The Most Powerful PR Firms of 2019

Observer’s PR Power 50. Stephanie Novak for Observer

Welcome to the seventh edition of Observer’s annual PR Power 50. It’s been a rollercoaster year for the industry, in the best possible way. Mergers and partnerships keep reshaping the business. Fearlessly creative campaigns are pushing brands out of their comfort zones and into the cultural consciousness. Agencies keep behaving more like news services, creating content that gets a life beyond marketing. PR firms––though few still call themselves that––have become critical partners as brands navigate a world where social media seems to move faster than real-time.

Since we have room for just 50 firms on the Power List, you’ll see many more worthy agencies on this year’s Honor Roll that includes cannabis, tech, finance, real estate, visual arts, performing arts, food and spirits, travel and hospitality and architecture and design. It’s our way of acknowledging great work across categories.

You’ll also meet 2019’s Rising Stars, 15 young PR pros to watch (but please, not poach). And so…. drum roll…………

Peter Finn. Courtesy Finn Partners

1. Finn Partners
Last Year’s List: 3
Leadership: Peter Finn, founding managing partner

More, more, more, went the old disco tune. Peter Finn and his global crew should crank it up and have a twirl. The eight-year-old firm just had its best year, with stratospheric growth in financial services (100%), health (40%) and digital (60%). Revenue’s up to $115 million. Though NYC’s the mothership, nonstop acquisitions—in Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, Boston and NYC—added boots on the ground. The work has followed, with category-dominating campaigns in travel (British Airways, Crystal Cruises, Turkey, KLM), arts/culture (Netflix, the Guggenheim, Qatar Museum, Museum of Natural History, the Getty), tech (Logitech, 2KGames, Brother, TiVo), health (GSK, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan) and God knows what else. For firing on all cylinders, across categories, wherever it plants a flag, Finn Partners is our agency of the year.

Valerie Berlin and Jonathan Rosen. Courtesy BerlinRosen

2. Berlin Rosen
Last Year’s List: 1
Leadership: Valerie Berlin and Jonathan Rosen, principals and co-founders

A few firms on this list feel unstoppable. Berlin Rosen’s one of them. Last year’s #1 agency grew every possible way in 2019, from headcount (182, up from 144 last year) and revenue to space (it now occupies 24,500-square-feet in NYC) and service offerings. Same with clients—it ruled in politics, real estate, arts, and tech. We’d be here all day if we called out this year’s greatest hits—the firm’s got 450+ clients—so here’s a slice: the high-profile national bus tour for gender-equity org Supermajority; Disney’s new Hudson Square campus; GPI Companies and Virgin Hyperloop, out of Berlin Rosen’s burgeoning LA office; Bloomberg Media, Samsung and Virginia Tech; the Public Theater and Brooklyn Public Library. The scaling back of Google’s massive Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto was a rare retreat for the firm. Bonus: Berlin Rosen launched a full-service advertising operation in 2019. Trad agencies, time to get nervous.

Alison Brod. SaraJaye Weiss

3. Alison Brod Marketing + Communications
Last Year’s List: 36
Leadership: Alison Brod, founder and CEO; Jodi Hassan, partner

Nothing captured 2019’s weird zeitgeist like the mania around Popeye’s chicken sandwich. Behind it was Alison Brod, whose indefatigable crew worked with Popeye’s terrifyingly adept social media team to generate more than 10 billion—with a “B”!—media impressions. An October sneak-peek tasting lured scores of media types, including Gayle King, to Brod HQ. And this month’s insane Popeye’s Christmas sweater was their brainchild, too. Somehow, Brod also found time for game-changing campaigns like Kraft’s “Kraft Now, Pay Later,” Philadelphia Cream Cheese’s “Bagelgate” and Burger King’s “Whopper Detour”—the latter snared four 2019 Cannes Lions for Brod. Along the way, the agency won clients like Bed Bath & Beyond, Hush Puppies and Volvic water; expanded its long-standing Walmart relationship; and launched a smokin’ cannabis division, with CBD clients like Acreage, WLDKAT and Rodial.

Amanda Lundberg, Allan Mayer and Leslee Dart. Courtesy 42 West

4. 42 West
Last Year’s List: 13
Leadership: Leslee Dart, Amanda Lundberg, Allan Mayer, co-CEOs

Anyone who bet against this entertainment-marketing powerhouse after 2018’s well-publicized defections now has lighter pockets. In a banner year, 42West repped 60+ movies; they included the year’s two most inescapable films, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Fred Rogers pic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Of 120 possible nominations at the 2019 Oscars, 42West handled client campaigns for 47. 42West was hired to tout Schitt’s Creek; Emmy noms followed, possibly not by coincidence. Docu clients included ubiquitous Where’s My Roy Cohn? and David Crosby’s bio Remember My Name. The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, led by Anita Hill, tapped 42West for its PR, a huge assignment. Big-deal hires this year included Lionsgate’s Jodie Magid Oriol. Bonus: The idea for Billy Porter to sport a Christian Siriano gown—a 2019 Oscars viral moment—came from 42West, which reps the designer.

Jeremy Fielding. Courtesy Kekst CNC

5. Kekst CNC
Last Year’s List: n/a
Leadership: Jeremy Fielding, co-CEO, partner

Whatever you think about Saudi Arabia’s post-Jamal Khashoggi whitewashing, the assignment to handle Saudi Aramco’s IPO—the largest in history—was one of the decade’s plum gigs. As PR Week reported in July, the job went to Kekst CNC. It was just one of many cherries atop a very sweet year for the firm. On the client side, Kekst CNC landed LVMH (to announce its Tiffany’s bid, the biggest-ever deal in luxury), Merck (for its acquisition of Versum) and Celgene’s announced acquisition by Bristol-Myers Squibb for $74 billion—the largest pharma deal ever. On the personnel side, the firm snagged Robbie Gibb, onetime director of communications for former UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and Chris Giglio, the crisis wizard who built HL Group’s burgeoning corporate practice. Bonus: As we put this section to bed, the Financial Times reported that post-earthquake WeWork has sought out Kekst CNC’s counsel.

Jefrey Pollock and Jon Silvan. Danny Ghitis

6. Global Strategy Group
Last Year’s List: 9
Leadership: Jon Silvan, CEO; Jefrey Pollock, founding partner and president

When GSG handles a hearts-and-minds campaign, its clients usually prevail. Locally, GSG messaged ConEd’s stories in a less villain-like fashion; supported the MTA on comms around the East Side subway extension; and, in possibly the most thankless job in PR, worked with the Port Authority on amplifying messages around the new LGA. Nationally, GSG brought it for clients like H&R Block, LEGO, Comcast NBCUniversal and Subaru. The firm ruled on political work, one of its bread-and-butter practice areas, with high-profile Democratic victories including Gov. J.B. Pritzker in Illinois and Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada. And on the personnel side, new recruits include Victoria (Vicky) Reing, former director of policy and deputy general counsel for the Bronx Borough President, and former CBS News and NY1 reporter John Schiumo.

Donna Imperato. Courtesy Burson and Cohn & Wolfe

7. BCW
Last Year’s List: n/a
Leadership: Donna Imperato, CEO

From the lumpy 2018 merger of Burson and Cohn & Wolfe, two firms with as much edge as a bowling ball, BCW has somehow managed to create a fast, fresh-thinking creative shop that moves like an indie—one whose clients include FedEx, ExxonMobil, Novartis, Coca-Cola, Oracle, Accenture and Microsoft, that is. Though BCW’s now the world’s third-largest PR agency, NYC is its engine. The agency’s been on a tear for talent, snapping up players like former Obama and Clinton campaign pro Sam Myers, public-policy veteran Licy do Canto and longtime Edelman exec Ben Boyd. Bonus: A smash-hit campaign this year promoted Tenga—the Japanese maker of “Cup,” “Egg,” and “Flip” male sex toys—with genius work around reclaiming masturbation.

Shawn Sachs, Heather Lylis, Ken Sunshine and Keleigh Thomas Morgan. Courtesy Sunshine Sachs

8. Sunshine Sachs
Last Year’s List: 12
Leadership: Ken Sunshine, Shawn Sachs, Heather Lylis, Keleigh Thomas Morgan, partners

Names in pop culture, advocacy, tech and entertainment get bigger every year in the Sunshine Sachs stable. New in 2019: Alicia Keys, Demi Lovato, Ryan Seacrest, Billboard, Spotify, Google, Mercedes, Postmates, Timberland; tons of film, TV and streaming properties; and the firm’s longtime clients aren’t exactly chopped liver. They include the Recording Academy, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, ESPN Films, MTV Movie Awards, MTV’s VMAs, CMT Awards, iHeartMedia, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyler Perry, Jane Fonda, Jennifer Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Justin Timberlake and Natalie Portman. And its vital social-good practice handled major campaigns for the NAACP, Press Freedom Coalition and LatinX.

Meghan McGinnis and Michael Tavani. Cou

9. M18
Last Year’s List: 10
Leadership: Meghan McGinnis and Michael Tavani, co-founders; Joey Arak, Anna LaPorte, Partners

Major? Massive? Mega? Whatever the letter stands for, M18 is having a killer year, repping bigger, costlier and more global projects—think footprints in Paris, Rome, Mexico, even Namibia. Its 150+ clients in 40+ cities around the world include plum projects like the Bill Gates-backed Water Street Tampa development, London’s gargantuan Chelsea Barracks project and NYC’s own Central Park Tower, the world’s tallest residential building. You name the developer, and they’ve partnered with M18 on something—Extell, Related, Silverstein, JDS, Macklowe, Lefrak, Solow and RFR among them. And we haven’t even mentioned the firm’s booming hospitality business, including cooler-than-thou brands like Freehand, The Line and The Nomad.

Cindi Berger, Shirley Hughes, Mark Owens, and Alan Nierob. Courtesy Rogers & Cowan/PMK

10. Rogers & Cowan/PMK
Last Year’s List: 5
Leadership: Cindi Berger, chairman; Mark Owens, CEO; Alan Nierob, chairman, entertainment division; Shirley Hughes, president, brands division

Entertainment marketing behemoth PMK*BNC crowned 2019 by merging with legendary LA operators Rogers & Cowan. A name change is coming; in the meantime, the combined firm now reps more than 500 stars—in front of the cameras and behind them—along with 30 huge brands like Snap Inc., McDonald’s, Airbnb, MasterClass and Verizon. The firm managed media around Avengers: Endgame—the highest-grossing movie ever—aligned MasterCard with the Jonas Brothers’ 2019 tour and, in a genius stroke, enlisted 98-year-old style icon Iris Apfel as the face of Magnum ice cream. In the debit column: Several top PMK*BNC execs bolted this year, including EVP/music-department head Kristen Foster, superpublicist Joy Fehily, and talent-PR maven Nicole Perez-Krueger, who launched her own firm.

Lauren Fonda, Becca Parrish, and Helen Medvedovsky. Courtesy of Becca

11. Becca
Last Year’s List: 47
Leadership: Becca Parrish, founder/CEO; Helen Medvedovsky, Lauren Fonda, managing partner

Éric Ripert. Tom (Thomas Patrick) Colicchio. Daniel Humm. Gabriela Cámara. Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Michael D. Symon. Enrique Olvera. That’s not our dining Power List; it’s a small part of Becca Parrish’s client roster, and the reason her “creative marketing agency”—don’t say “PR”!—has become the most trusted partner for the tastiest names in food. The firm’s hospitality roster grew this year, its experiential marketing practice exploded, and its LA presence mushroomed. Large-scale projects like the “reimagined” Rockefeller Center and Empire Stores tapped Parrish’s team for their food/beverage components. “In an era of too-muchness, you have to keep messages clear and consistent,” Parrish says. That’s why longtime clients like Ralph Lauren, Brooklyn Brewery, Wagamama and Odeon won’t go anywhere else.

Sean Cassidy. Courtesy DKC

12. DKC
Last Year’s List: 6
Leadership: Sean Cassidy, president

Few agencies bridge hardcore business, pop-culture cool and tech savvy like DKC, and the agency’s position as a potent PR partner was cemented even further in 2019. What other agency can claim Nick Cannon, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and Spotify on one hand, and a stadium full of tech, esports, cannabis, health-tech and corporate clients on the other? Among its 2019 client wins: Chase Center/Golden State Warriors; Katy Perry-backed Bragg Live Food Products; Imagine Entertainment; NetSuite; St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital; and even the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street. Bonus: If you think about it, the firm’s new “Maximizing Return on News” positioning beautifully bridges the past, present and future of PR.

Joele Frank and Matthew Sherman. Courtesy Joele Frank

13. Joele Frank
Last Year’s List: 39
Leadership: Joele Frank, managing partner; Matthew Sherman, president

“We’re #1! We’re #1!” Forgive Joele Frank’s team if they wave pom-poms up Third Avenue. It’s the #1 firm in M&A deals, according to Corporate Control Alert; the #1 global agency for M&As in terms of deal value, per Mergermarket; and #1 in league tables among PR firms in a number of deals every year since 2013, Corporate Control Alert reports. What’s behind those rankings? Think Raytheon’s pending $86 billion merger with United Technologies; Bristol-Myers Squibb’s pending $74 billion acquisition of Celgene; and even teensy deals like Salesforce’s $16 billion acquisition of Tableau. A busy year with shareholder-activism defense bringing Papa John’s, Pernod Ricard, Gannett, Brookdale, L Brands and others into the fold. And a busy restructuring/bankruptcy practice included—sob—Barneys New York.

Sarah Rothman, Amanda Silverman, Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson, Dvora Englefield and Christine Su. Courtesy Lede

14. The Lede Company
Last Year’s List: 2
Sarah Rothman, Amanda Silverman, Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson, Christine Su, co-founders and co-CEOs, Dvora Englefield, partner, music division

It’s barely cooled off since the Lede Company’s fireworks-generating debut last year (that’s not just us talking; Marie Claire called Lede Company “Hollywood’s hottest PR firm” in an October profile). It’s all about boldface names, so let’s just cut to new clients like Miley Cyrus, Russell Westbrook, Saquon Barkley, Jada Pinkett Smith/Will Smith’s media company Westbrook Inc., Keds, Foot Locker, K-Swiss, Moose Knuckle, 88Rising, Ryan Tedder/Onerepublic, podcast powerhouse Luminary Media and more. All of its inaugural clients—Lady Gaga, Pharrell, the Skimm, someone called Rihanna—have stuck with the firm, along with original Lede-rs like Reese Witherspoon, Shawn Mendes, Jennifer Garner and Rami Malek. The firm’s already got 51 employees and counting.

Matt Polk. Courtesy Polk & Co.

15. Polk & Co.
Last Year’s List: 16
Leadership: Matt Polk, founder and president

Matt Polk’s firm is having a boffo year, as the trades would say. In 2019, Polk & Co. raised the curtain on Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, possibly the most-covered show of 2019; the firm also handled the ubiquitous media moment that was Judy, the Renee Zellweger-starring biopic. On Broadway, Polk also PR’d the highly anticipated NY debut of gay epic The Inheritance; Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, starring Annette Bening; The Rose Tattoo, with Marisa Tomei; and Hannah Gadsby’s long-awaited Douglas. Add Beetlejuice, Network and Pretty Woman: The Musical to the mix, and you’ve got an entertainment-PR powerhouse in the making.

Florence Quinn. Courtesy of Quinn

16. Quinn
Last Year’s List: 22
Leadership: Florence Quinn, founder and president

Florence Quinn’s acclaimed creative shop ended a gangbusters 2019 with a brag-worthy win: Sensei, the luxe-longevity clinic from gazillionaire Larry Ellison and celeb doc Dr. David Agus (it’s on Lanai, the Hawaiian island Ellison happens to own). Listing Quinn’s new clients would take hours, so here’s a snapshot: Study Hotels; Steve Case-owned Exclusive Resorts; Kendall-Jackson Wines, VistaJet, Ripco Real Estate, XOJet, Hotel Le Majestic in Cannes, Le Naoura in Marrakech, Bloom on Forty Fifth condos and Hvar, Croatia—Conde Nast’s pick for #1 island in Europe this year. Media placements still matter here, but inventive executions really shine; a West Wing-themed promo for DC client the Jefferson Hotel went bonkers, and a Quinn-created craze of “cow-cuddling” in the Finger Lakes landed on the morning shows. Bonus: Quinn’s LA office doubled in size this year, and revenue from social media engagements quadrupled.

Marc Johnson. Courtesy APCO

17. APCO
Last Year’s List: 4
Leadership: Margery Kraus, founder and executive chairman; Kelly Williamson, president, North America; Marc Johnson, managing director, New York, and global digital practice lead

“Lean, mean fighting machine” isn’t the phrase that comes to mind to describe APCO, with its discreet corporate clients and staid DC roots. But that’s exactly where scary-smart managing director Marc Johnson has taken the firm, slimming down headcount while taking on even more daunting engagements. So while APCO’s shepherding Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus to market stateside (“in a complex geopolitical environment,” Johnson says understatedly), it’s also conducting complex social listening for McDonald’s and “future-proofing” giants like Estee Lauder. Longtime clients, like Ikea and Bloomberg Philanthropies, prove that APCO’s long-game approach can produce big dividends.

Lois Najarian O’Neill and Charlie Dougiello. Courtesy The Door

18. The Door
Last Year’s List: 11
Leadership: Lois Najarian O’Neill, co-founder and president; Charlie Dougiello, co-founder and CEO

Coming to a screen near you: The Inn at Little Washington, a documentary produced by the Door co-founder Charlie Dougiello. It’s just one way this endlessly creative firm keeps expanding the boundaries of PR; a chef client got an animated TV special (created with sister firm 42West), meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda got a podcast and longtime client Rachael Ray got a streaming-recipe channel. The Door’s not doing so bad on the business side, either, with covet-worthy clients like the Empire State Building, Venmo, Late July snacks and the Lower East Side and Meatpacking District as destinations. Revenue doubled this year, the team’s up to 50 and the firm can barely keep up with incoming social media assignments (it’s trying, though; that division doubled to six people this year).

Frank and John Marino. Courtesy Marino

19. Marino
Last Year’s List: n/a
Leadership: Frank Marino, CEO; John F. Marino, president

Normally, we wouldn’t mention a PR firm’s rebrand. But Marino’s sharp look—all Helvetica Bold—reflects renewed clarity at this 26-year-old firm. From a regional player, Marino’s mushroomed into a national force with even heavier-weight clients. Under president John Marino, son of founder/CEO Frank Marino, the agency’s grabbed category-leading CBD brand Curaleaf, Knotel, National Grid and “co-living” brand Quarters. New York runs in the firm’s veins, so it still reps major local stories like JFK Terminal 4, ConEd, Chelsea Market, NYU and Industry City. And it still makes room for lifestyle/consumer brands, like Bono olive oil and Rosé All Day wine. Bonus: New hires here include ex-Thrillist and Time Out New York honcho Andrew Zimmer and, boo-hoo, former Commercial Observer editor Lauren Schram.

Gail Heimann. Courtesy of Weber Shandwick

20. Weber Shandwick
Last Year’s List: 14
Leadership: Gail Heimann, president and CEO

Weber Shandwick now operates in rarefied air where PR, marketing and management consulting merge. We’re talking big ideas for big clients with big results; new business in 2019 included Buick, Michelin, Kellogg’s and GMC, with projects from megabrands like IBM, Sanofi, ABInBev and Mars. Though it should be a lumbering giant, the firm’s surprisingly nimble. Examples: Producing the Sundance-premiered documentary Railroad Ties for client Ancestry; opening a Victory Fridge store in Cleveland for Bud Light; and giving free Tums when Lebron left Cleveland. Even more impressive, digital-first engagements now account for 40% of the firm’s revenue. Bonus: An album of nature sounds produced for client the State of Michigan went to #9 on Billboard’s New Age album chart.

Evan Strome and Lisa Dallos. Courtesy of High10 Media

21. High10 Media
Last Year’s List: 25
Lisa Dallos, founder and CEO; Evan Strome, president

Even if High10 didn’t snag such notable new business this year, its foundation would be pretty potent—NBCUniversal Telemundo, The Hollywood Reporter, A+E Networks, The Hill, and Trusted Media Brands have all been longtime clients. But Lisa Dallos’ decade-old firm bagged big-time brands like Yahoo! News, HuffPost, and NatGeo WILD in 2019, along with projects for the Jeffrey Katzenberg/Meg Whitman-driven QUIBI platform and Mission Resolve, which helps Hurricane Dorian victims. We’re burying the lede, though; with all the activity, High10’s standout assignments might have been The Education of Brett Kavanaugh – Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly’s explosive book – and Edwards Pottinger, the law firm that reps some of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims.

Lynn Tesoro. Courtesy HL Group

22. HL Group
Last Year’s List: 8
Leadership: Lynn Tesoro, founding partner and CEO

From its PR roots, HL Group continues to blossom into a broad-based creative communications firm with a never-boring client list. This year, the firm won business from The Private Suite at LAX, which it turned into a bona fide phenomenon; shirtmaker Untuckit; Shiseido; Klarna, the Swedish online-layaway pioneer; and giant K&N, which makes, um, air filters. They join a rarefied roster of longtime clients like Four Seasons, Tanger Outlets, Eataly, Charlotte Tilbury, David Yurman and Bergdorf Goodman. Beauty’s grown more than 20%; travel’s up 25%; digital and influencer work, which was already strong, more than doubled. The firm faced a setback in November, though, when Chris Giglio, president of its HL Strategic Solutions unit, bolted for Kekst CNC (see #5).

Steven Rubenstien and Howard Rubenstein. Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

 

23. Rubenstein
Last Year’s List: 20
Leadership: Howard J. Rubenstein, chairman; Steven Rubenstein, president

Rubenstein’s synonymous with PR in this town, and 2019 proved another banner year for the 65-year-old firm. Its forever clients include Noo Yawk institutions like the Yankees, News Corp., MoMA, Tishman Speyer, The High Line, Rockefeller Center and Jerry Seinfeld. This year, newbies in the Rubenstein stable include the Hospital for Special Surgery; Tiffany & Co.; Gagosian Gallery; and the sensational illusionist show Derren Brown: Secret. Rubenstein also handled Time magazine’s Time 100 event, the opening of the Statue of Liberty Museum and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting. Key hires this year included Jessie Lyons, director of communications for the office of president, and onetime deputy chief of staff for Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and Alexandra Merceron, a PhD candidate at Columbia whose title is, ahem, director of communications theory. Laugh, but does your firm have one?

Richard Edelman. Courtesy Richard Edelman

24. Edelman
Last Year’s List: 19
Leadership: Richard Edelman, president and CEO

As we were closing this section, The Holmes Report wrote that longtime client Cathay Pacific Airways handed Edelman a new crisis assignment. At the same time, we learned about Edelman’s chicken-scented fire logs (for KFC), pledge for paternity leave (for Dove Men+Care) and “truth” campaign around MSG (monosodium glutamate, not Madison Square Garden). The point: the world’s largest independent communications firm is as versatile, formidable and potent as ever. If that’s not enough, Edelman’s also trying to reinvent the industry itself; it became Cision’s exclusive agency partner for a whole mess of data and analytics that we’re still trying to understand, and an alliance with Harvard Business School will help clients understand how “behavior changes” can enhance brand success.

Steve Martin. Courtesy Nasty Little Man

25. Nasty Little Man
Last Year’s List: 37
Leadership: Steve Martin, founder/owner

Let’s put together a fantasy playlist of Steve Martin’s clients at Nasty Little Man. Side A: Paul McCartney, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Beck, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire. Side B: Thom Yorke, St. Vincent, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Iggy Pop and LCD Soundsystem. Bonus tracks: Rammstein, Queens of the Stone Age, Broken Bells, Spiritualized and Supergrass. Beyond promoting his roster’s sold-out tours and #1 releases, Martin is now trusted enough to run McCartney’s blog and publicize Sir Paul’s kiddie book Hey Grandude!, which became #1 in its own category.

Sara Fitzmaurice. Courtesy of FITZ & CO

26. FITZ & CO
Last Year’s List: 30
Leadership: Sara Fitzmaurice, founder/CEO/president

A growing global footprint continues to make FITZ & CO a serious player for arty clients with worldwide profiles. About to enter its 25th year, Sara Fitzmaurice’s 20-person agency still reps Art Basel; Gagosian; Storm King Art Center; and brands like BMW and eBay, for whom FITZ & CO. builds artist partnerships. Equinox just tapped the firm to get closer to (real) art/culture influencers, and Mastercard engaged FITZ & CO to extend its Priceless campaign into the cultural sphere. Also in the agency’s collection: ultra-blue-chip international gallery Almine Rech; Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue arts/culture district; Denmark’s ARoS Aarhus Art Museum; ART021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair; and the Faurschou Foundation, which operates spaces in Copenhagen, Beijing and NYC.

Ken Makovsky. Courtesy Makovsky

27. Makovsky
Last year’s list: 29
Leadership: Ken Makovsky, founder and president

“Stakes is high,” De La Soul memorably declaimed. That might as well be Makovsky’s motto. We’re talking clients like Mazars USA – a.k.a. Donald Trump’s accounting firm – Hunt Companies, and Johnson & Johnson. The firm bandies about terms like “scenario planning” and “range of circumstances,” meaning they help clients emerge intact—or better—through serious situations. But it’s not all crisis, all the time. Makovsky, this year, pioneered what it’s calling “Innovation Relations” to amp up cool things clients like Trident Health and TMRW are doing—think comms with a dash of management consulting. With an 87% client retention rate, an intimidatingly sagacious team of MBAs, JDs and Phi Beta Kappas, and its own high-profile speaker series, the firm’s looking smarter than ever in its 40th year.

Andrew Lister. Courtesy Purple PR

28. PURPLE
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Andrew Lister, executive vice president

The British, apparently, dislike talking about themselves. Maybe that’s why they’re so good at yakking up others. Six years after planting a flag in New York, this 22-year-old British firm has become a quiet force whose clients, generally speaking, are places you want to be and things you want to own. Newer wins like Bally, NeueHouse, jeweler Messika, The Face’s reincarnation and the Kevyn Aucoin brand have upped an already-glittery roster, including EDITION hotels, the Ian Schrager Company, Milanese retailer 10 Corso Como’s NYC outpost, L.A. Francophile apparel brand L’Agence, and events like the Gucci x Paige Powell book launch, TAG Heuer’s 50th anniversary and the John Varvatos/Nick Jonas Villa One Tequila launch. To keep up, PURPLE added 16 people in NYC this year, for a team of 56 and counting. PURPLE opened a West Coast outpost last year, so look out, LA.

James Brodsky. Courtesy Sharp Think

29. Sharp Think
Last Year’s List: 18
Leadership: James Brodsky, founder and CEO

Jim Brodsky’s firm took the ball and ran with it when client CBDMEDIC snagged former New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski as spokesmodel. The result: Some of the year’s big media moments, with the Gronk on Fallon, Fox and everywhere else extolling CBD-infused pain relief. It was just one high point for this can-do-anything shop, whose insanely diverse clients range from BASF and Prudential to Hi-Chew and Mutti tomatoes grounding ultra-fancy franchises like 1stDibs, Chihuly, TEFAF and the Fine Art Print Fair. Revenue’s up 10%, staff just topped 50 and growth around social and events is exploding. Bonus: To design and furnish its glitzy new 12,000-square-foot Midtown offices, Sharp tapped its own clients, from Silestone and Kohler to Bertazzoni, Legrand and Benjamin Moore, whose color team created a Sharp Think blue.

Todd Fromer, Lewis Goldberg, and Jeffrey Goldberger. Courtesy KCSA

30. KCSA
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Todd Fromer, principal; Lewis Goldberg, principal; Jeffrey Goldberger, principal

With a management overhaul in 2015, this 50-year-old firm got a serious transfusion of fresh blood. Since then, KCSA has been gobbling clients PacMan-style, with long rosters in tech, life sciences and cannabis, which now includes 35 clients alone. Remember the hoo-hah over Acreage Holdings’ rejected Super Bowl ad? KCSA engineered it. The firm’s also behind smart, surgical campaigns for life-sciences players like Cryoport, Syndio and Samsung Ads. And how many firms can boast they rep High Times magazine and run a thriving investor relations practice? Bonus: Goldberg’s Green Rush podcast has actually become a thing, with more than 100,000 downloads.

Sarah Berman. Courtesy Berman Group

31. The Berman Group
Last year’s list: 34
Leadership: Sarah Berman, founder and president

Real estate’s where Sarah Berman’s 15-year-old juggernaut of a firm has roots. And while the Berman Group’s client roster sprouted faster than the skyline this year, the firm made big breakthroughs in new categories. Berman won a tough contest to rep French tech giant Lectra; got kicking for soccer franchise Queensboro FC; launched NYC Builds Bio+, a STEM-promoting non-profit; and scored King Street Properties’ $600 million LIC life-sciences development. In her spare time, Berman won new biz from Howard Hughes Corp., Durst, KKR, Colliers International and many more. Perhaps not surprisingly, both headcount (18%) and revenue (22%) shot up in 2019. Bonus: Berman maintains a healthy roster of non-profit clients, from Habitat for Humanity to Blue Card, which aids Holocaust survivors.

Susan and Allyn Magrino. Courtesy Magrino

32. Magrino
Last year’s list: 26
Leadership: Susan Magrino, chairman and CEO; Allyn Magrino, president and chief revenue officer

Considering Magrino will soon enter its third decade, it’s an even bigger deal to claim 2019 as its strongest year ever. Digital business grew more than 40% this year, and Magrino continues to bring it for a swish stable of lifestyle, fashion and hospitality clients. In 2019, the firm snagged gold-star wins like a yet-unnamed Hudson Yards hospitality project, new Motto and LXR brands from longtime client Hilton, and Invest Hospitality, the money behind Joël Robuchon’s gilded NYC eateries. Wine and spirits clients keep pouring in, and celeb-connected brands like Scout and Drew Barrymore’s Flower won’t go anywhere else. Bonus: Martha Stewart, Magrino’s very first client, just handed the firm her digital influencer work.

Nate Hinton. Eugene Marcus

33. The Hinton Group
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Nate Hinton, founder

After leaving fashion-PR giant PR Consulting last year, Nate Hinton jolted the industry world by making a next-gen phenomenon of client Pyer Moss. In 2019, even more emerging designers sought Hinton’s counsel, including Public School, Vaquera, CDLM/Creatures of the Wind, Carmelo Anthony’s Melo Made, Christopher John Rogers, Deveaux New York, Frère and Aliétte, along with the Google/IMG Lens exhibit and the National Cares Mentoring Movement. Pyer Moss and its creator, Kerby Jean-Raymond, remain a client. We’re watching Hinton, and we bet the fashion establishment is too.

Jennifer Prosek. Courtesy Prosek Partners

34. Prosek Partners
Last year’s list: 24
Leadership: Jennifer Prosek, managing partner, New York

What does $27 trillion look like? Ask Prosek; its clients have that much in assets under management. The firm’s own stock has soared in 2019, so to speak; overall revenue grew 15%, Prosek’s headcount has soared 17% and a new “special situations” practice—crisis, to you and me—has grown 20% since its launch last November. Big-deal hires include David Wells, a Goldman Sachs CMO and partner at Prosek, Mike Del Vecchio, who joined as CFO from Interpublic, and SVP Trevor Gibbons, late of Joele Frank. Icing on the cake: Blackstone CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman tapped Prosek to tout What It Takes, his first book. It was everywhere. Bonus: That $27 trillion figure we cited is $10 trillion more than the United States GDP.

Matt Rizzetta. Brian Everett Francis

35. North 6th Agency (n6a)
Last year’s list: 15
Leadership: Matt Rizzetta, CEO

Rebranding your vocation as “Outcome RelationsTM”—complete with trademark—could end up a lame stunt. But in 2019, Matt Rizzetta’s shop introduced a serious, substantial framework to address a fundamental industry challenge: namely, how PR results should move the needle on specific business goals. Does n6a’s new approach work? You could buy Rizzetta’s book, The Death of Irrelevant PR, or just ask clients who’ve banged on the door this year, including AirAsia, Pininfarina, Medallia, Wikileaf, and Mary’s Medicinals, among many others. Proptech has been a huge category here, with new business from Reonomy, Camber Creek and WhyHotel. The firm spread with footprints in Miami and Los Angeles, and a beefed-up senior-management team includes marketing vet Jordan Cohen as CMO. Bonus: n6a’s the only firm we know with an in-house software engineer.

Jamie Lynn Sigler and Sarah Evans. Courtesy of JPR

36. JPR
Last year’s list: 44
Leadership: Sarah Evans, partner; Jamie Lynn Sigler, partner

With a planeload of new business, tons of organic growth and 75% client retention, JPR cracked $12 million in revenue this year. That’s impressive enough on its own for an indie firm founded by two college pals, but the firm keeps elevating its caliber of client along with its bottom line. Marriott and Disney continue broadening JPR’s mandate; Relais & Châteaux handed the firm juicy new digital assignments; and shelter-mag hotels like 11 Howard and Gramercy Park Hotel have checked into the firm this year. A Toronto office opened in October—the fifth, after NYC, London, San Diego and LA—and the partners’ Priority Status podcast is actually gaining traction. Bonus: Travel + Leisure’s 2019 “Best List” featured 25 JPR clients.

Davidson Goldin. Courtesy of Goldin Solutions

37. Goldin Solutions
Last year’s list: 21
Leadership: Davidson Goldin, founder

A kind of secret weapon for corporate and crisis clients, David Goldin’s low-profile firm rocked its 10th year with a slew of new clients and deeper roots with its existing roster. New this year: LaCroix maker National Beverage Corp., Lung Health Institute, Apollo Global-owned Diamond Resorts, venture capital firm Builders VC, mapping app Nexit and just-launched sports betting service Jambos. They join a discreetly blue-chip list that includes global real-estate giant Colliers, Birthright Israel, Ralph Lauren, the founders of Tinder in their lawsuit against IAC, Mark Cuban-backed Node, AMC Networks, the pharma app Blink Health and Goldman Sachs-backed cybersecurity firm Iboss.

Jennifer Hinchey, James LaForce, Olita Mills, Rebecca Gordon. Courtesy LaForce

38. LaForce
Last year’s list: 45

Rebecca Gordon, executive vice president, operations & Chief of Staff ; Olita Mills, senior vice president; Jennifer Hinchey, vice president; James LaForce, president

LaForce seemed to turn a page this year. While it’s always been a canny power in fashion and luxury, the firm broadened its reach to take on serious corporate communications work for new clients like Uber, Red Bull, Campbell Snacks, Footaction and Fossil. At the same time, under a new executive team, LaForce is getting even more agile with social, digital and branding. LaForce is set to top 100 employees by year’s end; revenue’s up a solid 10% over 2018. Bonus: Five gigantic clients—including Banana Republic, Target, 3M and Swarovski—have stuck with the firm for more than 10 years. In PR, that’s like dog years.

Binna Kim and Dan Simon. Courtesy Vested

39. Vested
Last year’s list: 27
Leadership: Binna Kim, president and co-founder; Dan (Daniel) P. Simon, CEO and co-founder

Does Vested even belong on the PR Power 50? It’s not the “Power” part we’re wondering about, but the “PR.” Like so many firms on this list, Vested has created its own communications channels rather than just work within others’. It owns media matchmaking site Quoted; bought TalkingBizNews, a site for business journalists; and has its own channel on AssetTV, where Vested account manager Emma Clarke is a fintech correspondent. It doesn’t mean Vested is out of the PR business; 2019 was a gangbusters year, with new clients like American Express, RBC Capital Markets, Qapital, HappyMoney and Goldman Sachs. For Bitcoin client DropGold, Vested also created and produced a buzzy TV commercial. The firm doubled the size of its UK office, and a footprint in Toronto launches this month.

Vanessa von Bismarck and Carrie Ellen Phillips. Courtesy BPCM

40. BPCM
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Vanessa von Bismarck, Carrie Ellen Phillips, co-founders; Ali Taekman, partner, Julian Vogel, CEO of ModusBPCM and partner

Vanessa von Bismarck and Carrie Phillips have become fashion-world celebs themselves—the Cut, last year, detailed their skin-care regimens—but the firm they launched two decades ago has grown way beyond runways and lookbooks. In 2019, the business broke its own boundaries, with burgeoning practices in travel, food/wine and beauty, along with a smart and strategic sustainability division. Clients skew high/low: This year saw Gucci, Fendi, Burberry and Louis Vuitton join the roster with Aldo, Burton Snowboards and Woolmark, among others. Very tony hotel clients like Santa Monica’s Oceana, NYC’s Surrey, LA’s Ashram and Asia’s Swire chose BCPM; maybe they heard that Dom Perignon, Penfolds and the Joseph Phelps winery had done the same.

Lisette Sand-Freedman, Liza Suloti, Michelle Sokoloff and Brad Zeifman. Gus Freedman

41. Shadow
Last year’s list: 38
Leadership: Brad Zeifman and Lisette Sand-Freedman, co-founders and CEOs; Michelle Sokoloff and Liza Suloti, partners

Don’t get too comfortable if you’re a Shadow client. By pushing brands out of their zones, Shadow’s birthed some of 2019’s genius media moments—think ConAir’s “Untying of the Knot” mock wedding or Ruffino’s transparent “six-pack-holder” purse. All of it’s grounded in serious strategy, though; you don’t keep clients like American Eagle, Champion, Constellation Brands, LaMer, Torrid, Maisonette, Welly, and Bravo Sierra without it. Already a force in beauty, Shadow expanded into personal care and clean beauty in 2019, and its hospitality division keeps multiplying. Shadow’s influencer division doubled in size this year, too, building on a long history of handpicked digital relationships. Bonus: The firm’s glam, 8,500-square-foot Meatpacking office has a liquor license.

Jennifer Bett Meyer and Melissa Duren Conner. Courtesy Jennifer Bett Communications

42. Jennifer Bett Communications
Last year’s list: 46
Leadership: Jennifer Bett Meyer, founder and president; Melissa Duren Conner, partner and managing director

After five years, Jennifer Bett Communications is moving from little-agency-that-could mode into high gear, with a torrent of new business that hasn’t overshadowed its near-fanatic dedication to entrepreneurs and disruptors. StockX, the white-hot sneaker marketplace, was a marquee 2019 win, along with the Body Shop, fashion brand Thakoon, Ikea-but-cooler retailer Floyd and a raft of fresh-thinking, non-corporate clients from pet-wellness startup Dandy and “adult cereal” Magic Spoon to female-pleasure brand Unbound. Among its potent hires, the firm snared ex-Fashionista.com and Lucky scribe Maura Brannigan to head a new content division. And from a lone staffer last year, JBC’s Los Angeles outpost has grown to six.

Lou Hammond and Terence Gallagher. Courtesy Lou Hammond Group

43. Lou Hammond Group
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Lou Hammond, chairman/founder; Terence Gallagher, president, New York

For all its far-flung clients, Lou Hammond Group’s most impressive 2019 wins came from its own backyard. The Fifth Avenue Association, possibly Gotham’s glitziest BID, picked this 35-year-old travel-marketing powerhouse over agencies with deeper NYC connections. And VisitNJ, New Jersey’s tourism marketing arm, chose the firm after a bruising competitive review. Considering LHG’s adeptness at burnishing place reputations, maybe the win’s not a complete surprise. The firm’s made meh towns like Paducah, K.Y. and Marquette, Mich. seem like glamour spots, and its economic development work for Montgomery, Ala. and New Haven has been transformative.

Ron Berkowitz. Courtesy of Berk Communications

44. Berk Communications
Last year’s ranking: n/a
Leadership: Ron Berkowitz, CEO and founder

If Jay-Z and Meek Mill ever walk into the Cheesecake Factory wearing Puma after a trip to Israel, it’s probably because of Ron Berk, whose fearless firm somehow bridges big brands, pop culture and travel/hospitality into an unlikely whole. In its 20th year, the agency’s actually accelerating; new clients range from BodyArmor and Lids to Hilton, and its 75-strong roster of “talent” clients—individuals from Alex Rodriguez to Van Jones and Mr. Mill—keeps expanding. One of the year’s indelible media moments, a pow-wow between longtime client Roc Nation and the NFL, was engineered by Ron Berkowitz and his crew, as was Meek Mill’s carefully engineered emergence from felonhood to cultural redemption. Bonus: Berk’s 2015 acquisition by giant MWWPR has only added juice.

Adam Abdalla. Courtesy Adam Abdalla

45. Cultural Counsel
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Adam Abdalla, president

Adam Abdalla’s four-year-old firm continued its all-over expansion in 2019, roping in clients who make art, want to touch art or support art. More than 30% growth this year came from a roster that includes players like The Morgan Library, Matthew Marks Gallery, Prada Foundation, Marlborough Contemporary and the Whitney; it’s easy to see how Cultural Counsel has also lured Thom Browne, Forty Five Ten, Red Bull Arts, Netflix, the Knight Foundation, Garage magazine, Culture Lab Detroit and Paris Photo New York. Bonus: After booing Donald Trump at an Ultimate Fighting Championship show at Madison Square Garden, Abdalla was quoted in a New York Times piece on the match.

Michael Kempner. Courtesy MWWPR

46. MWWPR
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Michael Kempner, founder and CEO

Almost 35 years after Michael Kempner hung up a shingle, MWWPR has mushroomed into NYC’s largest independent PR firm, and it’s got gigantic assignments to suit; Deloitte, Whole Foods, Nikon, Tidal and Red Lobster are all on board here, along with boatloads of food, tech and financial services clients. A generalist firm in the best sense, the agency reaches way beyond earned media with huge social capabilities, a potent research and analytics operation and surgical SEO and search marketing chops. This year’s new-biz crop included ticket-resale hub Lunatix, grooming brand Wahl, the Professional Fighters’ League, and Feld Entertainment’s Supercross brand; MedMen was a short-lived client, and the story’s worth Googling.

Nina Kaminer. Courtesy of NIKE Communications

47. NIKE Communications
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Nina Kaminer, president

It would be easy to rest on your laurels after a stellar 35-year run; that’s not Nina Kaminer’s style [and no, she’s not related to the editor of this section]. Not only has Nike Communications killed it in its bailiwicks of travel, luxury, spirits and beauty this year, but this quiet powerhouse spread its wings into financial communications—Revolve’s IPO was one of the year’s big money stories—serious thought-leadership campaigns and relentless influencer/Instagram management that actually affects clients’ bottom lines. Clinique, Gurney’s, YSL Beauté , Bacardi and MiaDonna were among clients who jumped on board this year; they join a glittery roster including Billy Reid, Technogym, Art of Shaving, Wusthof, Rosewood hotels, Montblanc and Moët & Chandon.

Julie Freeman and Lauren Kaufman. Courtesy of MMGY NJF

48. MMGY NJF
Last year’s list: 49
Leadership: Julie Freeman, EVP/managing director; Lauren Kaufman, SVP

To a very healthy client list—from South Dakota and San Francisco to Lufthansa and Los Cabos—MMGY NJF added new business all over the map this year. The firm won highly competitive pitches for Travel Texas and Visit West Hollywood, along with Etihad Airways, Oceania Cruises, Greater Palm Springs, The National WWII Museum and Visit Dallas. The firm has somehow sustained the story of Asbury Park, N.J. over years—developer iStar is the client—and still plugs away for forever clients like Sean MacPherson’s hotels, Rhode Island and St. Petersburg/Clearwater.

Marilyn Laverty. Courtesy of Shore Fire

49. Shore Fire Media
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Marilyn Laverty, president

Like so many agencies on the list this year, Shore Fire challenged itself by expanding beyond its core client base—music, in this case—into film, digital and non-profit. So along with a long list of 2019 Grammy wins and a roster of platinum-plated clients like Bruce Springsteen, Carole King and Cyndi Lauper, Shore Fire topped the charts with hot podcasts (Freakanomics, Dolly Parton’s America), acclaimed documentaries (Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice and Echo in the Canyon) and huge festivals like the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest (with, yes, Cardi B and Bruno Mars). Bonus: As we put this section to bed, news broke that Shore Fire had been acquired for $3 million by Dolphin Entertainment, whose PR stable includes 42West (#4 on this year’s list) and The Door (#18).

Katharina Plath. Courtesy Head and Hand PR

50. Head & Hand PR
Last year’s list: n/a
Leadership: Katharina Plath, principal

Four words: Yacht in Times Square. The logistics alone make your head spin. But Katharina Plath’s small/mighty team pulled off one of the year’s splashier media moments—and biggest Insta-draws—for client Azimut Benetti. The firm also shines by taking work beyond media placements. For client B&B Italia, Head & Hand brokered a glitzy installation at tony South Street Seaport retailer 10 Corso Como; for Roche-Bobois, the equally snooty French brand, Plath and crew turned a collab with Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos into a major global happening. Now, the firm’s drawing clients who want some of that design mojo; the latest include Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine Gallery and Lorem Ipsum, the NY/London/Moscow studio behind insane virtual/museum experiences.

So how does this work?

Every year, PR pros ask how to get into Observer’s PR Power 50. With that in mind, we’re sharing a quick Q&A to help you understand how it works:

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. You can e-mail PRPower50@observer.com. Did your work for a client change the cultural conversation? Did it defuse a crisis? Upend a category? Tell us about it.

How do you choose who ends up on the list?

The process is subjective, which makes the Power List different from trade-media rankings based on revenue or size. We consider the big picture of what kind of year an agency had in terms of new business, major hires, pathbreaking campaigns, outstanding creative work, 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?

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. That’s what makes it so exciting for us to cover.

My firm’s a boutique shop, 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.

The Most Powerful PR Firms of 2019