The top-10 firms specializing in financial PR and investor relations accounted for a total of $291 million in net fees in 2021, according to O’Dwyer’s 2022 ranking of financial PR firms, a $25 million gain from 2020’s $267 million.
The numbers make it clear: the financial communications sector fared better than most others during PR’s post-pandemic rebound. We asked executives at some of the top-ranked financial PR firms what they attribute to their success last year and what trends and changes they predict for the future, as rumors of a coming market correction loom on the horizon.
ICR climbs to new heights
New York-based investor relations firm ICR claimed the number-two spot in O’Dwyer’s 2022 financial rankings, accounting for $97.8 million in finance-related fees last year, a 61 percent leap from 2020’s $60 million.
ICR co-Founder and CEO Tom Ryan told O’Dwyer’s that the agency’s growth in 2021 was driven by new client retainer wins and the firm’s ability to smartly advise on transactions, notably IPOs and SPACs.
“Having navigated through multiple business cycles over the past 25 years, both good and bad, we’ve developed the ability to adapt and pull multiple levers to create value and continue providing the best in client service through all points in the cycle,” Ryan said.
Ryan noted that the agency didn’t experience a COVID-related slowdown, as its revenues grew 20 percent in 2020. In fact, financial markets remained healthy and even experienced increased activity in many areas such as SPACs and IPOs. In addition, Ryan said uncertainty and overall market volatility increased the demand for expert financial communications support.
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“Ultimately, the more complicated the landscape, the more public and private companies must work to communicate their story and ICR is uniquely positioned to support clients in that capacity,” Ryan told O’Dwyer’s.
Ryan said the long-term acceptance of the SPAC structure, continued demand by institutional investors for ESG progress, new and disruptive technologies raising capital from the public markets and an increasingly complex and contentious communications environment for companies that will require expert advice and communications strategies are trends he predicts in the future.
“The expectation in 2022 was for the capital markets to cool down somewhat and the geopolitical climate has certainly accelerated that slowdown. But markets always pause and regroup and we’ve seen this happen many times over the last 25 years. As volatility subsides, corporate transactions will return and ICR will be a major beneficiary given our record backlog,” Ryan said.
Prosek seizes on the ‘market of marketing’
Prosek Partners had a strong year in 2021, and this was especially evident in its finance/IR earnings: Prosek climbed to $70 million in finance-related fees in 2021 to claim the number-three spot, revealing 30 percent growth from $53.9 million the year prior.
Founder and CEO Jennifer Prosek attributed several factors to her agency’s success last year, including the SPAC boom, IPOs and IR as well as a busier-than-usual special situations business.
She also said private markets clients—PE, hedge funds and asset managers—are investing in communications, marketing, digital, ESG and prioritizing brand building and reputation management in ways they never have before. Prosek said her firm placed a big bet on the private markets becoming a major sector for the firm, which she referred to as the “Emerging Market of Marketing.”
Prosek thinks private markets will continue to be a hot growth sector for financial firms this year, and with that will come new spending in communications, marketing, IR and digital.
“ESG will also continue to be a major focus for our financial clients this year, driving consulting and communications revenue,” Prosek said. “Brand, creative and digital—as an integrated solution—will also grow as financial firms seek players who can combine deep financial knowledge/acumen with world-class creative services.”
Vested benefits from strong value proposition
Financial services specialists Vested accounted for $17.5 million in finance-related fees last year to hold the number-five spot in O’Dwyer’s financial rankings, an impressive leap from 2020’s similarly impressive $12.4 million.
Co-Founder and President Binna Kim believes Vested’s exponential growth is a reflection of the agency’s powerful value proposition, which combines deep financial expertise, robust integrated marcomm capabilities and a non-traditional approach to agency growth.
“Financial services brands—more than ever—are striving to brand, market and communicate themselves in more engaging and authentic ways. This demands pragmatic creativity—the kind that can only come from an agency that deeply understands the business of finance but can also apply strategic creative thinking and execution,” Kim told O’Dwyer’s.
Last year, Vested acquired digital agency Red Lab, which arrived on the heels of the agency’s launch of Financial Narrative, a community of financial CMOs and CCOs that now counts hundreds of members. Qwoted, the firm’s tech platform designed to help financial journalists connect with expert sources, continues to break records on a near-daily basis.
“We don’t look like any other agency. Which is why our performance is not like any other agency,” Kim said.
Looking forward, Kim believes finance brands are going to continue investing in highly intentional and values-driven marketing and communications. Finance brands are also looking for tech-empowered marcomm campaigns, which explains Qwoted’s rapid growth.
“Across the board, we see brands investing in brand examination, and refining their brand propositions to reflect a post-COVID world where everyone is seeking more humanity in the brands they partner with,” Kim said.
Lambert looks to consumer investor community
IR/PR firm Lambert climbed to $7.4 million in finance-related fees last year from $6.2 million in 2020 to claim the number-11 spot on O’Dwyer’s financial rankings.
Founder and Chairman Jeff Lambert attributed the Detroit-based firm’s success last year to its business-outcomes mindset for driving growth with new and existing clients as well as recent wins with public companies and PE firms looking for bottom-line impact.
“Industry results across the board were solid, but financial comms and IR outpaced most sectors due to the broader post-pandemic rebound in the Capital Markets, record private equity and VC deal flow, and the SPAC and IPO wave that demanded more of the consulting and integrated model we deploy,” Lambert said. “But the real test is not how you fare in a frothy market, but rather, how you navigate the coming year and the inevitable softening that’s coming.”
Lambert said the markets are already beginning to correct and as a result, there’s now a flight from speculative companies and stories to proven profits.
“That means opportunity for us as we can blend Wall Street-pros with digital marketing, branding and PR to create compelling investor narratives and reach untapped audiences like individual investors, smaller funds and family offices,” Lambert said.
Lambert said another area of convergence in the industry is with the consumer investor: the 130 million Americans who own stock and have a strong affinity to the companies they know and the brands and retailers they shop. The agency created shareholder loyalty platform TiiCKER, which enables public companies to connect and engage with this rapidly growing segment of the investment community, to capitalize on this trend.
Bliss brings purpose
The Bliss Group jumped to $5.2 million in finance-related fees in 2021, a $1.5 million uptick from 2020’s $3.7 million to take the #15 spot on O’Dwyer’s 2022 financial rankings.
Greg Hassel, Senior Vice President and Financial Services Practice Lead, said the success of the agency’s financial services practice is illustrative of Bliss’ overall growth, which saw topline revenue rise more than 20 percent year-over-year and is now on pace for more than 30 percent growth in 2022. Within financial services specifically, Hassel said Bliss saw increased demand for services beyond traditional PR and earned media, both from existing and new clients.
“Many financial services companies prepared for the worst in 2020 and came out better than expected, which enabled them to explore partnerships with agencies that could bring their stories—including new ones born out of the pandemic—to life through a full-funnel marketing approach,” Hassel said. “Traditional PR and earned media remain critical pieces to the communications puzzle, but we’ve been able to help clients see what’s ‘next’ with new models and campaigns that truly resonate with their end audiences.”
The agency also launched Bliss Impact, an offering focused on providing counsel, campaign management and collaboration for clients who want to align their strategic priorities and sustainable programs with societal change.
“Now, more than ever, companies—especially in financial services—are leaning into purpose-driven work,” Hassel said. “Strides have been made, but as an industry, there’s still a long way to go and Bliss is committed to helping bring about change. On a more tactical level, data and analytics have completely transformed how we do business. Agencies that harness the power of data—from how we target key audiences to how we measure ‘wins’—are in the best position to help clients achieve and tangibly show success.”
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