For PR firms working in the financial sector, 2019 was overall a bull year, with revenues for the Top 10 firms ticking up 9.8 percent to $209.2 million.
Every firm in the Top 10 saw an increase in revenues, but the two biggest gainers were the only two to have not cracked the Top 10 last year. Finn Partners, which rose from #14 to #6, acquired London-based financial firm Moorgate Communications in February 2019, and saw its revenues spike 253 percent to $8.8 million. A 189 percent jump to $3.9 million took Padilla from the #18 spot last year to #10 this year.
The top five firms all hold the same spot they did last year. Top of the heap Edelman pulled in $83.6 million, a 4.9 percent increase over last year’s $79.9 million.
ICR kept the #2 position, with a 3.5 percent increase taking its revenues to $47.5 million. At #3, Prosek Partners showed a 16.2 percent gain, hitting $48.2 million. APCO Worldwide’s $11.2 million in revenues (a 4.5 percent hike) kept it in the #4 slot, while Vested rounded out the five top-ranked firms with a 27.1 percent increase to $9.2 million.
Prosek Combines Focus with a Diversifying Practice
Prosek Partners founder and CEO Jennifer Prosek said that her firm’s crisis/special situations practice, which has been doubling each year, was a major driver of its growth in 2019.
She also said that Prosek’s strict focus on the financial sector (which she termed an “emerging market for marketing”) contributed to its success, as did its creative services, digital and non-PR business.
Offering a diversified set of services is something Prosek sees as a necessity for firms looking to keep moving forward through the rest of 2020. “Straight-up marketing communications work is in neutral or negative territory right now,” she says, “and will likely stay that way for most of this year.”
However, the changed economic climate will also create new opportunities, according to Prosek. “We see the opportunity to launch a whole new set of solutions—communications-related and otherwise—that are geared toward helping clients pivot from the old way of doing things and enabling them to thrive in an all-virtual or semi-virtual world,” she says.
Some of the ways in which Prosek says firms can help make that pivot include video and virtual fund raising solutions as well as coaching and solutions packages that outline strategies for business development and executive visibility in the virtual environment.
Other areas that she sees as likely areas of increased activity are financial technology innovation, communications surrounding bankruptcies and following up on the investment opportunities that may emerge in the market ahead.
Vested Adds Clients, Offices, Services
Vested brought on such clients as Canada Life, American Express and Scotiabank in 2019, which agency president Binna Kim attributes to the firm’s “multi-channel, integrated support, based on a platform of industry expertise.”
|From left: Vested president Binna Kim, CEO Dan Simon and COO Ishviene Arora|
Last year also saw Vested open a Toronto office and acquire financial content firm Scribe. Kim says that acquisition “enabled us to deliver turnkey financial content at scale to our clients and new clients.”
In the coming year, Kim says companies need to rethink the ways in which they market and communicate. “This particular crisis is challenging because there’s no precedent for it, no standard of comparison—but simultaneously, it’s a tremendous opportunity for creativity and learning,” she noted.
She also says that the unstable financial environment has broadened the relationship Vested has with many of its clients. The expanded services Vested is offering include business continuity planning, employee relations and investor relations.
The aim of those services, she says, should be to project an image of safety and stability. “We’re advising clients to reassure their customers and clients about their stability; telling them to reaffirm their commitment to the space they’re in; and reassess their CSR initiative.”
Big Year for BackBay
BackBay moved up from #12 to #11 in this year’s rankings, boasting a 23.1 percent jump in revenues to $3.7 million. The agency added clients in such financial services verticals as private equity and venture capital, wealth management, fintech and impact investing.
BackBay founder and CEO Bill Haynes cites several factors behind what he calls a “record year” for his firm.
The first is BackBay’s 92 percent client retention rate. Haynes says that he made client retention the agency’s top priority in 2019, by listening to clients’ business goals and then “working with them to develop and deploy integrated public relations, content development, and digital distribution strategies.”
He also says the agency made a concerted effort to drive in-bound new business inquiries. Focusing on the sub-sectors in which the agency has particular knowledge was also a successful strategy, as was a strong emphasis on employee engagement.
Haynes said that continued success in 2020 depends on “being essential to our clients,” adjusting the agency’s plans to line up with client business needs and working as an extension of the client’s team.
As regards the effects of the current health and financial crisis, he stresses that “communications and transparency are more important than ever during periods of uncertainty.”
But he also feels optimism about the continued need for the services that financial PR firms provide. “Financial services is a large and essential part of the economy,” he said, “and companies in the sector will continue to need assistance as they move from crisis communications mode to recovery and growth mode.”
Dukas Linden Sticks to Its Roots
Dukas Linden, which kept the #7 spot it held last year, saw its revenues rise 16.8 percent to $6.3 million in 2019, and agency chairman and CEO Richard Dukas attributes a big part of that to “sticking to our roots—media relations.”
Dukas says that while the agency does provide content creation, social media support, messaging and coaching services, its ability to get companies coverage in such outlets as the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Bloomberg and CNBC is what keeps clients coming back. Dukas adds that the firm secures 500 to 600 segments per year on top broadcast outlets.
Some of the new clients the agency has brought on in the last year are good indicators of where the opportunities lie in the new financial world. Dukas says those clients include: a firm that sells gold (a hedge that is likely to keep its value), a company that roots out financial fraud, and a tele-medicine, tele-psychology services provider.
He also cites the expanding possibilities that video-conferencing technologies will offer, from the ability to do interviews at any hour of the day to the increasing ability of international companies to do interviews on US networks.
Some potential down sides: lay-offs of key client contacts, bankruptcy and restructurings, and the propensity of stressed out executives to make mistakes.
“In one year from now,” Dukas said, “we will still be in a downturn.” However, he added that “there will always be opportunity for smart, resourceful companies to utilize PR effectively to grow their businesses and brands.”
Peppercomm 'Busier Than Ever'
Peppercomm returns to the list of O’Dwyer’s top financial firms this year, with its $1.6 million in revenues snagging it the #21 spot.
Peppercomm founder and CEO Steve Cody says that his firm is “busier than ever in the financial sector.” Its projects over the past year included a wedding contest with website The Knot for an insurance carrier and providing social media content for a UHNW (ultra-high net worth) wealth advisor.
Cody sees a paradigm shift in the way that communications will need to be carried out to ensure success in the near future. “The greatest opportunity,” he says, “is in rethinking old ways of connecting with audiences and developing new and innovative service offerings.”
He stresses the need for financial institutions to change which aspects of their operations they put front and center in their communications, bringing their skills in complex debt restructuring, bankruptcy and divestment into the spotlight. They will also need to “work long and hard on communication to restore trust” with their customers.
He also expects internal communications to grow in importance as companies “face the multiple challenges engaging the workforce during these unprecedented times.”
Following up on that, Peppercomm has teamed up with the Institute for Public Relations on a series of research studies that propose a set of best practices tor employee engagement.