The numbers don’t lie. The 53 firms ranked by O’Dwyer’s for financial PR and investor relations this year brought in a combined total of $394 million in finance-related net fees in 2023, a 13.7 percent decline from the $456 million those firms brought in the year before.

Looking at our top-ten-ranked financial PR firms, it was much the same story. The top ten were responsible for a combined total of $326 million in 2023, similarly down 13.5 percent from the $377 million netted by the top ten financial firms in 2022.

Unfortunately, 2023 wasn’t the bounce-back year PR agencies representing the financial services sector had hoped for. Stubborn inflation, aggressive interest-rate increases to combat that inflation, never-ending stock-market volatility, decades-high mortgage rates and a series of high-profile bank collapses (namely, First Republic Bank and Silicon Valley Bank) all contributed to a roller coaster of a year that left consumers and investors skittish. At least the U.S. economy avoided a recession.

Indeed, it wasn’t all bad news. In fact, six of the top 10 firms ranked by O’Dwyer’s for financial PR and investor relations charted growth in finance-related fees last year. A seventh firm was even. You might say the numbers illustrate less of a bad year than a resilient communications landscape weathering a temporary storm.

ICR inches ahead

Tom RyanTom Ryan

Despite a dip in overall net fees last year, ICR exhibited strong growth in its finance practice in 2023, accounting for $88.7 million in finance-related net fees, an increase of more than $5 million from 2022’s $83.6 million.

The New York-based powerhouse, which was founded in 1998, claims the number-two spot in O’Dwyer’s rankings of financial PR agencies.

ICR CEO and co-Founder Tom Ryan said he attributed the strength of his firm’s financial practice to the degree of expertise it can offer clients operating in an otherwise volatile market.

“Although the capital markets remained fairly quiet in 2023, our teams continued to secure financial PR and investor communications support work with a broad range of clients across all industry sectors,” Ryan told O’Dwyer’s. “The ongoing market volatility made it even more important for companies to manage their messaging and ensure they were effectively communicating their story at all times. We believe our extensive understanding of the markets, how investors think and how the financial media and other influencers operate, resonates in the marketplace and allows us to build new and lasting client relationships.”

APCO advances to #3

Geoffrey Pelham-Lane Geoffrey

The strongest gains in O’Dwyer’s financial/IR rankings this year came from APCO, which shattered expectations in an otherwise lackluster year with skyrocketing finance earnings. The Washington-based firm, which maintains 32 offices around the world, brought in more than $42.5 million in finance-related net fees last year, revealing gains of more than $25 million from 2022’s $17.3 million.

APCO’s otherworldly gains now place the agency in our number-three spot for finance, a two-place advancement from its previous number-five position last year.

According to the agency, APCO’s growth was especially accelerated following the acquisition of London-based financial and corporate communications shop Camarco last year.

“One year on and we’re seeing very strong demand from APCO’s clients for these services, which is very exciting,” Camarco CEO and Chairman Geoffrey Pelham-Lane told O’Dwyer’s. “It shows just how important it is for the top players to offer clients a more holistic perspective that includes maximizing their valuation in the capital markets.”

Problem-solving puts Vested ahead

Binna KimBinna Kim

Financial services specialists Vested bucked a trend in the finance PR world last year by once again achieving healthy growth, earning $24.7 million in finance-related net fees compared to 2022’s $23.8 million to maintain the number-four spot on O’Dwyer’s list.

Group CEO Binna Kim said the agency’s continued success in the face of economic uncertainty is a reflection of its core value proposition, which Kim referred to as a “true strategic marcomms consultancy for financial CMOs and CCOs.”

She also cited the agency’s new online platform Finance Studio and new businesses such as financial CMO/CCO community Financial Narrative, both of which experienced exponential growth.

“We’re in the business of problem-solving, and much of our strategic work in 2023 was around exactly this, from crisis communications and reputation management, to robust revenue generation programs for high growth companies, to rebranding and advertising campaigns,” Kim said.

When asked what trends we might keep on the lookout, Kim cited an ongoing evolution to make financial brands appear more human, which is manifesting itself in several different ways. On one hand, Kim said her agency is currently handling several rebranding and repositioning exercises for financial brands that want to be more engaging to newer generations. Vested is also working on new creative campaigns that allow financial brands to engage a wider array of consumers, from robust social media campaigns—including TikTok—to physical experiences to more out-of-the-box creative. Third, the agency is helping firms remove complications from their messages.

“Much of the work we’re doing in PR is to try and eliminate corporate speak and unnecessary jargon,” Kim said. “This is very much aligned to Vested’s core mission which is to help financial brands bring more people into the financial system by making finance more engaging and human.”

Team, client relationships spell success for Stanton

Tom Faust Tom Faust

Stanton wrapped up another solid year in 2023, bringing in $11 million in finance-related net fees compared to 2022’s $10.4 million. The New York-based agency, which was founded in 2009, now takes the number-seven position, up from number-nine last year.

Managing Director Tom Faust attributed the agency’s success to three key factors. The first was an expansion of existing relationships as clients began relying on the agency to do more. Second, Faust said the agency has invested in a great team that does impressive work, resulting in an agency with a reputation as a partner of choice among many financial brands. Finally, Faust cited the growing roster of new clients looking for a proactive, engaged partner that can work across PR, digital marketing and content.

“The economy has put a premium on communications, and financial businesses are seeking out strong, nimble partners who proactively bring ideas and provide strategic guidance,” Faust said.

When asked where he sees the finance world headed in the coming year and beyond, Faust referred to the future as a “mixed bag,” a term that might also serve as a suitable characterization for the year the industry recently wrestled its way out of. Faust said the market continues to perform despite the myriad financial challenges facing businesses and individuals, and he’s confident dealmaking will return to robust health—it’s just a question of when.

“With uncertainty, financial firms need to actively engage with customers, partners and investors. An important impact is continued emphasis on developing content for various channels to reach audiences ‘where they live’ in both earned and owned media,” Faust said. “We see an acute need for a strong media presence that signals durability and credibility, and this is especially in alternative markets that continue to grow. There remains skepticism and confusion around alternatives among some audiences, despite their becoming more and more part of the mainstream. PR is the answer to this challenge.”