The Power 50 List

  • What does power mean in New York’s public-relations industry right now?

    It’s not about size; many small players punch way above their weight, while giant firms rest on their considerable laurels. It’s not about money, either; some firms with modest revenues wield the kind of juice that multimillion-dollar billings can’t buy.

    No, power is a you-know-it-when-you-see-it proposition. It’s about controlling access, guiding businesses that make New York great, and about what some wags call “omnichannel ubiquity”: knowing how to dominate media in all its modern forms. It’s also about ineffables like reputation and character, which some agencies just get.

    Hence The Observer’s inaugural Power 50 List for Public Relations. While our rankings did account for agency size and revenue, we also considered the intangible mojo that an agency generates through its mix of people, clients, access, attitude, status and, of course, results. We looked for agencies with New York City DNA, which nixed heavy hitters like PMK and ID — both LA-born.

    Since these lists usually start arguments rather than resolve them—especially when publicists are involved—let the debate begin.

    With additional reporting by Órla Ryan

    Images via Getty and Flickr (“WordPress” by Titanas, “Volcom” by Rollan Budi, “Levis” by Marco Papale, “3M” by Tom Inglis, “Hasbro” by Mike Fleming, “Aerosoles” by freakapotimus, “Sur la Table” by Scott Mindeaux, “CoverGirl” by Arienne McCracken, “Head & Shoulders” by Clive Darra, “TGI Fridays” by n8kowald, “Heineken” by viZZZual.com)

  • What does power mean in New York’s public-relations industry right now?

  • The 800-pound-gorilla of NYC-based independent agencies, with a peerless brand and stellar client list. With 4,800 employees in 67 offices worldwide, it’s the world’s largest PR firm. Its mammoth revenue secures it the top spot on both the global Holmes Report and O’Dwyer’s List of richest New York PR firms. And it continues to grow. Revenue rose from $636.4 million to $707 million in the year ending June 30, 2013—organic growth of 11.6% (PRWeek). Edelman also claims a number of firsts in the PR world: the first firm to apply PR to building consumer brands; the first to connect companies to social issues through volunteering, and believe it or not, the first PR firm in the world to have a website (1995). Clients include PayPal, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Carlsberg and MTV.

  • Founded by Dan Klores in 1991, the agency became DKC when its namesake went Hollywood, emerging from the muck as a director and producer of startling depth and sensitivity. The company has since earned props as one of the smartest firms in the business, led by one of its most dynamic champions, Sean Cassidy. One of the top 10 independent PR firms in the U.S., with five offices nationally, DKC grew 40% over three years through 2012, according to Mr. Cassidy. The agency actually moves the needle for clients; it’s changed health policy with the Children’s Health Fund, elevated Delta’s middling customer satisfaction ratings and launched a sports platform with Citi that included sponsorship of the New York Mets’ new home, Citi Field. “We’ve also folded in new verticals like event production and government relations,” Mr. Cassidy said. “Clients like to be able to come to one place instead of five.”

  • One of the first major PR houses in New York, the firm’s access and influence remain undiminished after 50 years. “Rubenstein” is to New York PR what Google is to search. It’s rumored that a phone call from Howard—who’s still involved in the business, which is now run by his son, Steven—can change the course of coverage. Almost 200 employees work from the company’s single office, in New York. A global roster of more than 450 clients reads like a who’s who of New York institutions: the Yankees, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Columbia University, MoMA, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, Christie’s and Time Inc.

  • Led by industry wise-man Andy Polansky, this large-size, entrepreneurial-minded agency keeps piling on the superlatives: “Most Creative PR Firm in the World” based on The Holmes Report’s “Creative Index.” PR News’ 2012 “Digital PR Firm of the Year.” Three Silver Anvils of Excellence at the PRSA Awards Ceremony this year. With offices in 81 countries, Weber Shandwick won the 2013 PRWeek “Product Development Campaign of the Year” for “America’s Mobile Makeover Month,” a collaboration with Radio Shack that generated more than 82,000 electronics trade-ins and saved consumers more than $3.4 million. Clients also included the United Nations Foundation, Simple and EDF Energy. And its MediaCo production arm keeps expanding globally.

  • Since emerging from entertainment-PR powerhouse The Dart Group in 2006, 42West has become the largest independently owned PR firm in the entertainment industry, with clients including Lady Gaga, Shakira, Rihanna, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. Its approach reflects the industries the firm represents: glitzy and over the top, usually in the best way. Divisions for strategic communications, talent publicity, entertainment marketing, multicultural marketing and promotions represent a seemingly infinite roster of actors, filmmakers, recording artists, authors, movies and television shows. The firm has a second office in LA.

  • There’s a reason why brands like Jason Wu, Chloe, and Prabal Gurung seem ubiquitous. It’s KCD, and – 25 years since its founding - no one can touch the agency’s influence in fashion PR. Founders Julie Mannion and Ed Filipowski still run the show; along with young designers lucky enough to get KCD behind them, the firm’s client roster includes forever brands like Gucci, Hermes, and Chanel. Offices in London and Paris have cemented world domination. We’re betting on Shanghai or Moscow next.

  • Ken Makovsky’s agency has been going strong since its birth in 1979, due in no small part to the leadership of one of the smartest guys in the game. Singled out as “mid-size agency of the year” by five different organizations in the last two years, Makovsky—the firm—continues to command respect from clients, journalists and other marketers. With specialties including health, technology, finance and energy, the firm’s grown into one of the top independents in New York. The agency is a founding partner of international communications alliance IPREX, which has a global reach of 30 countries. Makovsky has worked with the likes of Touchstone Funds, KBK Wealth Management and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

  • Some NYC food pros won’t even think about opening a restaurant without calling Jennifer Baum first. The 13-year veteran takes pride in running an agency that “embraces the new” with diverse tactics reflecting clients that range from mom-and-pop restaurants to internationally recognized chefs. For anyone interested in food, it’s also become as hot a place to work as an actual kitchen. Represents foodie’s-foodie properties from the Blue Ribbon empire to Food & Wine’s national festivals to Wolfgang Puck. The agency has a second office in L.A.

  • Wall Street’s go-to “Oh, shit!” firm. You have to have steel balls, and a yacht-load of chutzpah, to rep characters like Eliot Spitzer, Steve Cohen and Fabrice Tourre. Sard Verbinnen doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff and works tirelessly to build, re-build and protect reputations. Besides high-profile individuals, the firm serves Fortune 500 corporations, small public companies, and financial and professional services firms. Named “Financial Agency of the Year” for 2013 by The Holmes Report, the company is also a top firm for mergers and acquisitions. Has offices in New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco and London.

  • Compared to the look-at-me antics of some of her music-PR counterparts, founder Marilyn Laverty prefers a low-key approach. When you’ve got Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Bon Iver, Lana Del Ray and Macklemore on your roster, you don’t need to show off. The result is a serious influence in shaping the music industry. Among Shore Fire’s firsts: the first major music firm to move to Brooklyn (its only office, 1990); the first to incorporate online media into traditional campaigns; and among the first to embrace social media. Clients have won Pulitzer Prizes, Academy Awards, Emmys and 63 Grammys since 2002.

  • Founded by Matthew Hiltzik—whose employers had included Hillary Clinton and Harvey Weinstein—in 2008. Provides high-level strategic counsel, crisis management and brand-building. Clients include Justin Bieber, Alec Baldwin, Katie Couric, Manti Te’o and Glenn Beck. Also boosts big-time companies and nonprofits.

  • When you’ve got names like Samsung, McDonald’s, Subaru and JetBlue on your roster, you’re doing something right. Apparently, clients agree; MWW added 100 new accounts this year—including Verizon, Atkins, Virgin America and Booking.com—to become one of the nation’s top five global independent PR firms. The agency’s “Matter More” positioning—which zeroes in on individual consumers as influencers—speaks to its craftiness and skill. Has offices throughout the U.S. and in London.

  • Target. Skype. CVS. Shiseido. Liz Kaplow and Evan Jacobs keep their one-office operation tight and their clients blue-chip. Brainy campaigns with a serious focus on results earn Kaplow a reputation beyond its tiny size. Their Knext business unit focuses on the strategic communications challenges of entrepreneurial companies.

  • Ogilvy’s still one of the most storied names in the business, even if it’s starting to gather a touch of dust. Benefits from connection to its mothership’s mammoth global marketing operation. Titanic clients include BP, Ford, American Express. Just launched cutely named Espresso to focus on startups. Has offices in 85 countries.

  • Founded in a linen closet in a NYC hotel in 1948, Ruder Finn is one of the oldest PR firms in the world. (The agency’s first client was Perry Como.) Its scale and access give it the ability to move the needle in media or public opinion. Multinationals now represent 79% of Ruder Finn’s work, a 22% increase in the last year. Has offices in 20 cities and partner agencies in 31 countries.

  • This firm gets our blandest name-sexiest clients award. Driven by the unrelenting no-nonsense work ethic of founder Pierre Rougier and his New York partner Sylvie Picquet Damesme—the duo’s other office is in Paris, of course—PRC specializes in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle industries. Early clients include Helmut Lang and a then-up-and-coming Narciso Rodriguez. Mr. Rougier’s iron-fist approach to managing clients—and controlling fashion-show seating—once earned his firm the moniker “PR Insulting.” PRC now boasts massive names that traverse the fashion spectrum, including Band of Outsiders, L’Wren Scott, Vera Wang, Rick Owens and Proenza Schouler. The last word in fashion PR.

  • Led by PR superstar Marian Salzman. A proponent of made-up industry terms, Havas connects with clients and consumers through their “Red Thread strategic process.” Trains more than 700 people annually to become “trendscouts” who inform senior leadership of global trends. Recently relaunched as Havas Worldwide (formerly Euro RSCG Worldwide), has offices in over 75 countries.

  • In business for more than 85 years, H+K still brings it, though its brand currency hasn’t kept up with some of the other firms its size. Clients come from blue-chip sectors like retail, finance, technology and include Yahoo!, Ford and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The company recruits from business and legal fields “to provide service our clients can’t find at other firms.” Has 90 offices in 52 countries.

  • Old-school agency founded by PR pioneer Harold Burson still wields major behind-the-scenes influence—to the point that it no longer publishes its client list. Covers political, technology, health and charity sectors. Has offices in more than 60 countries and affiliates in several others.

  • Huge, competent and capable, Fleishman services big, often boring brands with money to spend on a massive scale. Calling itself “the world’s most complete global communications firm,” FleishmanHillard has 80 offices in 29 countries. Clients include Procter & Gamble, Barnes & Noble, General Motors and EA Sports.

  • A standard-bearer in fashion PR, and the rare animal who’s universally well-liked in a notoriously backbiting business. Paul Wilmot led PR teams at Calvin Klein, Vogue and Condé Nast before creating the firm in 1997. “People hire us because of my credentials,” he told The Observer. Represents Donna Karan, Kate Spade, Reem Acra, Parmigiani, Elie Saab, H&M. FleishmanHillard became a majority shareholder in 2008.

  • The corporate side of tech PR rather than its fun face, Peppercomm is known for getting results. The independently owned and operated firm, founded in 1995, trains every employee in stand-up comedy as self-deprecating staff “can better listen to and read audiences.” Unsurprisingly named Crain’s “Best Place to Work in NYC” in 2012.

  • More than 80 years old, the agency sometimes overdoes it to convince the world it’s still vital—check out its clunky “Break Through” home-page video. But it maintains gravitas with steady work for the U.N., World Economic Forum and IBM, along with a boatload of brands from Kleenex to Barbie.

  • A powerful brand among clients looking to target women. The company, which hosts regular “cocktails with the CEO” and celebrates staff at its annual Agency ASTA Awards, has snagged “best place to work” honors from The Holmes Report, AdAge, and PR News. Earned well-deserved awards for making incontinence underwear cool by teaming up with celebrities such as Cheryl Burke (Dancing with the Stars) and NFL players Demarcus Ware and Wes Welker.

  • Its founders, James LaForce & Leslie Stevens, have a rep as micro-managers. Maybe that’s why clients like Amazon, Gilt, Swarovski and Target keep them on board. Content arm L+S Digital has produced campaigns for a range of brands, including a Facebook-based New York Fashion Week model search with Perry Ellis.

  • Talk about high-low; Alison Brod’s clients careen from K-mart, Old Navy, and Burger King to Mercedes-Benz, Nordstrom, and Autograph hotels. They’re drawn by a hypersmart, relentlessly driven agency that strikes a wily balance between NYC attitude and mass-market hawking.

  • Mr. Loeser spent six-and-a-half years as Mayor Bloomberg’s chief spokesperson before founding his own self-described “aggressive” PR firm. “Almost all of our clients come to us via referrals from existing clients…after larger firms have failed to meet their needs.” Focuses on reputation management and corporate communications. Clients include Google, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., and NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

  • Good, geeky campaigns have helped this tech-aware agency edge into the mainstream. Clients include cloud computing conference Dreamforce and business technology firm Axway. Christopher Penn, Shift’s VP of Marketing Technology, told us the agency focuses equally on creativity and analytics: “We’re not the Nate Silver’s of PR, but we help clients figure out how it fits into their overall communications.” Has offices in New York, Boston and San Francisco.

  • Superstars among the sea of theater PR firms in NYC. It’s the first phone call a producer makes after—or sometimes before—hiring a star. Founders Chris Boneau and Adrian Bryan-Brown have represented more than 200 productions, giving them the chops to take on shows like Annie, Mamma Mia! and The Book of Mormon.

  • With about 300 public and private companies as clients, Kekst’s work often involves keeping clients out of the spotlight—and navigating a thorny regulatory environment. The Holmes Report deemed them the “Corporate and Financial Agency of the Decade.” Joined the Publicis Groupe in 2008. Has another office in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

  • Short-attention-span PR that delivers the goods when it comes to headlines and tweets. Saw 30% revenue growth since 2009. Won The Holmes Report’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” for co-creating “American Express Small Business Saturday,” which pushes patronage of mom-and-pops. The campaign reached more than 500 million Americans through multifarious media outreach. Also represents GE, Google. Owned by Next 15 Communications.

  • One of the industry’s top financial PR firms. Employed by hedge funds to raise their profiles through media coverage to boost investor interest. One of their campaigns is credited with increasing Structured Portfolio Management’s assets from $700M to more than $3B.

  • Not the top tier of fashion PR in New York, but a strong A-minus contender, with medium-heat brands like Mango, Macy’s, Volcom, Levi’s. Newer “partners” include tween sensations One Direction.

  • Editors love them; buzzy clients like Orla Kiely, Karen Walker, Penfield, and TOME keep them interesting. And it helped put mass-market transparent-glasses company Warby Parker on the map through appearances in GQ and Vogue.

  • Before tech startups go hat-in-hand to VCs, their first stop might be Brooke Hammerling’s eight-year-old firm. A force in the Alley and the Valley (the firm has a Santa Monica office), Brew PR has helped thrust clients like WordPress, Quantcast and about.me in front of eyeballs that matter. Big players like Oracle, a Brew PR client, are catching on, too.

  • How many PR firms can say they inspired a Beastie Boys album title (“Hello, Nasty”)? Despite a staff of only five, Nasty boasts clients including Paul McCartney and Radiohead. “No one else curates their roster the way we do,” founder Steve Martin told us.

  • Ms. Reising broke away from creative agency The 88 last January, taking several of its clients. Months before The New York Times noticed, The Observer crowned Ms. Reising as the face of PR future. Much of her business finds her through social media (her website is a Tumblr page). Represents Hood By Air, Toyota.

  • Specializes in healthcare, making them well-positioned to take advantage of new business resulting from policy and regulatory changes. Clients one would expect, like American Lung Association, and less salubrious ones, like Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch.

  • May not enjoy the same brand recognition as other midsize agencies in New York, but boasts heavy-hitter clients including the MTA, Dole and Partnership for a Drug-Free America; CooperKatz has also been especially aggressive about digital and social outreach.

  • Law bulldogs Weil Gotshal can’t be easy clients to manage, but Prosek’s got them—along with banking Goliaths like RBC Capital Markets, Edward Jones and Genworth Financial. Last year, Prosek’s revenue grew 19 percent to $15 million, according to O’Dwyer’s. It has other offices in Connecticut and London and partnerships in Asia, Australia and South America.

  • The onetime heads of NYC & Co.—the city’s tourism-marketing arm—Cristyne Nicholas and George Lence have parlayed serious connections into an agency whose long client list includes the Apollo Theater, Mount Sinai Medical Center, United Airlines, Fordham, Brookfield Properties and the Broadway Association, which Nicholas conveniently chairs.

  • Big clients and tons of accolades for this one-office firm, with praise from the PRSA and the 2012 Bulldog Media Relations Awards for their campaigns with Apple & Eve and Maxwell House. Office culture with weekly cupcakes and cocktails keeps the turnover rate among the industry’s lowest.

  • President Hank Sheinkopf—former chief spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg—is best known for politics, but he also fields clients in real estate and sports, most notably Alex Rodriguez. Senior strategist in Bill Thompson’s mayoral campaign. Credits his firm’s longevity to “marriage of old style and new technology.” Small team in just one office turns out big revenue.

  • Rock-solid agency whose client base includes marquee brands like Verizon and Starbucks, with a PRSA “Best of the Best” award to prove it. Founder Dorothy Crenshaw is the President of New York Women in Communications, Inc. Has a West Coast office in L.A.

  • Roots in sports and entertainment, developing award-winning campaigns for the Olympic Games, the World Series and the Super Bowl. Successfully branched out into consumer brand partnerships in 2004 and was named “Consumer Agency of the Decade” by The Holmes Report. Works with Coca Cola, Taco Bell, Nestle. Has four offices in the U.S. and one in London.

  • Subsidiary of Ruder Finn that pairs the resources of a large firm with the advantages of a boutique consultancy. Culturally minded ethos manifests itself in employee-run charitable program, “RF B Cares,” and a wellness initiative balanced with weekly Friday afternoon happy hours in agency’s gourmet test kitchen. Clients include Bank of America and Dunkin’ Donuts. Headquarter in New York, with five other offices in the U.S.

  • Edelman’s sister company describes itself as “tenacious, scrappy and fearless.” Working in consumer, health, technology and corporate, it helps such diverse clients as DreamWorks, Epson, The Lung Cancer Research Foundation. Named 2012 “Midsize PR Agency of the Year” by PRWeek.

  • Consistently ranked among the 25 largest independent PR agencies in the U.S. since its founding in 2003, Clients include Jay Z’s Rocawear, GQ, The Bowery House, Swiss Beatz. “Colorful” founder Ronn Torossian is seen as a liability by some.

  • Tom Goodman headed P.R. for ABC and CBS before hanging up a shingle for himself. He’s an old-school pro considered to be a media person’s media person. His insanely compelling promotional content for PBS, including the wildly viral “Mr. Rogers Remixed,” signal he’s adapting very well to new platforms.

  • There are many NYC firms that represent destinations; DCI’s not the most creative, but it does have the most weight, with a travel client list that seems to expand daily. Extremely regimented hiring process that checks 12 references. Clients include destinations from Michigan to Bora Bora.

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