Shift Communications: Agency Business Report 2015

After three years of double-digit growth Shift Communications' revenue slipped by 1% in 2014.

CEO Todd Defren
CEO Todd Defren

Principals: Todd Defren, CEO; Jim Joyal, partner; and Amy Lyons, president
Ownership: Independent
Offices: San Francisco; Newton, MA; New York; and Austin
Revenue: $18,444,854
Headcount: 135

After three years of double-digit growth Shift Communications’ revenue slipped by 1% in 2014 due to the losses of Salesforce.com and Honeywell in early 2014. The agency had worked with Salesforce for more than three years, but the "relationships had run their course," says Shift CEO Todd Defren.

Meanwhile, "Honeywell was trouble from the start," he adds. "It was a bad chemistry fit."

Defren estimates that Shift would have grown revenue by about 15% if not for those losses. The firm also stopped working with Pitney Bowes.

However, there were some bright spots in the year. T-Mobile US added Shift to its PR agency roster to handle social media. Whole Foods Market hired the firm to help with traditional PR, influencer relations, and events in Northern California. Shift also won the Hawaii Visitors Convention Bureau’s social media account, PR and social media for The Guardian US, and business from MicroStrategy, Orchard Supply Hardware, and GE Software.

Key digital addition
Last July, Ford’s former global digital comms leader Scott Monty joined Shift in the newly created role of EVP of strategy – a "big hire," Defren says. Monty is working on new business development, counseling clients, and looking for partnership opportunities. VP Erin Santy departed the firm.

 At the beginning of 2015, Shift opened its fourth office in Austin, Texas, led by VP Matt Trocchio. There are four employees based there, with additional support coming from its other three outposts. And Derek Lyons was named VP of technology business development, East Coast.

 In the past year, the firm has poured investment into its marketing technology group, which it launched in 2012. Led by VP Christopher Penn, it has grown to seven staffers, who are focused on data and analytics. In early 2015, Shift became a Google Analytics Certified Partner to help clients better understand the ROI of their marcomms efforts.

"Marketing technology is the single biggest thing going on right now and probably the biggest thing we have done in our 12-year history," Defren explains. "Data-driven PR is the future of the industry and without research capabilities, data, and analytics, any impact you generate is just luck."

 The agency is also aiming to add a data analyst to every account team. It has started that process by training and promoting from within, he notes.

 "Math is not traditionally looked on favorably by PR pros. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that our junior staff in particular have taken it up and made it a personal mission, with some even volunteering," Defren adds. "It will be great if we can get people with PR mindsets to understand data and be able to translate the language to clients and teammates."

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