Edelman, Finn Partners, APCO Worldwide, Kivvit and Lambert are the Top 5 firms in the education category, a new specialty practice added to O'Dwyer's Rankings of PR Firms this year.

The ranking includes 31 firms that supplied education-related fee income data to O'Dwyers.

Education joins automotive/transportation, energy, industrial, non-profits, purpose/corporate social responsibility and real estate finance/development categories to debut in the 2020 rankings.

Finn Sees Education as "Cornerstone of Democracy"

Scott Widmeyer, founding managing partner/chief strategy officer at Finn Partners, said his firm works in the educational space with a single goal in mind, which is making a difference in the world.

Scott Widmeyer
Scott Widmeyer

"We know that education is the cornerstone of our democracy and it’s the vital engine that empowers our economy," he said. "Education is the enabler for all of our citizens to develop the skills they need to thrive."

Finn's team is engaged in showcasing and breaking down research from preeminent think tanks to top-tier universities, creating messaging to boost education opportunities for preschoolers and generating earned media results in prime outlets.

Widmeyer said Finn's clients are changing the world one student at a time. "They are educators and leaders in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education," he said. "They are foundations focused on urgent issues in diversity, economic empowerment and STEM. And they are scientists and researchers inside top universities working on important studies that will impact the world for years to come."

Finn's client roster includes universities (Cornell, Clemson, Pace and Carnegie Mellon), foundations (Carnegie Corporation of New York, Education Above All and Pritzker) as well as Amplify, KIPP and American Student Assistance.

Finn is the No. 2 education PR firm with $8.5M in fees.

APCO Relies on Deep Bench

Evan Kraus, president and managing director of operations at APCO Worldwide, credits the firm's deep bench of industry experts for the ability to provide "best-in-class" counsel and service to the educational sector.

Evan Kraus
Evan Kraus

The DC firm, which ranks No. 3 in the education group with $4.4M in fees, has been global agency of record for the Educational Testing Service for more than two years.

"APCO works with ETS around the world to position the organization as a thought leader in the education industry, and raise awareness for its brands in priority global markets," said Kraus. "This past year APCO began work to position ETS in a new market and begin building out a more robust corporate brand position, establishing ETS as a leading voice on learning."

APCO has also worked with the North Carolina Community College System to create a statewide outreach campaign to shift long-established perceptions of community colleges as a so-called second-rate education option.

The firm conducted months of extensive research to inform the campaign via statewide focus groups and surveys.

That research resulted in the “Your Hire Education” campaign, showcasing the modern and little-known offerings of NC community colleges, leaning into the fact these schools are “different on purpose,” tapping into the enterprising spirit of both North Carolinians and community colleges to make prospective students feel proud to attend, and showing the tangible benefits of getting a community college education.

The firm created a paid media plan, which encompassed digital, social media, and programmatic display to reach audiences as they search for the next step in their career or life.

"We also developed print ads, terrestrial and digital radio and TV spots, as well as billboard ads to reach people in both urban and rural areas," said Kraus. "Visitors to the website saw unique messages based on their audience segment, ensuring users saw the ad that would be most compelling to them."

The campaign led to increased perception among NCCCS' target audiences and contributed to a 4.4 percent increase in enrollment across the state, the first enrollment increase the system has seen in nine years," according to Kraus.

Kivvit Prioritizes Education

Kivvit has prioritized education as a core sector of its work with the goal of not only being an education communications leader, but a communications innovator in the space, according to Zach Silber, chief innovation officer and managing director of Kivvit's New York office.

Zach Silber
Zach Silber

He said Kivvit has handled extensive data-driven research assignments and cutting-edge digital campaigns on behalf of institutions of all shapes and sizes across the US, ranging from the Fashion Institute of Technology to the University of Michigan to professional schools at the University of Maryland.

In 2019, the firm started working with the State University of New York to promote online course offerings.

"A notable higher education innovation is HigherRep, Kivvit’s award-winning, proprietary service that helps colleges and universities boost reputation through the use of highly-targeted digital advertising and custom digital audiences of academic leaders, prospective applicants, students, influencers and other stakeholders," said Silber.

In 2019, HigherRep helped several schools move up in the rankings within their respective fields and improve enrollment outcomes.

The HigherRep work earned recognition earlier this year at the Reed Awards as the Best Use of Data Analytics/Machine Learning.

Kivvit ranked No. 4 in the education rankings with $2.4M in fees.

Lambert Rises to COVID-19 Challenges

Lambert notched the No. 5 position on O'Dwyer's list with fees of $1.5M earned from providing integrated communications support to schools—from preschool and early childhood development to post-secondary—as well as edtech and curriculum companies across the country.

Joe DiBenedetto
Joe DiBenedetto

Joe DiBenedetto, managing director, heads the education & social impact practice of the Grand Rapids (MI)-based firm.

Lambert clients include Central Michigan University; Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative; Michigan State's diversity, equity & inclusion strategic plan; Detroit public schools; Flint community schools and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

DiBenedetto said Lambert reacted swiftly as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to support education clients facing never-before-seen challenges.

"As brick-and-mortar schools halted in-person learning to protect the safety and well-being of their students and community, Lambert worked alongside school leaders to ensure families and residents were updated as changes transpired on a daily and sometimes hourly basis," he said. "Simultaneously, the firm developed thought leadership and other media opportunities to reassure families that children would receive the academic support necessary to maintain the momentum built since the beginning of the school year."

DiBenedetto noted that innovation often occurs during times of crisis. "At every stage of the pandemic, Lambert brought new solutions and opportunities to school leaders to promote transparency and maximize engagement," he said. "Looking ahead, uncertainty is the only certainty for educational providers. As a result, communication will be more important than ever."

InkHouse Targets Boston

InkHouse, which is based in Waltham, MA, ranked No. 6 on O'Dwyer's education list with fee income of $1.4M.

Lisa van der Pool
Lisa van der Pool

Launched as a technology-focused firm in 2007, InkHouse quickly began to diversity, according to Lisa van der Pool, senior VP and head of the education group. "Working with the education sector was a natural evolution in large part because Boston is a hotbed for universities—and education is an area that we are extremely passionate about," said van der Pool. "We work with education technology and publishing firms, many of whom are helping K-12 schools and higher education institutions strike a balance between high-quality learning materials and utilizing technology both in the classroom and at home to enhance and enable learning."

InkHouse's 15-member education team has worked for Bentley University, Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, as well edtech clients.

Rbb Drives Transformation

Miami-based rbb communications took the No. 9 spot in the education rankings with fees of nearly $870K.

Laura Guitar
Laura Guitar

Laura Guitar, executive VP and rbb partner, noted that staid and traditional educational institutions were once satisfied with executing similar year-to-year plans and measuring success in incremental gains.

That is no longer the case as institutions are now multi-disciplinary, metrics-driven communicators bent on driving forward mission, rankings, enrollment and endowments.

"Fundamentally, PR serves to connect an educational institution with its stakeholders in order to build reputation, secure long-term viability and activate the mission," said Guitar. "rbb accomplishes this by delivering significant volumes of top-tier national coverage around topics like maternal health, veterans care, and simulation education."

In 2019, rbb engaged in data-backed communication programs for Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences at Florida International University, Concord Law School at Purdue University Global, Primrose School, Gulliver Schools and Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart.

The firm also has extended its educational savvy into other client areas. "We established an online education program for current and potential clients for a property management company and formalized and expanded internal training and education opportunities for healthcare accounts," said Guitar.

She said the COVID-19 crisis has turned the educational sector upside down.

"In the coming weeks, months and years, PR will be ever more critical as educational institutions evolve their policies and strive to maintain trust in physical environments that have traditionally involved close quarters," said Guitar. "There will be increasing pressure to tap into new markets, find new revenue streams, and demonstrate return on investment within a suddenly fluid and ever-changing landscape."

The COVID-19 recovery period will be filled with new challenges and complexities, according to Guitar. "It will be incumbent on educational institutions of all types to employ a well thought out and results-driven PR strategy to ensure that their roles in society are well understood."