1. Sunshine Sachs
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Ken Sunshine, Shawn Sachs, Heather Lylis, Keleigh Thomas Morgan, partners
Sunshine Sachs doesn’t have a web site, just an online business card. It doesn’t need one. Partners Ken Sunshine, Shawn Sachs, Heather Lylis, and Keleigh Thomas Morgan have built a juggernaut of an agency whose client list reads like a White House dinner-invite list: DiCaprio, Streisand and Portman, along with powerhouse nonprofits like GLAAD and Human Rights Campaign and high-ticket corporates Microsoft and eBay. With a new production company and offices in DC and LA, world domination looms for this quintessentially New York firm. Our pick for independent agency of the year.
LAST YEAR: 2
LEADERSHIP: Sean F. Cassidy, president
Under CEO Sean Cassidy, the streaking comet of indie agencies continues to blaze. It’s been a busy year: the agency’s very smart digital and event marketing divisions keep cranking, and the agency’s double-digit growth got new boosts from new clients including The Plaza Hotel, the NYC Marathon, Bill Maher Productions and Tumblr. Disney PR star Joe Quenqua and DNC operative Jeffrey Lerner both came on board this year. We actually look forward to news from here.
LAST YEAR: 20
LEADERSHIP: John Graham, chairman; Dave Senay, president & CEO; Jack Modzelewski, president, the Americas; Robert Dowling, president, East Region
Of all the big legacy agencies, once-unsexy Fleishman is emerging as this year’s breakout. East Region president Robert Dowling has been a talent shark, snagging stars from MWW, Alison Brod, Weber Shandwick, and more; his chutzpah’s paying off, with 46 new-business wins this year and counting. Fleishman continues to up its game for longtime clients like L’Oreal and AT&T—and has kept client Samsung in the ring throughout brutal battles with Apple. Our pick for big agency of the year.
4. Rubenstein Assoc.
LAST YEAR: 3
LEADERSHIP: Howard Rubenstein, president; Steven Rubenstein, senior executive VP
Sometimes, it seems like Rubenstein Associates represents everything and everyone: ConEd, Ron Perelman’s MacAndrews and Forbes, CUNY, the Yankees, Beth Israel, your grandma … O.K., maybe not the latter, but the firm continues to dominate NYC’s PR landscape by sheer brute force and the very special light emitted by its founder, after nearly 60 years. And with Steven Rubenstein firmly installed to succeed his father, the legacy should continue for a long time.
5. Joele Frank
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Joele Frank, managing partner; Matthew Sherman, president
There is a Joele Frank, and the ground reportedly trembles where she walks. Under her and president Matt Sherman, the firm’s become a fearsome presence on its own. Along with handling more transactions than any other agency this year, Joele Frank has more than held its own in bloody, public client battles with activist investors from Daniel Loeb to Carl Icahn to Bill Ackman. And if there’s a multinational corporation doing cartwheels for an acquisition or inversion, or trying to avoid one, there’s a good chance Joele Frank Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher—the firm’s mellifluous full name—is behind them.
6. Weber Shandwick
LAST YEAR: 4
LEADERSHIP: Jack Leslie, Chairman; Andy Polansky, CEO; Gail Heimman, president
More than any other big shop, Weber Shandwick has conquered the brave new world where media relations meets content creation—witness its brilliant, in-house-generated "Live @ Sundance" daily streaming show. But the agency still kills it with old-fashioned campaigns, like the massively successful #Unapologetic push it created for Barbie. All of which explains why the firm's on double-digit growth tracks again this year under hyper-smart CEO Andy Polanksy.
LAST YEAR: 7
LEADERSHIP: Kenneth D. Makovsky, president
Quietly and firmly, industry guru Ken Makovsky continues to lead this giant among New York independents. What the firm lacks in sizzle, it makes up in authority and brains; financial-services and health care monoliths like Charles Schwab, Ernst & Young, Pfizer, J & J, Abbott Labs, and Citibank continue to tap them for counsel. A new digital production division, Skylabs, is taking Makovsky’s no-nonsense approach multi-platform.
9. Berman Group
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Sarah Berman, president
Sarah Berman’s young firm has worked on post-Sandy recovery messaging for two mayoral administrations. They’re changing perceptions of Midtown by repping owners and tenants on Sixth Ave. And they seriously plug commercial real estate, helping power the defining story of NYC in the aughts. Rarity of rarity, they’re also mensches who’ve earned respect from journalists, clients and politicos alike.
EMPLOYEES: 780 (including Rochester)
LAST YEAR: 1
LEADERSHIP: Richard Edelman, president & CEO; Russell Dubner, president & CEO, U.S.
Edelman remains the 800-pound gorilla of New York PR, but shed a few pounds this year after two well-publicized, seriously mismanaged snafus that cost U.S. prez Mark Hass his job (the worst involved calling Robin Williams’ suicide “an opportunity”). Still, with mega-clients like AstraZeneca, eBay, Starbucks and Unilever, the world’s largest PR firm ain’t going anywhere.
11. Kaplow PR
LAST YEAR: 13
LEADERSHIP: Liz Kaplow, CEO and president
Almost defiantly local and human, Liz Kaplow’s 70-person shop boasts some of the longest relationships in the business with clients like Target and Skype. Like the best agencies on the list, Kaplow leavens a strong social presence with old-fashioned strategy and media chops; a just-opened LA office is exporting its sharply tailored but soft-edged NYC approach.
12. Hiltzik Strategies
LAST YEAR: 11
LEADERSHIP: Matthew Hiltzik, president & CEO
Mr. Hiltzik gets ink for celeb clients like Katie Couric and Alec Baldwin, but it’s what you don’t see that gives him real juice: A thriving corporate practice with an elite Hollywood base, growing Latino market business, a successful sideline into client-focused documentary film projects, and serious connections as a Democratic Party stalwart. Even if he weren’t the Observer’s own PR rep, he’d rank high.
13. Sard Verbinnen
LAST YEAR: 9
LEADERSHIP: George Sard, chairman & CEO; Paul Verbinnen, president
There’s a bit of glitter around Sard Verbinnen that other financial/crisis firms can’t quite catch; maybe it’s clients like Beats Music, Time Warner Cable and SAC’s Steve Cohen, or plum assignments like Alibaba’s epoch-making IPO. Sard’s also been flexing muscle as a marketer, with smart outdoor campaigns for client Softbank, and beefing up already-formidable talent with headline-making hires like longtime financial news producer Margaret Popper.
14. Goldin Solutions
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: David Goldin, founder
David Goldin’s agency might be the most important firm you’ve never heard of. The former editorial director of MSNBC has capitalized on a long journalism resume with a gold-plated list of media clients from BBC America to Cablevision to Time Inc. This year alone, Goldin added Intel and Westwood One, among others, to the roster. Mr. Goldin himself seems to prefer a low profile; it’s working.
15. Stu Loeser & Co.
LAST YEAR: 27
LEADERSHIP: Stu Loeser, founder
The one-time Bloomberg mouthpiece has a lot of clients he can’t talk about, but there’s one victory he can tout: Kicking our mayor’s ass on the charter schools issue. Mr. Loeser’s bare-knuckles approach, political instincts, and deep connections have also been good for business; his three-year-old agency topped $2 million in billings this year. Mr. Loeser’s also on a roll with talent, he’s now got onetime NY1 reporter Alejandra Soto on board, along with Khan Shoieb, former communications director for the Working Families Party and a key Andrew Cuomo operative.
16. Berlin Rosen
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Jonathan Rosen, principal & co-founder; Valerie Berlin, principal & co-founder
Berlin Rosen’s clients reshape New York—like Mayor de Blasio, whose election victory was partly powered by their razor-sharp messaging and unfailing sense of optics. The firm also advises behemoths like Two Trees, Forest City Ratner and SL Green. Our pick for small agency of the year.
17. 42 West
LAST YEAR: 5
LEADERSHIP: Leslee Dart, Amanda Lundberg, Allan Mayer, managing partners
With a redoubtable roster of A-list entertainment clients—from Woody Allen to Pharrell and Rihanna—42West could have rested on its laurels as an old-school press office. But a relentless digital push by leader Leslee Dart has reinvented the agency as a multiplatform powerhouse, with campaigns for Netflix, Universal, Uniqlo, Focus Features, and more. And Ms. Dart is still a fearsome presence among celebrity publicists in the most old-school way.
18. Prosek partners
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Jennifer Prosek, founder & managing partner
Snickering at Jennifer Prosek’s “bringing fabulous to finance” schtick? Keep laughing while she leaves you in the dust. By bringing color to once-gray financial PR, her 20-year-old agency has grown to represent more than $4 trillion in Wall Street money, with some of the world’s largest hedge funds as clients. The firm grew a respectable 15 percent this year, and marketing-oriented services should fuel even more expansion in 2015.
19. Goodman Media
LAST YEAR: 49
LEADERSHIP: Tom Goodman, president and CEO
Smooth but never slick, consummate insider Tom Goodman is still the man most trusted by NYC institutions from Grand Central Station to Columbia University. And when your clients include big-media brands like The New York Times, Dow Jones and MSNBC, you have to know that you’re doing. Goodman Media’s also a major proponent of doing good while doing well, throwing its considerable weight behind nonprofits like the NAACP and AJC.
LAST YEAR: 12
LEADERSHIP: Michael Kempner, president and CEO REVENUE: N/A
A generalist agency with long tentacles and serious juice, MWW continues to collect serious brands as clients—think McDonald’s, JetBlue and Walgreens—while pushing itself with industry-leading practice areas like an LGBT specialty. MWW has also excelled at promoting itself and its people—EVP Carreen Winters seemed to be everywhere the week the NFL scandal broke—but if any agency should toot its own horn, this is it.
21. Nadine Johnson Inc.
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Nadine Johnson, president
Who needs a web site—which Nadine Johnson doesn’t bother with—when you’ve got this kind of juice? This 35-person PR powerhouse was the force behind some of this year’s most-talked-about happenings, including the Chanel Rodeo Show with Karl Lagerfeld, the highly anticipated Jeff Koons for H&M launch and Fifth Avenue flagship store launch, and Aby Rosen’s resurrection of the Diamond Horseshoe. The firm also added very happening Chelsea Hotels, Ace Hotels and Neuehouse to its roster.
22. Bullfrog & Baum
LAST YEAR: 8
LEADERSHIP: Jennifer Baum, founder
Jennifer Baum’s restaurant-focused agency continues to cook; in 2014, Bullfrog + Baum added a marketing arm to take messages direct to consumers for clients like the massive Westfield World Trade Center, Four Seasons and Bobby Flay. Next: Watch for high-ticket campaign for a revived Rainbow Room.
23. Chandler Chicco
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Lisa Stockman, CEO
A powerhouse in pharmaceutical marketing, Chandler Chicco has exploded from a two-person operation to a global powerhouse with a virtual lock on a coveted, very lucrative category. It’s not easy to get creative while bobbing and weaving through onerous FDA regulations on marketing, but this outfit’s done it. The only clients they can name are Mylan, Novartis and Sanofi, but they’ve worked for every one of the top 20 pharmas along with hospitals, health plans and schools.
24. M18 PR
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Michael Tavani, co-founder; Meghan McGinnis, co-founder
In just four years, Michael Tavani’s agency has killed it with 70 real estate and hotel projects for NYC royalty (Rudins, Brodskys, Kushners, Macklowe, Vornado) and cool kids (NoMad, Wythe, CitizenM hotels). Snagging Joey Arak from Curbed and Anna Laporte from Rubenstein has only upped the firm’s star power.
25. Ruder Finn
LAST YEAR: 15
LEADERSHIP: Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO
Ph.D.-toting CEO Kathy Bloomgarden continues to lead this giant’s transformation from top-heavy relic to nimble powerhouse. New-biz wins in tech and health care this year include Amgen, Bridgelux, Cisco, Cengage Learning and Nokia. RF NY suffered a blow with the recent death of 36-year-old Kevin Silverman, its just-minted director of health care innovation.
26. LaForce + Stevens
LAST YEAR: 25
LEADERSHIP: James LaForce, CEO; Leslie Stevens, president
La Force + Stevens occupies a singular niche of downtown cool, big-agency strategy, and backroom savvy; the agency’s agility and aggressiveness keeps big-name clients like Target, Banana Republic and Listerine on the roster along with cool kids like Etsy and LinkedIn. Among fashion/lifestyle PR’s, founder James LaForce is considered exceptionally sharp in a category full of edges. Maybe grownup supervision from L + S can help restore some luster to new fallen-angel clients Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister.
27. Becca PR
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Becca Parish, owner
Becca who? Becca Parrish’s 10-year-old agency may not have the Q rating, but when culinary royalty like Eric Ripert, April Bloomfield, Tom Colicchio, Scott Conant, Masa Takayama and Seamus Mullen sit at your table, who cares? Travel PR mavens, watch your backs; Ms. Parrish is expanding into hotels and destinations with clients like The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
28. Shore Fire Media
LAST YEAR: 10
LEADERSHIP: Marilyn Laverty
Seems like St. Vincent, Macklemore and Lana Del Rey were everywhere this year, doesn’t it? You can thank Shore Fire, whose Mount Rushmore roster of rock royalty clients (Springsteen, Costello) is balanced by younger artists who clamor for the agency’s attention. A new “general consulting” role with Rodale this year is giving the firm even more pop culture juice.
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Susan Gilchrist, chief executive
Global reach and thought leadership are Brunswick’s selling propositions; the firm’s created an aura of ubiquity and quiet force to lure and keep clients like Alibaba, Silver Lake Partners, Dollar General, and many more companies and people you’ve never heard of with tons of money who need help making more money. Bonus points: People actually read the Brunswick Review, a vanity publication with brains.
30. PR Consulting
LAST YEAR: 16
LEADERSHIP: Founder Pierre Rougier, NY Partner Sylvie Picquet Damesme
PR Consulting is perhaps the most direct competitor to KCD. The firm’s roster of high-end fashion clients include Net-a-Porter, Christian Dior and Acne, along with corporate names like of Joe Fresh, Nasty Gal and Forever 21. PR Consulting expanded in the West with the opening of their third office in Los Angeles last year.
31. Hill & Knowlton Strategies
LAST YEAR: 18
LEADERSHIP: Jack Martin, global CEO; Michael Coates, CEO Americas
The PR colossus continued to shed a dowdy reputation this year, with a highly touted shift toward digital as a core offering. Even if it all sounded a little 2010, H+K still deserves kudos for refusing to stand still, with smart acquisitions (Rice5 in China this year), serious talent (onetime WSJ honcho Chris Winans now heads NYC practice) and all the thought leadership money can buy (One Billion Acts of Peace partnered the firm with Google and 13 Nobel Peace laureates).
32. Paul Wilmot Communications
LAST YEAR: 21
LEADERSHIP: Paul Wilmot, managing partner and chief executive
There are bigger and glitzier agencies, but Paul Wilmot’s still the grownup in the room when it comes to fashion and beauty PR. Part of Fleishman since 2008, the firm’s client mix includes big brands with wide footprints, including Hublot, H&M, Vans, Kate Spade, Estee Lauder, and MAC Cosmetics; as those properties thrive, so has Wilmot’s business.
33. Marina Maher Communications
LAST YEAR: 24
LEADERSHIP: Marina Maher, CEO
No shit: MMC handled one of the year’s most-talked-about campaigns, the rather heroic effort to take incontinence “out of the bathroom to the forefront of pop culture” for client Depends; the “unchallenged expert in marketing to women” also killed it with Secret’s campaign against “mean stinks.” For what it’s worth, the agency also won more awards than it can count this year.
LAST YEAR: 22
LEADERSHIP: Steve Cody, co-founder and co-CEO; Ed Moed, co-founder and co-CEO
Peppercomm has transcended its tech-PR roots to become a serious player in generalist PR, from mass-market (Mini, TGI Fridays) to blue-chip (EY, Pershing). The agency’s much touted “comedy training”—yes, every employee gets stand-up comedy coaching—may sound like a joke. But it’s helped build an operation with about half the staff turnover of most firms—and a team clients actually look forward to spending time with.
LAST YEAR: 48
LEADERSHIP: Ronn Torossian, founder and CEO
So founder Ronn Torossian won’t win any popularity contests; he’s the industry’s lightning rod, sometimes lacking a filter as well as a superego. But that might also be why Big-Apple-born-and-bred 5WPR is on track to bill $20 million this year, with 100 employees and counting. And with clients like Duane Reade and Luna Park, he just might have the New Yorkiest roster, too. Bonus: A piece he penned on Burson-Marsteller’s ditching Israel in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood became one of the Observer’s most-read stories ever.
LAST YEAR: N/A
EMPLOYEES: 1,000+ LEADERSHIP: Al Golin, Chairman & Founder; Fred Cook, CEO
The former GolinHarris finally woke up this year, rebranding with a sleeker name and a new tagline—”Go All In”—that makes it sound a bit like an energy drink. But the New York flagship has been cooking under MD Tony Telloni, with a dozen new-business wins and a 35 percent staff expansion. Along with new clients Benjamin Moore and Stoli, Golin also enjoys an enviable foothold with health/wellness cash cows like Univever, J & J and Glaxo. Bonus points: Golin became the first PR agency to open the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity—usually an advertising fest—and smart ways of connecting its global offices are getting Golin back to its A-game.
37. Kekst and Company
LAST YEAR: 30
LEADERSHIP: Gershon Kekst, executive chairman; Lawrence Rand, CEO
Still the “let’s-not-screw-this-up” option in financial communications. The niche practice Kekst launched 45 years ago has mushroomed into our decade’s defining PR practice area; nearly four decades on, the firm’s still the first phone call for CEOs dealing with tsuris from M&A, litigation, restructuring, and old-fashioned succession announcements. Kekst’s platinum-plated client roster now counts more than 250 gorilla clients from Chiquite to Charter Communications.
38. Burson Marsteller
LAST YEAR: 19
LEADERSHIP: Donald A. Baer, worldwide CEO; Michael Law, US CEO
It’s unfortunate that Burson’s big blunder this year—rejecting Israel as a client while accepting the Muslim Brotherhood, then flubbing responses to the controversy—defines them in our 2014 ranking. Burson’s much-ballyhooed initiative to “modernize” has actually helped transform the agency from snoozing pachyderm to global force, and its focus on Big Ideas and thought leadership has helped distinguish it from other giant legacy firms. The firm’s still got a long way to go to shake off perceptions of grayness, but it’s managing to maintain clients like Adidas and Telefónica.
39. Nicholas & Lence
LAST YEAR: 41
LEADERSHIP: Cristyne Nicholas, CEO; George Lence, president
As her tenure as Rudy Giuliani’s mouthpiece fades from memory, Cristyne Nicholas’ star keeps rising. The agency she runs with George Lence maintains a laser focus on clients with NYC DNA (Broadway Association, The Armory), real estate machers (Brookfield, Sherwood), and some national heavyweights like United Airlines along for the ride.
40. The Peggy Siegal Company
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Peggy Siegal, founder
After 30 years, Peggy Siegal won’t slow down—and her lock on NYC’s most glitter dusted screenings, lunches and movie parties keeps getting stronger. Take this exchange, reported on Showbiz411: At a New York premiere, a reporter asked the film’s producer if there was a god. The producer didn’t miss a beat: “Peggy Siegal,” he said, naming the host.
41. Allison + Partners
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Scott Allison
By marrying high-level strategy to down-and-dirty media relations, Scott Allison’s San Francisco-born generalist firm has become a serious global player. The firm’s 50-person NYC presence carries a powerhouse reputation, and—rarity of rarities—earns raves from employees, clients and journos. And Allison’s office here now employs more people than its West Coast mother ship.
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Michael Gross, CEO
Serious velocity for Finsbury this year, which dropped the “RLM” from its name in September, but still carries the DNA of legendary NYC agency Robinson Lerer Montgomery. Finsbury’s reach spread this year with offices in Moscow, Beijing and San Francisco. It’s got clients like Verizon, Toyota, AstraZeneca, Walgreens and Starbucks, former NYT writer Stephen Labaton as U.S. president, and Visa PR guru Doug Michelman as SF lead. Still doesn’t have the mojo of other agencies in its category, but catching up.
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Nancy J. Friedman, founder and chief creative officer
If hotels are New York City’s new nightclubs, Ms. Friedman’s one of the people responsible. The PR maestro behind Sean MacPherson’s happening hotels, along with corporate clients like Westin, Friedman blends street cred (she worked with Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager), business smarts (she’s launched more hotels than you’ll probably ever stay in) and iron-fist-in-velvet-glove tenacity. After nearly 30 years in NYC, Friedman just opened an LA outpost.
44. Boneau Bryan-Brown
LAST YEAR: 29
LEADERSHIP: Chris Boneau, Adrian Bryan-Brown, co-founders
Hiring BBB doesn’t guarantee a hit, but it’s the next best thing. The firm with the biggest footprint on and off Broadway continued to rule in 2014, with Hedwig, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Matilda, and The Country House; next, watch for blockbuster remountings of The Elephant Man and An American in Paris.
45. J Public Relations
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Jamie Lynn Sigler, founding partner; Sarah Evans, partner
J’s become a serious player in high-end travel and consumer PR, with a year-to-date increase of nearly 300 percent in its new lifestyle/wellness division. Revenue’s up more than 45 percent, and hotel and travel billings a whopping 65 percent from last year. A mix of big and boutique powers the firm; glitzy clients include Marriott’s Autograph Collection, Vail Resorts Hospitality, Jumeirah and Four Seasons Lana’i. They’re also grabbing business over much bigger agencies, which should augur an even more crackling 2015.
46. Hall Company
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Steven Hall, president
Steven Hall’s firm made this year’s Tavern on the Green’s reopening a global event—chef issues notwithstanding—and engineered it into the year’s most anticipated food happening. The agency’s having a big year all around, launching URBO—the gargantuan, oligarch-owned Times Square restaurant complex—along with happening spots like the revived Petaluma and Ganso Group’s unnamed Brooklyn project. Bonus: Hall’s regarded as the sharpest and savviest of a very smart crop of NYC restaurant PR’s.
47. Susan Magrino AGENCY
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Susan Magrino
Susan Magrino’s name is synonymous with client Martha Stewart. The duo has been working together since 1983. Ms. Magrino’s 45-person firm represents mostly travel, real estate and food and wine clients (literally) all over the map. The current roster includes Hilton Paris Opera, Fontainebleau Miami, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Moet Hennessy Estates and Wines, global Asian chain Hakkasan, and Richie Notar’s eatery Harlow (where you’ll often spot La Magrino herself).
48. HL Group
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Hamilton South, Lynn Tesoro, Guillermo Zalamea, partners
Longtime fashion PR scenesters Hamilton South and Lynn Tesoro have built their 13-year-old agency into a serious luxury player, with a strong bicoastal presence and particular flair for large-scale events; Polo Ralph Lauren’s flashy “wearable technology” intro at the U.S. Open was theirs. Brands like Marchesa and Hilton round out a gilded client list. On tap: Openings for Baccarat’s splashy hotel/condo.
49. Shadow PR
LEADERSHIP: Brad Zeifman and Lisette Sand-Freedman, co-founders; Liza Bychkov-Suloti and Michelle Davidson, partners
FOUNDED: 2007 LAST YEAR: N/A
In seven years, Shadow has grown to 40 employees and covers both coasts. Most known for Morgans Hotel Group (think the Hudson hotel NYFW presentation hub and the Mondrian Soho), Svedka Vodka, Rachel Zoe’s DreamDry, and Dior Beauty. In the last two years, the firm has won major accounts including Pottery Barn and Rue La La.
LAST YEAR: N/A
LEADERSHIP: Samantha DiGennaro, founder
DiGennaro’s specialty is narrow, but key in NYC: The firm represents advertising agencies and marketing companies, from Ogilvy and Publicis to Project Worldwide, along with the powerful 4As. Clients like Facebook, McDonald’s and J&J have noticed; they’re now on board, too.
PUBLIC RELATIONS, MORE THAN ANY TIME IN ITS HISTORY, IS IN A STATE of continuous reinvention, and this year’s list captures that very exciting sense of flux. Smart agencies don’t even call themselves PR firms anymore; they’re integrated communications companies, content creators, multiplatform providers, production companies, or all of the above.
Read Observer’s 2019 Power List
You’ll notice some big changes in this year’s PR Power 50, our second annual ranking of New York’s most powerful agencies—and the people behind them.
Some of that has to do with the overwhelming response we got to the 2013 ranking. Scores of agencies got in touch with us about last year’s list. Other big-picture developments had direct effects on our list this year, including the emergence of financial communications as the sexiest segment of the industry. Marquee financial fights, such as mergers, acquisitions, takeovers and inversions, became front-page news this year, and the PR forces behind them loomed much larger.
“Whoever thought financiers were Hollywood?” quips Jennifer Prosek, whose 20-year-old financial-communications firm, Prosek Partners (#18), has reaped the benefits. “Vanity Fair profiles a hedge fund manager every month. My dad knows who Bill Gross is. They used to be under the radar, and now none of them are.”
This year’s meatiest front-page conflicts—the mayor vs. Eva Moskowitz, Airbnb vs. Eric Schneiderman, Uber vs. the TLC—have also meant a major marshaling of PR forces (see our “PR Battles of the Year” sidebar on p. 32). The firms that understand how to leverage communication in a fractured landscape are the ones that helped win hearts and minds this year—and that also populated more of our list. “We’re hired these days to help people think,” says Shawn Sachs, co-CEO at the 125-person firm Sunshine Sachs (#1). “The days of the Entourage, yelling-screaming publicist are over.”
National developments like Obamacare had huge impacts on New York—and huge bounties for agencies smart and fast enough to show up.
“Because of the Affordable Care Act, healthcare PR had a headline year,” says Ken Makovsky, founder and CEO of independent powerhouse Makovsky (#7). “It’s the biggest growth area, with all of the pharmaceutical and healthcare companies looking at its impact.” The PR Power 50 reflects that this year, with several new arrivals highly active in that PR sector.
All that said, there’s much common ground between this year’s PR Power List and last year’s. First, the industry has continued on the same roll we caught it on last year, when we launched the list. Nearly every agency head we spoke to reported revenue increases, most in double digits. Behemoths like Fleishman-Hillard (#3) are reporting 50 percent growth for the year.
Mid-size players like LaForce + Stevens (#26) kept up the momentum as well, keeping pace with a record-breaking 2013. “As counting or tracking or measuring in all other disciplines becomes so much more exact, it calls out notion that our area is least measurable,” says co-founder and CEO James LaForce. “Luckily, that’s also why business is so good for all of us. People still want it and believe in it. When something’s in the media, it’s also big in social and big in owned channels. So what we offer is still valuable to them.”
And several smaller agencies cracked the $2 million mark for the first time—still a milestone for an indie shop. “To prove that business is on an upswing, I am finally able to offer employees a bonus program and IRA plan,” said Steven Hall, co-founder of Hall Company (#46). “After 18 years, it’s nice to say.”
What’s also remained consistent is our primary criteria for the PR Power 50: Good, old-fashioned influence.
Plenty of places rank agencies by income or size; that’s not our intention, though big agencies often have profiles that match their horsepower. We look at an agency’s clients, connections, reputation, visibility and the kinds of situations where it’s been involved over the last year. We factor in new-business wins, big hires and major campaigns. And there are many, many firms in New York that punch far above their weight.
Because this is a subjective ranking, we also consider our own interactions with agencies. Quite frankly, it’s hard to take a firm seriously when they don’t return your calls or emails.
We still think there’s never been a more exciting time for the PR industry, and there’s never been a more exciting place to be part of it. The people you’re about to meet are the ones who make it that way.
Power 50 list by Michael Kaminer with additional reporting by Jaclyn Gallucci and Eliza Krpoyan.