ryan Barr (global financial services practice chief), and senior partner Kris-Garvey Graves in the consumer group.

HealthUnlimited Poised for Rebound

Following a 6.6 percent dip in fee income to $24.3M last year, HealthUnlimited CEO Tim Bird said the firm entered 2019 with a solid base of growing clients and is positioned for growth with expansion or capabilities and presence.

Tim Bird
Tim Bird

"We are extremely proud that two of our signature campaigns, Myhealthysexual Story and Speak Your Migraine, were recognized by our peers and shortlisted by several industry awards for creativity and impact," said Bird.

The firm strengthened creative and digital engagement capabilities with senior leadership hires. "Our aligned global leadership team welcomed new senior leaders in the UK: Ann Bartling, PR practice; Jon Watson, executive creative; Per Hedman, digital engagement; Jason Galla-Barth, brand promotion, along with Dan Burgess, US digital engagement leader," according to Bird. 

HealthUnlimited has embraced the philosophy of being Fluent in HUman, aligned with our core purpose to create a meaningful change in health, said Bird. "We have renewed our commitment to training and development initiatives, as well as our commitment to diversity and inclusion, which has already resulted in a significant increase in a more diverse and aware workforce," he added.

5W PR Posts 17.7% Across-the-Board Gain

5W Public Relations CEO Ronn Torossian said the firm's 17.7 percent gain in fee income to $32.4M came from across its practice areas. 

Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

As a PR innovator, 5W launched a cannabidiol (CBD) specialty team, a practice focused providing strategy and media relations services in gaming and sports gambling industry; and expanded its fintech specialty.

The firm added staff to its corporate, technology, consumer and digital teams.

"We won consumer, corporate and fast-growing technology companies and do great work for them," said Torossian. 

Infinite Global Exceeds Expectations

Jamie Diaferia reported that Infinite Global posted an 18.6 percent surge in fee income to $8.1M last year.

Jamie Diaferia
Jamie Diaferia

"We exceeded our ambitious expectations by hitting three key metrics: at least 15% growth (with a cap of 20% to make sure we don’t exceed our ability to hire responsibly); a minimum of 20% profit margin; and 50-55% staff costs," he explained.

Diaferia focused on four primary drivers: diversifying services, investing in marketing generating more revenue from existing clients, and limiting staff and client turnover. 

He said Infinite Global has hit every goal in the seven-year growth plan that it established in 2015. "It’s gratifying to watch the company hitting on all cylinders across the US and UK," he said.

Racepoint Rebuilds

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

Racepoint Global experienced key client losses in 2018, including its long-standing relationships of seven and nine years with AT&T and IBM, respectively. Fee income dropped 16.8M to $20.9M.

Chairman Larry Weber stepped into the CEO role in the second half of 2018 to help reposition the agency and double down on its focus on earned media for B2B, technology and healthcare brands. 

He told O'Dwyer's: "Racepoint has started 2019 off strong, exceeding Q1 growth targets, and we are optimistic about the year ahead."

Leading gainers

The top 50 firms registered a 14.1 percent gain in income to $2.4 and a 13.3 rise in employment to 12,048.

The top 100 posted fees of $2.6B (up 13.4 percent) and employment of 14,915 (up 12.8 percent).

Leading gainers in the top 25 are: Spectrum (#13, $32.9M, up 37.1 percent), IMRE (#24, $21.9M, up 34.3 percent), W2O Group (#2, $177.5M, up 23.1 percent), 5W PR (#14, $32.4M, up 17.7 percent), and French | West | Vaughan (#18, $29.2M, up 16 percent).

Of the firms ranked #26-50, representing a range in fees from $9.5M to $20.6M, 24 posted gains with 15 in the double-digits.  Leading gainers in this range are: Walker Sands Communications (#36, $14.1M, up 62.3 percent), Crosby (#26, $20.6M, up 36.5 percent), Lambert (#45, $10M, up 32.1 percent), Jeffrey Group (#47, $9.9M, up 22.4 percent), and rbb Communications (#38, $13.5M, up 18.8 percent).

Of the firms ranked #51-100, representing a range in fees from $2.1 M to $9.3M, 37 posted gains with 20 in double-digits.  Leading gainers in this range are: Caliber (#90, $2.7M, up 72 percent), Singer Associates (#58, $7.6M, up 47.9 percent), ARPR (#98, $2.2M, up 43.5 percent), Perry Communications (#91, $2.7M, up 43 percent), and Berk Communications (#77, $3.4M, up 30.9 percent).

Of the firms ranked #101-131, representing a range in fees from $383K to $2.1M, 22 posted gains with 11 in double-digits. Leading gainers in the range are: Judge Public Relations (#128, $629K, up 76.1 percent), Buttonwood Communications Group (#114, $1.3M, up 48.8 percent), Karbo Communications (#102, $2M, up 43.6 percent), KCD PR (#119, $1M, up 40.7 percent), and The Bradford Group (#112, $1.3M, up 36.6 percent)

Newly-Ranked

New to the rankings this year are: Berk Communications (#78, $3.4M, up 30.9 percent), Buchanan Public Relations (#109, $1.5M, up 3.4 percent), Buttonwood Communications Group (#114, $1.2M, up 43.1 percent), Caliber Corporate Advisers (#90, $2.7M, up 72 percent), Citizen Relations (#12, $34M, up 10.7 percent), CommCentric Solutions (#121, $995K, up 11 percent), Crenshaw Communications (#97, $2.2M, up 23 percent), The Dana Agency (#120, $1M, up 7.8 percent), Havas Formula (#23, $22.3, up 11.6 percent), Judge Public Relations (#128, $629K, up 76.1 percent), KCD PR (#119, $1M, up 40.7 percent), Kohnstamm Communications (#96, $2.3M, up 11 percent), MWWPR (#9, $42.5, up 6.5 percent), Regan Communications Group (#30, $18.5, up 13.6 percent), Ripp Media/Public Relations (#99, $2.2M, up 16.3 percent), Ruder Finn (#7, $69.1M, percentage change NA), Sam Brown Inc. (#63, $5.6M, up 7.1 percent), SevenTwenty Strategies (#75, $4M, up 21.5 percent), SPI Group (#68, $5.1M, down 5.7 percent), Touchdown PR (#73, $4.1M, down 2.5 percent), Zapwater Communications (#89, $2.8M, up 14.3 percent),  Zeno Group (#5, $73.3M, up 13.6 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 42 firms either calling New York City their home or having a presence there. Top firms are EdelmanZeno Group and Ruder Finn.

Boston area has 13 firms.  Racepoint Global leads the way followed by PAN Communications and newly-ranked Regan Communications Group.

Fifteen firms make up the Washington, DC ranking.  Edelman is first followed by APCO Worldwide and healthcare specialist Spectrum.

Twenty-four firms cover the southeast from Virginia 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.

Seven firms from Texas reported fees.  Edelman's branch office in Austin dominates followed by Pierpont Communications and newly-ranked Touchdown PR.

Twenty-five firms hail from the midwest with 15 in Chicago, including chart-topper Edelman.  Columbus-based Fahlgren Mortine and Walker Sands Communications round out the top three Midwest firms.

Firms tracked by the rankings with locations in cities throughout California and Oregon total 35 with 17 showing offices in the San Francisco area and 12 showing offices in the Los Angeles area.  W2O Group tops the San Francisco chart and Edelman is #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 74 and 75 firms, respectively.  Edelman tops technology with $280.2M followed by Hotwire ($36.8M) and Zeno Group ($25.3M).

W2O Group is #1 in healthcare at $168.1M, ending Edelman's ($154.2M) long-running hold on the top spot.  Spectrum is third at $32.9M.

Edelman dominates the specialty charts, including beauty & fashion (26 firms), entertainment (28 firms), financial (48 firms), food & beverage (47 firms), home furnishings (29 firms), professional services (54 firms) and travel & economic development (40 firms).

Edging out Edelman for agriculture PR is New York's G&S Business Communications with $17.9M in net fees to Edelman's $8.5M.

APCO Worldwide takes the top spot for environmental PR & PA with $45.5M in net fees to Edelman's $12.9M.  Davies is a close third at $11.1M.

MWWPR is #1 for sports PR with $8.7M in net fees, followed by French | West | Vaughan at $6.3M and Coyne at $2.8M.

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.