Welcome to the fifth volume of Observer’s annual PR Power 50—which may just represent the most exciting year yet.
It’s been an incredible half-decade for the industry. Firms are changing the definition of PR itself, broadening the channels and platforms they influence for clients. They’re bridging storytelling and strategy, messaging and creativity, and all in potent new ways. They’re helping clients navigate treacherous political waters, a fraught business climate, and an environment where brands are now expected to take stands on social issues.
Every year it becomes more challenging to choose only 50 firms, especially because our process is completely subjective—which makes the Observer’s Power 50 vastly different from industry rankings which tend to be based on revenue or size (for more on how to potentially be included in 2019, just scroll down to the bottom of the list). Instead, we aim to be holistic. What kind of year did an agency have? Were its clients part of a major national conversation? Did a campaign break into pop culture? Did the firm hire an award-winning journalist, a former government official, or an academic of note? Did their work break boundaries? This year’s honorees aren’t just the best in the business. They’re the ones who have shone during these exciting and transformative times.
While the Power 50 can only contain—you guessed it—50 firms, we’ve also published 12 additional stories highlighting the top firms in more specific categories including entertainment, travel, tech, real estate, fashion, nonprofit and more (“more”: now including cannabis!). Several of our Top 50 also found their way into those, of course, but the extra dozen stories also reflect on many other firms that are doing remarkable work in their specific spaces—so be sure to spend some time with them as well.
Finally, don’t miss our annual Rising Stars list, which spotlights the best young talent in PR, all of whom are 30 or under, and will likely be your boss one day, possibly very soon. So treat them right.
And now, here is Observer’s PR Power 50 for 2018.
Last Year’s List: 29
Leadership: Valerie Berlin and Jonathan Rosen, principals and co-founders
Last year, we thought unwelcome publicity surrounding work for Mayor Bill DeBlasio muddled BerlinRosen’s reputation. After a gangbusters 2018, it’s clear the agency’s left that cloud behind—BerlinRosen now feels unstoppable. The firm cemented towering client relationships like Google’s Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto, mega-developers SL Green, Forest City, and Brookfield, tech educator General Assembly, and BMW’s tech accelerator URBAN-X. Plus, they nabbed the World Trade Center project from Rubenstein. BerlinRosen’s hospitality practice keeps booming—think the Wythe, JFK’s TWA Flight Center Hotels and Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The firm’s been just as potent in its massive cause-related, social-impact practice, including its work with Nike’s “Made to Play” campaign, Human Rights Watch, Anita Hill on #MeToo and Brett Kavanaugh, Trinity Church, and the Ford Foundation. Activist efforts for bail reform, and against the Muslim ban and family separation have all harnessed BerlinRosen’s national network. As the firm’s footprint grows, we forecast even greater achievements in 2019. For its skillful, seamless marriage of commercial work, cause-related muscle and adroit political footwork, BerlinRosen wins the top spot as our agency of the year.
2. The Lede Company
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Sarah Rothman, Amanda Silverman, Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson, Christine Su, Dvora Englefield, partners
Publicists defect all the time, and sometimes take clients with them—big whoop. But in June, The Lede Company took that timeless story to a completely different level. The PR people in question were three serious power players at entertainment giant 42West. Their clients include a few names you might know: Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Pharrell, Chelsea Handler, The Skimm, and PepsiCo. They’ve already got 30 employees and a snowballing client roster that includes Illumination Entertainment (behind upcoming Minions 2), Live Nation Productions, The Weeknd’s HXOUSE, Universal Music’s Urban Legends, Vita Coco’s RUNA brand, Stadium Goods, Hypebeast, Mitchell & Ness, and more. We’ve never featured an agency this new at this position on this list. We also don’t think there’s ever been an out-of-the-gates success story quite like The Lede Company.
3. Finn Partners
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Peter Finn, founding managing partner
Seven years after family drama led Peter Finn to split from Ruder Finn—which his father co-founded—Finn Partners has cemented its place as an independent powerhouse. From its home base in New York, the firm encompasses 600 employees on three continents and its big corporate clients—AirFrance, HP, FinancialForce, the Guggenheim, South Africa, and on and on—tell just part of the story. The company’s might also comes from its constant vacuuming up of smaller firms, with this year’s trophies including NYC’s Missy Farren Associates and London’s Brighter Group. Finn Partners has also aggressively positioned itself as a thought leader. Most recently, the firm partnered with The Harris Poll on an index to measure corporate reputation around social good. And its capabilities now encompass CSR, paid media, tons of research and anything social.
[Editor’s note: John Bonazzo, a former Observer reporter who worked on this story throughout the course of the year, recently left to work for Finn Partners. Bonazzo did not determine the firms chosen for our Power 50, including Finn Partners, nor did he make any decisions involving the selection of this list’s order]
Last Year’s List: 1
Leadership: Margery Kraus, founder and executive chairman; Kelly Williamson, president, North America; Marc Johnson, managing director of APCO Worldwide’s New York office
There’s a new sheriff in town at APCO. Marc Johnson—the low-key, high-intensity exec who quietly built APCO’s digital capabilities—replaced long-timer Nelson Fernandez as managing director in May. That signals exactly what you think: APCO’s doubling down on digital, bringing in fancy-sounding processes like “data anthropology” (described by them as the study of how people consume information) and an “agility indicator” that’s basically a stress test for corporate comms. While NYC is now APCO’s growth engine, the firm’s wonky D.C. roots continue to serve it well. APCO reps became regular fixtures at 2018 global confabs like Davos, the UN General Assembly and the World Economic Forum, and high-level assignments in health care, tech and financial services are bridging communications, thought leadership and brand strategy as only this firm can do. Behemoth brands like Bayer, IKEA, Suntory, and McCormick continue to park here, and major growth just keeps going.
Last Year’s List: 2
Leadership: Cindi Berger, chairman and CEO
For its entertainment and brand clients, PMK-BNC pitches “cultural relevance” as its superpower—which is hard to argue after another blockbuster year from the firm. On the pop side, PMK worked on the release of five #1 debut albums, a dozen #1 singles and six of 2018’s top grossing concert tours, along with five Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame acts, Soundcloud, and American Express, and for private events with Justin Timberlake and Ariana Grande. Brand launches included Activision, American Express Platinum and NYC’s rebooted Seaport District. Taking business to a new dimension, the firm’s now getting VR projects like Robert Rodriguez-favored STXSurreal, and we’d be here all day if we listed PMK’s film and TV work. Bonus: PMK-BNC reps two not-for-profits: Jessica Seinfeld’s Good Foundation and the mighty Human Rights Campaign.
Last Year’s List: 7
Leadership: Sean Cassidy, president
We could fill this entire space with DKC’s account wins this year—BMW, Etsy, Skullcandy, Bloomberg, Boar’s Head and Pinterest, plus longtime clients like Delta, Airbnb, Marvel, The Big East, Dyson, PBS and the TCS New York City Marathon—but those may be the least impressive part of the firm’s growth story. Earned media makes up just 50% of DKC’s revenue these days; they’re also doing things like working on product design for client Caboodles, while its Hangar Four digital marketing unit has been cranking out video content and managing seriously inventive social and influencer campaigns for clients like L’Oreal. Our bet? DKC becomes a full-fledged entertainment studio one of these days.
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Barri Rafferty, CEO; Rob Flaherty, chairman
While it’s done category-leading work for blue-chip clients, Ketchum always felt like the old-school legacy brand it was. That changed this year, big-time. First, the firm named its first female CEO, Barri Rafferty. Then, it unveiled “The Pivot,” a total restructuring that saw its fusty geography-based approach to business replaced by an industry-based model. A ship this big requires a whole lot of steering, and it’s reinvigorated the firm and its cred. Now, a “communications consultancy” with “experts” across 14 industries from food to tech, Ketchum’s managed to coax more business out of longtime clients like General Mills and Puerto Rico and lure new blood like Novartis Oncology and TomTom. On top of it all, Ketchum’s killing it with content—the firm now employs 25 video producers, animators and filmmakers whose “client documentaries” pack quite the punch.
8. HL Group
Last Year’s List: 9
Leadership: Lynn Tesoro, founding partner and CEO
Every year, it seems, we report on a new milestone for HL. This time, it’s the hiring of former Departures publisher Steven DeLuca as president and CMO, a new position. A few years ago, the move would have raised eyebrows. Today, it positions DeLuca and HL co-founder Lynn Tesoro as thought leaders. Why shouldn’t a communications firm have its own chief marketing officer, especially one with a luxury-loaded resume? On the other side of the office, HL honcho Chris Giglio grew the corporate and crisis division nearly 80% this year. He may now be the industry’s most sought-after rabbi on issues from cultural appropriation in fashion to #MeToo transgressions; Les Moonves was a (sadly) headline-making client. Eataly tapped Giglio’s crew to design its first corporate social responsibility program, and there are tons clients more the firm can’t name. On the consumer side, Tesoro and crew keep hitting it out of the park for clients like Four Seasons, Diptyque, Restoration Hardware, Charlotte Tilbury and David Yurman. Stay tuned for HL’s stateside launch of Marks & Spencer e-tail, and a serious fashion push for sandal stalwart Teva.
9. Global Strategy Group
Last Year’s List: 5
Leadership: Jon Silvan, CEO; Jefrey Pollock, founding partner and president
“We operate at the intersection of business and politics,” trumpets the ultimate right-place-right-time agency, Global Strategy Group. Along with the firm’s game-changing midterms polling work for the Democrats—which would merit an entire book on its own—GSG helped clients tell stories that would third-rail most other agencies. Among them: Counseling ConEdison, never the most popular institution, on its energy-efficiency narratives and General Motors on its autonomous vehicle program (Cruise) testing in NYC, guiding the much-maligned Port Authority’s communications regarding Laguardia Airport improvements, working with CVS Health on amplifying the voices and profiles of its pharmacists, and lending its own considerable weight to campaigns around gun violence prevention, immigration reform, family separation policies, and even freeing Meek Mill. GSG also opened a Seattle office (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of many new clients) and snared talent like longtime Hill reporter and ex-Podesta Group principal Erin Billings.
Last Year’s List: 38
Leadership: Meghan McGinnis and Michael Tavani, co-founders
Just a few years ago, M18 felt like a nice little NYC mom-and-pop. Flash-forward to 2018 and the firm has more than 100 active clients who are leaving footprints across the U.S. and abroad. Highlights: high-profile projects for real estate titans Extell, Lefrak, Vornado, Silverstein, HFZ, Rudin, JDS, and Forest City; buildings by starchitects like Tadao Ando, Isay Weinfeld, Herzog & de Meuron, Alvaro Siza and others; and gargantuan undertakings like the 24-acre redevelopment plan of downtown Tampa, Fla. Hospitality clients include hot brands Freehand, The Line, The Nomad and The Ned. On tap for 2019 is one of the biggest hotel openings stateside: a new 3,000-room, $450 million hotel in Las Vegas from MGM and N.Y.-based Sydell Group. Perhaps to stay grounded, the firm still reps indie hotel projects like The Native in Malibu, Calif., and the all-tents Habitats in Tulum, Mexico.
11. The Door
Last Year’s List: 3
Leadership: Lois Najarian O’Neill, co-founder and president; Charlie Dougiello, co-founder and CEO
Capping the biggest year in its decade-long history, The Door was acquired by a big fish (mammal?) in 2018: Dolphin Entertainment, the Florida content company that snapped up 42West in 2017. Not that The Door (#3 on last year’s Power 50) needed help—the firm saw double-digit growth this year across nearly all of its practice areas including real estate, food and entertainment. Some of its biggest gets included a plum assignment from Related Cos., repping all food and beverage inside the new Hudson Yards development; the relaunch of FAO Schwarz; the mighty Times Square Alliance; the Bode, Makeready, and Gansevoort hotel brands; and LA’s much-hyped Freedman’s, the cover star of Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurants of 2018 issue. Next? Look for game-changing partnerships between The Door and its 42West siblings, including hotel tie-ins with movies and their stars. And maybe even an acquisition of its own.
12. Sunshine Sachs
Last Year’s List: 36
Leadership: Ken Sunshine, Shawn Sachs, Heather Lylis, Keleigh Thomas Morgan, partners
If Sunshine Sachs has seemed a bit out of the spotlight this year, that’s only because the firm’s too busy to promote itself. Tech and business drove the train this year, with agency-of-record relationships for clients like Roku, Instacart and Shutterfly, along with high-profile assignments from eBay, Facebook (plenty of work to be done there!) and returning client Microsoft. The agency’s deep roots in social and cause have also come in handy as brands from the Golden Globes and Grammys (both clients) to LVMH luggage brand Rimowa to hyper-cool footwear Allbirds figure out how to navigate a fractious landscape. “We’re bringing conversations to clients so clients can participate in those conversations,” says CEO Shawn Sachs. Branding and content’s become a huge part of the mix, too, with the firm now boasting two art directors. “This is the most exciting place we’ve ever been as a business,” Sachs says. We believe him.
Last Year’s List: 4
Leadership: Leslee Dart, Amanda Lundberg, Allan Mayer, co-CEOs
If you were as verklempt as we were when The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel swept the Emmys, you have 42West to thank—it was the firm’s canny advertising that brought Amazon’s charming new series to the finish line. You can also thank Leslee Dart’s agency for Soho’s resurrected Carnegie Deli pop-up, a genius Mrs. Maisel promo. Client Guillermo del Toro also picked up a long-overdue Oscar for The Shape of
14. Weber Shandwick
Last Year’s List: 19
Leadership: Andy Polansky, CEO
With a juggernaut like Weber Shandwick, the question’s not whether it’s grows, but just how much bigger it’s going to get. The answer for 2018 is simple: a ton. Under CEO Andy Polansky, the firm reeled in enviable assignments for IBM, Novartis, Sony Electronics, Amgen and Columbia Sportswear. Much of the firm’s growth was organic; 60% of it came from existing clients, a testament to Weber Shandwick’s potency. The company’s also nimble as a boutique, launching management consultancy United Minds this year and luring Edelman digital guru and longtime editorial fixture Spencer Ante to head its new, alluringly named X Practice data, tech and innovation arm. There’s even a Cyber Incident team within Weber’s fast-growing crisis practice.
Last Year’s List: 24
Leadership: Matt Rizzetta, founder, president and CEO
After nine consecutive years of growth, N6A’s also growing up. That’s not a slight; after years of throwing its weight behind startups and first-movers, Matt Rizzetta’s hyperkinetic firm attracted more big, blue-chip brands in 2018. WeWork, Gartner, The Ladders, Republic Services and Makerbot all came aboard this year, along with cannabis powerhouse iAnthus Capital and mobile-ads innovator Kargo. Rizzetta’s laser focus on agency culture paid off with adoring CNN and Forbes coverage of Pace Points, his patented employee rewards program—top performers can snag an entire summer off, all-expense-paid Hawaii vacations or a “winter baller house,” which sounds fun. N6A’s buzzing Toronto office continues to make waves north of the border, and Rizzetta’s early focus on cannabis is looking like a really smart bet right about now. Next up: A Los Angeles outpost to open in 2019. West Coast, look out.
If you were among the many Broadway fans who cheered when dark horse The Band’s Visit won Best Musical and nine other Tony Awards, give Matt Polk a standing ovation. His firm’s genius campaign for the show, which included the first NPR Tiny Desk Concert for a Broadway musical, was its home run for the year, but far from its only triumph. Much-covered shows like The Prom, Apologia, Network and The Lifespan of a Fact are all Polk clients, and long-awaited productions like Tootsie and Beetlejuice will be coming soon. Polk also led PR for Second Stage’s restoration of the Helen Hayes Theatre and NBC’s 15th anniversary Wicked special. It’s showtime, all right.
Last Year’s List: 16
Leadership: Paul Holmes, CEO North America
It’s been a good year for Finsbury, where clients like Eddie Lampert and Shari Redstone continue to share the roster with 800-pound-gorilla assignments like pharma giant Takeda (acquired Shire for $62 billion), doorbell-camera startup Ring (scooped up by Amazon for $1 billion) and offshore engineering company McDermott (bought CB&I for $1 billion). Not dramatic enough? Finsbury also helped USC navigate its recent, ahem, “matters,” supported beleaguered Brazilian energy player Petrobras, and counseled Dick’s Sporting Goods through its powerful positions on gun safety. Growth’s in the double digits, more women are occupying the C-suite, and—bonus—the global partnership of Finsbury, Hering Schuppener and GPG rose to the #1 position globally among M&A communications advisors.
18. Sharp Communications
Last Year’s List: 14
Leadership: James Brodsky, founder and CEO
In this day, it’s reassuring that a smart, creative generalist firm can still bring it as much as Sharp has in 2018. There may be no agency on earth with a roster this diverse. A (very) partial list of 2018 wins includes 1stDibs, Lyft in New Jersey, Prudential, Manhattan Mini-Storage and the blockbuster Downton Abbey exhibition in West Palm Beach, where Sharp now has a five-person beachhead. Not colorful enough? How about the Westminster Kennel Club, USTA, Italy’s Mutti SPA (they can fresh tomatoes, of course) and the global brand of European art fair TEFAF, which Sharp already represented in NYC. On top of that, longtime clients like Benjamin Moore, Kohler, Silestone, Whole Foods and Restoration Hardware won’t go anywhere else. What ties it all together is powerful strategy, laser-focused messaging and the hawk-eyed, relentlessly creative leadership of founder James Brodsky.
Last Year’s List: 13
Leadership: Richard Edelman, president and CEO
Richard Edelman believes every company should “go direct” with its customers and be its own best spokesperson. The PR firm that bears his name (and was founded by his father) certainly takes that mission to heart. Edelman doesn’t just promote its clients, which include Microsoft, REI, Dove, HP, Sonos, Sears, Bridgestone, Unilever and Johnson & Johnson. It uses those companies to educate consumers about everything from e-commerce to sexual health, through its 600-person creative team. Sometimes that education isn’t the kind its clients want, as when Microsoft was found to deny 93 percent of harassment claims. But even in those situations, Edelman’s advisory and crisis groups chart a smart way forward.
Last Year’s List: 8
Leadership: Steven Rubenstein, president; Howard Rubenstein, founder and chairman
Death, taxes, Rubenstein. The “old reliable” of New York PR firms, Rubenstein feels just as inevitable after 65 years of consistently needle-moving work. Glamorous they’re not, but city institutions like the Yankees, News Corp, MoMa and Lincoln Center rely on Rubenstein, as do events like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting and Times Square New Year’s Eve Celebration. This year Rubenstein expanded its tech work with Khan Academy and Uber, while new entertainment clients included A24, HBO, Netflix and Broadway’s The Cher Show. Because when you’re with Rubenstein, they got you, babe.
21. Goldin Solutions
Last Year’s List: 15
Leadership: Davidson Goldin, founder
Former broadcast producer Davidson Goldin gets a lot of calls for situations others won’t touch; this year, it was Megyn Kelly in an acid-drenched battle with NBCNews. Other crises for this gregarious Goldin: Guiding Tinder’s founders through a stock-options lawsuit against parent IAC, helping Harold Ford Jr. beat false sexual harassment allegations, and aiding Outcome Health in emerging somewhat unscathed from a lawsuit by its investors, Google and Goldman Sachs. New blood includes American Addiction Centers, Colliers and the Committee to Protect Journalists, who join longtime clients like AMC Networks, Ralph Lauren, Birthright Israel, CLEAR and Georgetown Company.
Last Year’s List: 21
Leadership: Florence Quinn, founder and president
Florence Quinn’s motto this year: “Think like a CMO.” It’s served her well—clients can’t get on board fast enough to harness the firm’s potent melange of earned media, partnerships, content creation, strategic influencer marketing and myriad boundary-breaking ideas. As much a news service as a communications firm, Quinn will often package a dozen or more clients into a single story that ends up dominating whatever category it covers from outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Travel + Leisure. In 2018, the agency’s ultra-luxury division spread its wings, with clients including haute-security firm Gavin de Becker & Associates, U.K. celebrity travel wrangler Original Travel, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which offer fun ocean voyages for anyone with $70,000 to blow. Just a few of Quinn’s other 2018 conquests: Mr Chow, Bal Harbour Village, Club Med, Legoland N.Y. Resort, and tons of other restaurant and real-estate businesses.
23. Hiltzik Strategies
Last Year’s List: 10
Leadership: Matthew Hiltzik, founder and CEO
Despite high-profile clients—Brad Pitt, Kelly Ripa, Drake, Sean Parker, Marissa Mayer, Captain Sullenberger—much of Matthew Hiltzik’s influence plays out behind the scenes, and discretion is a big part of why clients swear by him. Much of his roster remains off the record, but we do know that crisis and legal communications (Hiltzik’s also a lawyer) have become a much bigger part of it, along with financial comms and corporate work. He’s also the sole PR person on the NYC Economic Development Council; his fifth documentary, The Barn, hits the festival circuit this fall; and several of his alums (White House refugee Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel among them) have made headlines, joining Fox News and Juul, respectively.
24. Prosek Partners
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Jennifer Prosek, founder and CEO
When is bulk a good thing? It’s when you’re Prosek Partners, riding a strong year to a significant swelling in business, staff and weight. More than 35 new 2018 clients led to a 20% revenue increase, with giants like AIG, Cerberus Capital Management, T. Rowe Price and Deutsche Bank among them. To service all that business, the firm now tops out at 170 employees—13% more than last year. The firm lured Edelman pros Mike Geller and Nadia Damouni, and former Nomura and Barclays head of corporate affairs Dan Hunter is now a Prosek managing director. Same for Karen Le Cannu, who headed up external communications for HSBC. And a new Boston office expanded Prosek’s footprint beyond its stalwart beachheads of N.Y., London, L.A., and . . . Connecticut.
25. High10 Media
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Lisa Dallos, founder and CEO
It’s not easy representing media clients—you’re often pitching them to other competitive media outlets. But Lisa Dallos’ eight-year-old firm has thrived in that zone, with blue-chip brands like The Hollywood Reporter, The Hill, Telemundo, NatGeo Channel, Starz and others. This year, the agency landed even higher-profile gets like The Economist and women-focused First Media. And High10 branched into Nashville, Tenn., and Los Angeles, grabbing entertainment-industry pro Gillian Sheldon for the West Coast and PR vet Ed James in Music City. Cake icing for 2018: growth in new sectors like tech, with language app Babbel; health care, with the U Pittsburgh Medical Center; Alliance Bernstein, a new financial services client; and hangover remedy Morning Recovery, a break into CPG. All of this augurs a very big 2019. We’ll be watching.
Last Year’s List: 23
Leadership: Susan Magrino, chairman and CEO; Allyn Magrino, president and COO
Staying power matters as much as anything in the PR business. And Magrino’s got it, big-time. More than a quarter-century in, the firm still boasts an 86% client retention rate (which is as impressive as it sounds) after eight consecutive years of growth. Martha Stewart, who signed on when sibs Susan and Allyn Magrino first hung a shingle, is still on the roster. But the firm doesn’t spend a lot of time looking back. Magrino hired a drone photographer this year—the better to shoot many client hotels, resorts, and vineyards—and the firm’s digital team doubled to eight. With their high social profile (that’s in the real world, not Facebook) the Magrinos themselves still pull their weight as old-school influencers, too. Along with its won’t-go-anywhere-else clients like the James Beard Foundation and Moet Hennessy, this year Magrino added the Independent Lodging Congress, Christie’s Real Estate, 111 West 57th, Mouton Cadet and the Lotte NY Palace.
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Binna Kim, president and co-founder; Dan Simon, CEO and co-founder
Vested is hardcore. Just three years after its launch, the firm has the cojones, and the business, to tout itself as one of the world’s fastest-growing agencies. Founded by a crew of senior-level, big-firm refugees—most of them under 30—Vested has already lured in Bloomberg, Morgan Stanley’s wealth-management business, BNY Mellon, Elevate Credit and the Museum of American Finance, where Vested co-founder Dan Simon happens to be board chair. Paid, owned, and social channels get as much attention as earned media here, definitely not always the case in financial PR. Vested Ventures, the firm’s own VC arm, is what Simon calls the first agency-run investment group. And just to prove they’re not without soul, Vested operates an in-house yoga studio (for stressed-out Wall Streeters, of course) and a supposedly stellar company bar.
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Ed Filipowski, president; Julie Mannion, president
Its gig as the exclusive agency for the annual Annual MET Costume Institute Red Carpet alone might have earned KCD a spot on our roster. But the 22-year-old powerhouse also counts Apple, Alexander Wang, retailer Farfetch, Maison Margiela, Rick Owens, the CFDA Awards, Vogue and Warner Bros. Pictures among its clients, cementing its place in the fashion firmament. Bonus: After moving into its vast Hudson Yards-adjacent HQ late last year, the agency in January opened Showroom475, an 1,100-square-foot space for designers to use as a showroom, media hangout or photo-shoot space.
Last Year’s List: 22
Leadership: Ken Makovsky, president
Tumultuous times can be great for communications firms, especially if they’re as rock-steady and smart as Makovsky. As much a think tank as an agency, Ken Makovsky’s still-independent firm seems to recruit the biggest brains in the business, then let them loose on complex clients, from medtech to pharma to consulting to financial. Most of those relationships stay off the record, but we’re talking behemoth brands with global footprints—the firm gets props for learning more about issues and industries than clients probably know themselves. Bonus: the firm employs a full-time cartoonist for infographics.
30. Fitz & Co
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Sara Fitzmaurice, founder, CEO and president
The cutting edge of the art world has a PR firm that “Fitz” it like a glove (sorry). Sara Fitzmaurice handles Art Basel’s work around the world, spotlighting the buzziest modern and contemporary art from the fair’s small and midsize gallerists. Back in America, the Gagosian galleries in California and the Brooklyn Museum in New York rely on Fitz to protect their biggest scoops. And when companies like BMW, eBay and HBO need some intel on the art scene, they know exactly who to call.
Last Year’s List: 26
Leadership: Liz Kaplow, founder, president and CEO
Kaplow’s place on this list doesn’t come from boatloads of new business, though there’s been plenty, with StitchFix, Fidelity’s bSolo, makeup brand wet n wild, and Perfectil among them. Just as weighty is Kaplow’s decades-long relationships with brands other agencies would kill for, including CVS and Target, along with newer marquee clients like 23andMe and Laura Mercier. They’re loyal to Kaplow for some of the most strategic influencer marketing in the business, along with the firm’s unerring knack for amplifying brand messages into multiplatform juggernauts—CVS’ BeautyMark campaign, for example, which endorses “unaltered” images in beauty imagery, generated more than a billion impressions after Kaplow got involved. Of course, it’s still not enough for ever-restless founder Liz Kaplow, who’s launching a cause and purpose practice this year.
32. Gasthalter & Co.
Last Year’s List: 18
Leadership: Jonathan Gasthalter, managing partner
Has it really been just two years since Jonathan Gasthalter left Sard to form his feisty firm? We still have trouble believing it, since Gasthalter (the company) rules the 2018 rankings of Absolute Return, which covers the hedge fund industry. Meaning? Gasthalter’s hedge fund clients manage more money than clients at Prosek (#2 on Absolute Return’s list), ASC Advisors (#3) or mighty Edelman (#4). All of that’s just the cherry on top in a year that saw Gasthalter and crew represent David Tepper in his $2.3 billion acquisition of the NFL-franchised Carolina Panthers, took Brookfield Asset management through its acquisition 666 Fifth Ave., and touted two hugely high-profile hedge fund launches: Exodus Point and D1 Capital. Gasthalter’s now up to 10 people from just two in 2016; we expect their payroll expenses will continue to rise.
Last Year’s List: 50
Leadership: Chris Boneau and Adrian Bryan-Brown, co-founders
King Kong on Broadway is one of its clients, but that might as well become the agency’s nickname. As much a Gotham fixture as theater marquees, Boneau/Bryan-Brown capped another boffo year—its Playbill collection includes Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Mean Girls, Head Over Heels, SpongeBob Squarepants and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. And of course it’s represented the acclaimed Atlantic Theatre Company for an unheard-of 25 years, and the Manhattan Theatre Club for 20. Audible also tapped BBB for its theater projects, like Harry Clarke and Sakina’s Restaurant. Coming soon: The Broadway adaptation of Moulin Rouge, and Duncan Sheik and Lynn Nottage’s buzzy The Secret Life of Bees.
34. The Berman Group
Last Year’s List: 25
Leadership: Sarah Berman, founder and president
Revenue’s up 20% at Sarah Berman’s supremely capable agency, thanks in large part to its expert rollout of the rebranded Newmark Knight Frank. The firm also reps MIPIM and MAPIC, the world’s largest real estate conferences (MIPIM turns 30 this year). Ever the innovator, Berman is partnering with several New York City government agencies on a think tank that examines biotech’s impact on real estate. The firm also does expansive work with nonprofits, with 16 organizations under the Berman wing.
35. Brunswick Group
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Neal Wolin, CEO; Nikhil Deogun, CEO Americas; Alan Parker, chairman
A 40% increase in the value of its announced transactions for the first half of 2018 is just part of the reason Brunswick is buzzing. The most discreet of firms shook up its senior ranks in a serious way this year, naming former deputy Treasury secretary Neal Wolin as CEO, snagging former a Investis CEO as chief operating officer, and luring longtime CNBC exec Nikhil Deogun into being CEO Americas and U.S. Senior Partner. And the MoMA’s ex-chief communications officer, Kim Mitchell, also jumped ship to head Brunswick’s Arts practice. Globally, the firm holds the #1 spot globally on the Merger market league tables for M&A transactions. We’re told that’s a big deal.
36. Alison Brod Marketing + Communications
Last Year’s List: 48
Leadership: Alison Brod, founder and CEO; Jodi Hassan, principal
Led by the force of nature that is its namesake founder, Alison Brod has ascended to a level where it specializes not in a category, but in creativity and relationships. From its roots as a beauty agency, Alison Brod Marketing + Communications (as it’s now called) represents a raft of Kraft and Heinz brands, Converse, Hoegaarden, Walmart’s Allswell, and, globally, Corona. Along with peerless influencer clout, the firm’s strength now is shot-heard-round-the-world experiential marketing, like Country Time Lemonade’s genius Legal Aid “clinic” for lemonade-stand kids, Burger King’s chicken-fries “Pink Tax” stunt, and Corona’s plastic “Wave of Waste” sculpture in London. “We hijack pop culture,” Brod has said, aptly.
37. Nasty Little Man
Last Year’s List: 17
Leadership: Steve Martin, founder and owner
Call it a crossover hit: Steve Martin’s shop got into movies this year with Thom Yorke’s breakout soundtrack for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria reboot. Along with the perennially dour Yorke, Nasty Little Man continues to rep the biggest names in music, including Metallica, LCD Soundsystem, Foo Fighters and Radiohead. The team also brought U2’s “Experience + Innocence” tour to the finish line and helped Paul McCartney score his first U.S. number one album since 1982 with Egypt Station. Fitting, since just like Sir Paul, the Nasty team is a band on the run.
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Brad Zeifman and Lisette Sand-Freedman, co-founders and CEOs; Michelle Sokoloff and Liza Suloti, partners
Aerie had some help as it took a serious run at toppling Victoria’s Secret from the lingerie throne this year. And one of its secret weapons was Shadow, whose forceful campaigns amplified brand messages around body realness. Once a traditional PR bicoastal PR firm with a decent track record, Shadow has evolved into a powerhouse marketing agency with serious creative chops and “influencer” relationships that actually mean something. One of those influencers, in fact, is Shadow partner Liza Suloti, a regular presence on the morning shows who touts clients and non-clients alike in strategically packaged segments. Business wins this year: 1 Hotels, Bulletproof, La Mer, Blue Nile Diamond, and Serena by Serena Williams, among others. Even more impressive is the tenure of clients like Aerie (11 years), Tribeca Film Festival (10), Estée Lauder (seven), and Pottery Barn (five).
39. Joele Frank
Last Year’s List: 34
Leadership: Joele Frank, managing partner; Matthew Sherman, president
M&A is Joele Frank’s bread and butter—the firm consistently ranks at the top of the specialty by outlets like Corporate Control Alert, which covers the sector. This year the bicoastal agency helped Broadcom, Brookfield, Bemis, Forest City and Salesforce beef up their portfolios. Frank’s also smart about getting retailers through bankruptcy, with Toys ‘R’ Us, Mattress Firm and Rockport all benefiting from its guidance in 2018. And from an internal standpoint, Frank excels at retaining young talent: half of the firm’s directors are under 30, and most of them have been with the shop more than five years. Fun fact: The firm’s official-official name is the catchy Joele Frank Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher.
40. Sitrick and Company
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Michael Sitrick, founder & CEO
Michael Sitrick’s short-lived stint as Harvey Weinstein’s rep became its own story this year. So did the firm’s work for disgraced Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter. But behind the scenes, Sitrick’s crisis-oriented firm packs an even bigger punch for non-infamous clients. From the Embassy of Qatar to the Guggenheim and Theranos, the firm bares sharp teeth and even sharper instincts to protect its roster, most of whom are coping with crisis. Though Sitrick advises—via his 2018 autobiography and self-help book, The Fixer: Secrets for Saving Your Reputation in the Age of Viral Media—to always respond to media, Sitrick and Company didn’t respond to requests we submitted for information. Since he reportedly bills $1,000 an hour and flies a Gulfstream jet to meetings, Michael may not care what we think.
Last Year’s List: 39
Leadership: Christine Abbate, president
Christine Abbate couldn’t have designed the year better if she tried. New offices in Milan, Minneapolis, and Portland, Ore., are bustling. They’re serving new clients like Larson Juhl, Room & Board and the Finnish Cultural Institute, while a new division is repping interior designers and architects including Francisco-Gonzales Pulido’s firm FGP Atelier, interior design firm Ghislaine Viñas, Turret Collaborative, and the peripatetic Vanessa DeLeon, all while revenue climbed 8%. And then the firm did stuff that’s just plain cool. Brooklyn Designs, a show Novità co-founded for the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, moved into the Brooklyn Museum this year, and Abbate’s crew also managed marketing for the 10th anniversary Architecture and Design Film Festival and for NeoCon, North America’s largest commercial design show.
42. Meg Connolly Communications
Last Year’s List: 40
Leadership: Meg Connolly, principal; Slater Gillin, senior vice president and creative director; Kate White, senior vice president
With 20% growth this year, Meg Connolly’s compact firm proved once again that power has nothing to do with size. The agency saw plenty of organic expansion in 2018, including top-tier clients like Vik Retreats, St. Regis, Faena, Savoir Beds and Graduate Hotels which expanded their accounts as they grew their portfolios. But it’s new business where Connolly’s team really got cooking, from the Ritz-Carlton brand (and its new yacht collection), the mega-luxe Caldera House in Jackson Hole and the newly rejuvenated Gleneagles resort in Scotland. Even Hermes, which rarely taps outside PR, trusted Connolly for its “Hermes Self-Service” tableware launch—no surprise, maybe, since the firm reps sister brands Saint-Louis and Puiforcat.
43. Beckerman PR
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Keith Zakheim, CEO
Some people say New York real estate is at stratospheric levels. For Beckerman, that’s literally true. Along with its gilded roll call of development clients (more on that in a second), this year the firm trumpeted Axiom Space’s Philippe Starck-designed private space station. Firmly on the ground but almost as inventive: clients like Kearny Point, the clever transformation of a 130-acre N.J. shipyard into a mixed-use creative campus, and adaptive reuse of the hulking, two-million-square-foot Bell Labs building in Holmdel, N.J. Some of those other clients: Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Aurora Capital Associates, Mack-Cali Realty Corp., Mission Capital Advisors, and more. Bonus: Beckerman, already aggressively digital, acquired national firm Chicago Digital, pushing further into potent practice areas like SEO and native advertising.
44. J Public Relations
Last Year’s List: 45
Leadership: Jamie Lynn Sigler and Sarah Evans, partners
Not bad for a business started by two college pals; JPR’s revenue is projected to tip over the $10-million mark this year, a major feat for an indie agency. Jamie Lynn Sigler and Sarah Evans got to where they are by curating their client list as much as cultivating it. The result is a wide-ranging portfolio of hotels and destinations that still feels hand-picked. Even more impressive, J’s revenue is soaring across all its offices; U.K. business alone doubled this year. That bottom line’s lifted by big new accounts like Visit North Carolina and Visit Utah, prestige projects like Gurney’s Yacht Club and Setai Miami Beach, and loyal longtime clients like Relais & Chateaux and Ritz-Carlton. An influencer’s influencer firm, J also launched paid social this year and hired a digital analyst as it became happily ensconced in its own building in San Diego.
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: James LaForce, founder and president
After its wide-ranging wins this year, we’ve stopped trying to categorize LaForce. Among 2018’s trophies: CKE Restaurants, which includes Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s; Equinox Hotels, the luxe gym’s new hospitality brand; other hotels including The James, The Beekman, and AC Hotels; Viyet, the Sotheby’s-owned high-end furniture consignment operation; and Mount Gay Rum. Even Lexus tapped LaForce for its Intersect concept space downtown. After 20 years, James LaForce’s crew still bridges creative work and hard-nosed strategy in a way firms of similar size can’t match. While LaForce maintains a firm focus on earned media, it’s one of the original “influencer” firms and kills it on brand partnerships, an increasingly important part of the luxury segment.
46. Jennifer Bett Communications
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Jennifer Bett Meyer, founder and president; Melissa Duren Conner, partner and managing director
It’s a great time to be an agency that advocates for women, but that’s only part of what’s propelling Jennifer Bett Meyer’s young firm. Once Glenda Bailey’s assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, Meyer now has editors knocking on her door. By emphasizing “startups and storytelling,” her five-year-old firm has earned the trust of eye-catching clients from hipster home brand Branch Basics to third-wave coffee marketplace Trade to woman-run, woman-focused supplement maker Binto. JBC’s headcount and client roster have both doubled in size this year; its Health & Wellness practice rocketed from four clients to 14. And in a genius move we’re sure other firms will copy, JBC’s “open house” for female entrepreneurs on International Women’s Day drew more than 60 business hopefuls. With a new Los Angeles office, and partner and MD Melissa Duren Conner now co-piloting, we’ll Bett (sorry, again) that 2019 brings even bigger returns.
Last Year’s List: 31
Leadership: Becca Parrish, founder
You probably attended a Becca Parrish party if you were within tasting distance of this year’s James Beard Awards: her collaborators like Bon Appétit, Esquire and Gibson’s hosted some of the most talked-about soirées. The queen of food PR had another four-star year, doubling the size of her L.A. office and poaching talent from Blue Apron. Her team also planned Jay-Z’s Oscars party at Chateau Marmont and opened the newly renovated Four Seasons Palm Beach. Becca’s roster of culinary stars like Eric Ripert and Tom Colicchio grew this year to include viral Queer Eye star Antoni Porowski. Continuing its history of activism, the firm also drew on the strength of the #MeToo movement to help launch Women in Hospitality United.
48. The TASC Group
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Larry Kopp, founder
Larry Kopp’s gone from Law & Order to truth, justice, and the American way. Since founding the TASC Group in 2005, the one-time Dr. Harland Diamond has represented some of the highest-profile social activists of the decade, including Susan Bro (the mother of slain Charlottesville activist Heather Heyer), the family of murdered Florida teen Trayvon Martin, and needs-no-introduction Russell Simmons. This year, Kopp and his crew counseled Maria Contreras-Sweet, whose consortium bid to buy the tattered Weinstein Co.; advised the Amalgamated Transit Union around unionizing Uber and Lyft drivers; and helped anti-trafficking org Unitas launch a pioneering digital comic. Meanwhile, Kopp’s regular roster includes NYC treasures like United Way of New York City, Baruch College, the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and Mount Sinai’s Department of Orthopedics. Bonus: In 1985, Kopp helped launch the Atlantic Theater Company with a young playwright named David Mamet.
Last Year’s List: 43
Leadership: Nancy J. Friedman, partner
Since selling her firm to global marketers MMGY last year, founder Nancy Friedman continues guiding a team that’s dominating destinations and hospitality. A nonstop ticker tape of new business includes Amtrak, VisitDallas, the State of California, the British Virgin Islands, Shinola hotel, Costa Rica, Visit Rhode Island, Generator hotels, and Marriott. Longtime clients continue to make noise, from Asbury Park (NJF helped reboot the place), Pod hotels, the Borgata, and 30-year stalwart Spring Creek Resort and Jackson Hole. As its parent company continues gobbling up travel PR agencies—two in London, most recently—NJF’s getting a bigger sandbox; Friedman calls it “cross-pollination” for global clients. And in one of the most fun facts in this entire list, NJF reportedly cajoled The Boss himself to play at the reopening of spruced-up rock dive Asbury Lanes this summer.
50. Kite Hill PR
Last Year’s List: N/A
Leadership: Tiffany Guarnaccia
Last year, we named Tiffany Guarnaccia’s agency as a top specialty firm. This year, Kite Hill’s rounding out our top 50 overall. Along with new clients like leading agencies Dentsu’s Merkle, McCann’s Momentum Worldwide, as well as global media company Future PLC, Guarnaccia acquired NYC and Tel Aviv-based tech PR firm Cutler PR and launched a full production studio out of her Kite Hill Experiences branch, which also produces NYC’s annual Communications Week. A tech PR presence in London, Kite Hill went even more global with Communications Week launches in Toronto and Hamburg, Germany. Guarnaccia’s restless reinvention of her business has led to 40% growth this year. Much of it’s coming from content creation as well as old-school media relations. A warm welcome to our Power 50, Kite Hill.
The “So How Do I Get My Firm On This List?” Section
Every year, we get a question or two (never more than two, ever) about how you might be able to get your firm into our PR Power 50. And every year, we get a little better at helping you understand how that works. Including this year, thanks to the quick FAQ below.
What’s the process for submitting an entry?
There’s no formal process, and there are no entry forms. The best way to get considered is to keep us posted throughout the year about your firm’s account wins, big hires, major campaigns, and other news. There are many ways to get in touch, but the easiest is probably just shooting an email to PRPower50@observer.com. One firm got a client into a museum. Another got Springsteen to perform at an opening. Another firm helped move the needle on a piece of legislation. All of it matters.
How do you choose who ends up on the list?
Again, the process is completely subjective, which makes the Power List different from industry rankings based on revenue or size—trade media does that already. Instead, we consider the big picture of what kind of year an agency had. Were its clients part of a bigger national conversation? Did a campaign cross over into pop culture? Did the firm hire a prize-winning journalist, a former government official, or an academic of note? Did the firm’s work break boundaries? We consider questions like these, and more.
What are these others lists about—the one where you award agencies by category?
We’ve got only 50 spots on the PR Power List, but we come across so many more firms doing terrific work. We created the category lists to shine a spotlight on as many of those agencies as we can. We choose them from the pool of firms we’re considering for the year.
My firm was on the list last year. Now we’re not. What happened?
Nothing. Or better put, you didn’t do anything wrong (hopefully?). The dynamic nature of the list is a mirror of the industry’s own vibrancy; if you’re reading this, you don’t need us to tell you PR’s changing fast. The Power 50 and our category lists are a snapshot of a year as much as a portrait of an industry.
My firm’s a boutique shop, with revenue and a headcount that’s much smaller than some of the huge firms on the list. Does that work against me?
Not at all. It’s the quality of the work, the caliber of clients, and the thought leadership that matters more.
So, my firm is on for 2019 then??
Additional reporting by John Bonazzo.