The top 130 independent PR firms posted 7.7 percent average growth in 2019 to $2.89B and a 6.0 percent jump in employment to 16,201, according to O’Dwyer’s 2020 annual rankings released today.

The 25 biggest firms showed a 8.1 percent gain to $2.2B in fee income and a 5.6 percent uptick in staff to 12,420.

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Ninety-eight firms posted gains, while 27 reported declines in fee income.

Remaining firms were either flat or 2019 reported numbers not comparable with last year’s, largely due to restructurings.

Edelman remains the top dog as net fees inched ahead 0.4 percent to $892M and employment rose 1.5 percent to 5,703.

That marks somewhat of a turnaround for Richard Edelman’s firm following its 0.6 percent slip in fees to $888.4M in the 2019 rankings.

Finn Sets Pace

Finn Partners showed the biggest percentage gain among the Top Ten firms, up 35 percent to $119.3M.

It outpaced ICR (+27.6 percent to $88.3M), W2O Group (+26 percent to $222.9M) and Prosek Partners (+16.5 percent to $54.8M).

Peter Finn said 2019 growth was driven by new business wins, expansion of existing clients, key senior hires and strategic acquisitions that bolstered capabilities in health, digital/creative, consumer, and financial services.

Peter Finn
Peter Finn

He noted that the healthcare group led by Gil Bashe expanded from less than 10 employees and clients in 2015 to a group that now has more 120 staffers and 100-plus clients.

“Our values-based culture, cross-practice collaboration and commitment to working hard and playing nice, continued to attract top talent at all levels,” noted Finn.

He’s confident Finn Partners’ senior leadership in health, sustainability, technology, integrated marketing, consumer and financial services will power future growth.

“Our 800 staff across 19 offices in the US, Europe and Asia, continue to deliver breakthrough campaigns rooted in analytics and insights and powered by strategy and creativity,” said Finn.

A highlight in 2019: Finn Partners became the first general market PR firm to be honored with the New York Urban League’s Champions of Diversity award for its “Actions Speak Louder Diversity and Inclusion” initiative.

W2O Hones Analytics Edge

W2O, which is the No. 2 ranked firm, furthered its goal of being the leading analytics-driven, digital-first healthcare marketing and communications company, according to founder/CEO Jim Weiss.

Jim Weiss
Jim Weiss

The San Francisco-based firm, which has more than 100 analysts and data scientists, put its data-savvy to work as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded.

Weiss noted that collaboration with the California Life Sciences Association enables W2O to track COVID-19-specific conversations and trends across the health ecosystem, and an adapted relevance framework is helping clients understand how to build a new playbook to navigate these challenging times.

Following an investment by private equity firm New Mountain Capital, W2O made three acquisitions in 2019 to boost its science communications, medical education and scientific visualization capabilities.

APCO Makes Social Impact

APCO Worldwide, which reported a six percent growth in fees to $142.3M, enjoyed double-digit growth in about a third of its global office network.

Margery Kraus
Margery Kraus

Margery Kraus, founder/executive chairman, singled out expansion in Manama (Bahrain) and strong results in New York, Raleigh, Brussels, Rome, Milan, Riyadh and Tokyo.

Kraus said APCO, which ranks No. 3 on O’Dwyer’s rankings, is “seeing immense pressure and expectations from clients in all sectors to go beyond their business objectives and make a positive impact on society, which has been an area of focus since our inception.”

In early 2020, APCO acquired Tembo Group, a leading social impact advisory firm, to strengthen its approach to advising clients on social and environmental opportunities and risks.

The firm also launched a strategic partnership with Erie Street—a Chicago-based independent advisory firm—and appointed Erie Street CEO and Chairman Terry Graunke as lead director of APCO’s board.

Kraus anticipates that strategic partnership will help position her firm to deliver more high-end consulting services that clients need the most and help it identify opportunities for acquisitions and continued growth in the advisory and communications market.

Noting that the war for talent is increasingly a hot topic in PR, Kraus said APCO has invested time and resources in hosting groups of students from leading universities.

It also held a career development event in partnership with ColorComm for 70 diverse industry professionals and participated in events centered on women’s empowerment, such as the World Woman Summit, Women President’s Organization Conference and the WBENC National Conference & Business Fair.

“We also invested heavily in expanding our training and development inside of APCO,” said Kraus.

APCO’s D&I Council launched unconscious bias training for senior leaders, partnered with ColorComm, and held engagements with select universities.

Coyne PR Grows into Documentary Films

Tom Coyne’s firm posted a seven percent gain in fee income to $32M, earning the 18th notch on O’Dwyer’s roster.

“Our team members continue to grow as professionals and lead the way with fully integrated ideas and breakthrough programs,” said Coyne. “We have also grown our offices by more than 40 percent and expanded our service offerings, including documentary films.”

Tom Coyne
Tom Coyne

Coyne PR produced its first documentary, GATEWAY, in a partnership with Pacira BioScience. It brought awareness of how opioids used post-surgery are often a gateway to lifelong addiction, according to Coyne.

Coyne noted that GATEWAY received more than a dozen awards from film festivals around the US.

The Jersey-based firm added clients such as Hilton, Otsuka, ASPCA, Yahoo Sports, Stevens Institute of Technology, Crook & Marker, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Lundbeck and Fox Factory.

“We modernized and streamlined our media monitoring efforts with intuitive dashboards, automated reporting and access to actionable, contextualized metrics beyond impressions,” said Coyne.

The firm’s state-of-the-art digital platform empowers clients to monitor, measure and maximize their communications efforts through custom-built dashboards.

“The new end-to-end measurement system collects and organizes key data points across a robust stream of print, online, broadcast and social content to set benchmarks, attribute value and demonstrate earned media ROI in real-time,” said Coyne.

Transformation at Citizen Relations

Citizen Relations president Nick Cowling said the firm underwent a transformation during 2019.

Nick Cowling
Nick Cowling

“Our new vision is to create consequential changes to attitudes, behaviours, perceptions and actions by designing the conversations our clients need with the people they care most about,” said Cowling.

He said the No. 16 firm with fees of $32.6M “combined its best research, platform and data partners into one solution to allow it to select the highest quality and best performing influencers and seamlessly measure the impact of every action, quality of content and imagery, and the most detailed conversion tracking available.”

Cowling said 2019 was a “relatively stable year” because Citizen was selective in new business efforts, focused on clients that fit its vision, while parting with clients that didn’t.

“We continue to put our people first, with an emphasis on culture and training for existing employees and finding new ones that strengthen our group,” he said.

ICR Makes Big Move in Health, Tech

ICR, No. 5 on O’Dwyer’s list, enjoyed a “breakout year in 2019,” said CEO Tom Ryan.

He said the acquisition of Westwicke Partners, a healthcare strategy firm based in Baltimore, bolstered financial-oriented ICR’s depth and scale in healthcare and technology.

Tom Ryan
Tom Ryan

Ryan said ICR saw significant growth in traditional corporate communications, including business and financial media strategy, digital/social, crisis management and shareholder activist defense.

“We also launched ICR governance solutions, focused on advising boards and senior management teams on best-practice governance processes and structures, including environmental, social and governance reporting,” he noted.

Ryan said Zoom, Peloton, Colgate-Palmolive, Heidrick & Struggles, IBM Watson Marketing, Northern Oil and Gas, Welltower, Adamas Pharmaceuticals and BioNTech AG were major account wins in 2019.

MWWPR Invests for Future

MWWPR, which recorded flat fees of $42.7M, accelerated investment in people and client services initiatives during the past year, said CEO Michael Kempner.

Michael Kempner
Michael Kempner

The firm launched new tools and offerings in search marketing, paid marketing and influencer marketing and a panel of Generation Z consumers.

He credited those initiatives combined with MWWPR’s “core approach to PR rooted in earned-worthy content was instrumental in adding and growing client relationships with blue-chip brands from the food and beverage, retail, and sports and entertainment sectors.”

Zeno Exceeds Boundaries

Zeno Group CEO Barby Siegel said 2019 showed that “a mid-sized firm can exceed boundaries and be truly global.”

Barby Siegel
Barby Siegel

The No. 6 firm posted an eight percent spurt to $79.3M in 2019 fee income.

She said forty percent of Zeno’s business stems from clients served in more than one region.

Key 2019 wins were Ancestry, Tinder, Virgin Voyages, Carhartt, Abbott Vascular, IBM Health, Electrify America and others.

Siegel, who said culture has always been a big part of Zeno’s game plan, said the firm launched “Zeno Gives Back” during 2019.

That program resulted in staffers logging more than 3,800 hours of service at more than 25 charities.

The firm also expanded its focus on mental health.

Siegel said the “Be Kind to Your Mind” program launched by Zeno London acknowledges that PR is a high-stress profession and that topics such as depression and anxiety should not be taboo in the workplace.

The program includes free Headspace membership, an all-employee online forum for sharing comments and posts about mental health, as well as group activities, such as agency-wide meditation sessions.