Financial PR firms weathered a rough 2018, which was Wall Street’s worst performance in a decade. The S&P 500 tumbled 6.2 percent. The Dow fell 5.6 percent. The NASDAQ declined 4.0.

In its December 31 financial wrap-up, CNN cited volatility driven by signs of an economic slowdown, worries over monetary policy, political dysfunction, inflation fears and potential regulation of the technology sector among reasons for Wall Street’s 2018 blues.

APCO rides out storm

Jeff Zelkowitz
Jeff Zelkowitz

The public affairs mindset of Washington-based APCO Worldwide helped it make the most out of a down year in the financial category as its fee income slipped 9.2 percent to $10.8 million.

Jeff Zelkowitz, head of APCO’s Global Financial Practice, said the firm’s PA orientation was most evident in its support for public sector financial oversight and economic development agencies, government ministries and central banks.

APCO handled projects “to ensure strong and transparent management of public sector finances, restructure debt, attract investment, strengthen public markets, and promote policies and reforms to create the foundations for sustainable economic growth,” according to Zelkowitz.

He views fintech as a growing category for both startups and established financial companies. “Data-fueled innovation is changing financial services, creating new benefits for consumers and markets but also requiring agile communications and public affairs strategies,” said Zelkowitz.

O'Dwyer's May '19 PR Firm Rankings MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's May '19 PR Firm Rankings Magazine

He believes APCO’s integrated approach to communications, combining “financial subject matter expertise with an understanding of client strategies, stakeholder, policy and media landscape and data-driven insights on what impacts target audiences” is what differentiates the firm from its competitors.

It’s the media that matters

Richard Dukas of Dukas Linden PR, No. 7 on O’Dwyer’s rankings of financial firms, said his broadcast media team chalked up a solid 2018 with bookings on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and “Closing Bell,” Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria” and PBS’ “Nightly Business Report.”

On behalf of Ark Invest, DLPR cashed in on the media and investment community’s intense interest in Tesla boss Elon Musk. Ark Invest is the ETF industry’s second biggest shareholder of Tesla. Following Musk’s claim in August that he had a deal to take Tesla private for $460 per-share, Cathie Wood, Ark’s Chief Investment Officer, tweeted an open letter to Musk urging him against the go-private deal.

Richard Dukas
Richard Dukas

The Tesla chief responded to Wood directly, setting the tone for significant coverage speculating on the wisdom—or lack thereof—of such action.

“Wood appeared on the major financial broadcast cable networks 16 times in August, to offer expert commentary on Tesla,” said Dukas. “Her unwavering support likely was key to the strength of Tesla’s stock, despite Musk’s antics.”

DLPR notched a 1.9 percent gain in 2018 financial fees to $5.4 million.

New faces, accounts at Vested

Vested, No. 5 on the financial list, chalked up a 17.7 percent rise in 2018 fees to $7.3 million.

Binna Kim, President, said recruitment and client wins highlighted the performance.

In January, Vested opened its London office and hired Elspeth Rothwell as CEO and Katie Spreadbury as Director.

Binna Kim
Binna Kim

In the U.S., the firm added PR veteran Amber Roberts to its team as CEO of professional services, and Kevin Trowbridge as Chief Technology Officer and the lead developer of the firm’s proprietary tech platform Qwoted.

In early 2019, Vested brought on Christina Bertinelli, formerly of Lumentus, as Managing Director to help further the agency’s digital capabilities.

On the client front, Vested picked up Boston Private, which provides wealth management, trust, and private banking to clients.

Kim said Vested helped Boston Private receive top-tier coverage for its “Why of Wealth” campaign, including a feature in the New York Times money column and coverage on Business Insider and CNBC.

The firm also added digital assets leader DCG/Grayscale/Genesis; real estate investment tech platform Roofstock; and the wealth management firm Bailard.

Finn names first financial head

Finn Partners, which posted a 19.1 percent jump in financial income to $2.5 million, named Ryan Barr its first global financial services head.

His mission is to drive “successful business outcomes for its clients through purposeful storytelling and integrated communications programs.”

Finn’s financial unit, which recently acquired Moorgate Communications in London, added a roster of financial pros including Robert Kelsey, Athanasia Sfikas, Pete Johnson, Beth Weine, Liz Nardozza and Rachel Neff to its team.

Ryan Barr
Ryan Barr

They serve long-standing clients such as Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, Regions Bank and S&P Global as well as new engagements with BNY Mellon, Cetera Financial Group and First Interstate Bank.

“Technological advancements have turned every consumer, partner and employee into a real-time brand advocate and influencer,” said Barr. “We work with our clients to identify the most meaningful way to engage key audiences and inspire action.”

Bliss packages complex ideas into integrated PR

Financial PR, which accounts for 36 percent of overall revenues, is the No. 1 practice at Bliss Integrated Communications.

Meg Wildrick
Meg Wildrick

“We work with some of the biggest names in asset management, insurance, wealth management, banking and private equity and have expertise in reaching niche audiences, including regulators, advisors, intermediaries, institutional investors, business owners, consumers, millennials, women, mass affluent, and high-net-worth investors,” said Meg Wildrick, Managing Partner.

Bliss, which ranked No. 9 on O’Dwyer’s financial list with $3.9 million in fees, takes pride in its ability to break down complex ideas and packaging them into integrated communications campaigns.

Wildrick said the firm’s 25 financial staffers “know the issues, audiences, influencers and media that matter to B2B and B2C financial services clients — and push themselves to stay ahead of emerging trends in fintech, regtech, financial wellness, wealth management, payments and cybersecurity.”

Become tech-wise or capsize

In the aftermath of the economic crisis a decade ago, the most resilient companies learned they would either become tech-wise or capsize, according to Steve Halsey, managing director, business consulting at G&S Business Communications.

Steve Halsey
Steve Halsey

G&S collaborated with financial services and fintech clients on a significant number of tech-driven business transformations that prompted the need for strategic brand repositionings, new brand architectures and visual assets, and stakeholder engagement across paid, earned, owned and shared media.

Halsey said the firm is poised to detect and address changes in consumer and business relationships with financial institutions—many of which are the result of new generational preferences and the rapid adoption of technology in decision making.

G&S, which ranked No. 12 on O’Dwyer’s financial list with $2.9 million in fees, strives to unlock value for fledgling fintech companies as they achieve scale, seek new routes to market, and encounter pressure from competitors, regulators, legislators or suppliers.

“It’s an exciting time to be a business communications agency because our action-inspiring strategies can be tailored for a wide range of organizations, from global businesses to emerging ventures,” he said.