Welcome to the case studies, teams, and individuals that defined the 19th year of the PRWeek Awards, the most sought-after honors for PR professionals.
The PRWeek Awards, which were held on March 15 in New York City, saw Weber Shandwick walk away as this year's big winner in the agency categories - claiming Large Agency and Agency of the Year honors for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year.
The 2018 Communicator of the Year is Tarana Burke, who originated and defined the #MeToo movement, the most significant cultural development over the past year, which stimulates empowerment through empathy in entertainment, business, and beyond.
And the hotly contested Campaign of the Year was awarded to Frito-Lay North America and Ketchum for their work on Tostitos Party Safe Bag, which also scooped the prize for Best Integration.
Scroll down to see a full list of winners, along with honorable mentions, for each of the categories, along with write-ups of the top-notch work that is driving innovation, creativity, and effectiveness in comms.
WINNER: Tarana Burke
From #Gamergate that took a stand against sexism and corruption in video game culture to #IceBucketChallenge that raised awareness of ALS, communicators have used the hashtag as a viral rallying cry for years.
But has any hashtag gone as global or been as impactful as #MeToo? Tarana Burke, who runs the youth organization Just Be, came up with the phrase in its current context more than a decade ago. It is the name of a movement she founded to help young survivors of sexual assault, particularly girls of color and in underprivileged communities, know that they are not alone and there is a support network for them.
Last autumn, actress Alyssa Milano helped bring Burke’s words to a larger audience. "If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet," wrote Milano. Her message was in response to an article in The New York Times that chronicled long-rumored allegations that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed women.
The call-to-action struck a chord not only with A-list actors — such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, and Jessica Chastain — but also women of every background and occupation.
As the matriarch of #MeToo that gave voice to so many who had been suffering in silence around the world, Burke merits the honor of PRWeek Communicator of the Year.
#MeToo truly captured the power of viral communication. In its first week as a hashtag, more than 1.7 million tweets included #MeToo, reported Twitter, and in 85 countries it was tweeted out at least 1,000 times. Facebook said 45% of users in the U.S. have had friends who posted those words.
Burke, herself a survivor of sexual assault, has said, "MeToo is so powerful because somebody had said it to me and it changed the trajectory of my healing process once I heard that."
Her language gave way to empowerment through empathy, as men and women came together in conversation on what constitutes sexual harassment, ways to hold perpetrators responsible, and how to stop the cycle.
Burke partnered with Hollywood actresses and attended the Golden Globes with Michelle Williams, an event in which women wore all black in solidarity with #MeToo. "You might think I’m here because I’m nominated for something, but that’s not the case. Tarana started a movement," said Williams. "She planted a seed years ago and it’s grown and caught fire."
That fire didn’t just inspire talk — but spurned action, by holding parties accountable for their actions across industries. In addition to Weinstein, former Today host Matt Lauer, Sen. Al Franken, and chef Mario Batali were among the powerful men in their industries who lost jobs as allegations of their sexual misconduct came to light.
#MeToo proved more than just a hashtag, and no one understands that better than Burke herself, who has said: "This is just the start. I’ve been saying from the beginning it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement. Now the work really begins."
WINNER: The Lights Out, Aeronaut Brewing Co., and Adam Ritchie Brand Direction
WINNER CAMPAIGN: T.R.I.P. Through the Multiverse
In helping the indie band The Lights Out establish itself in a fiercely competitive market, Adam Ritchie Brand Direction also launched a beer. The team invented a viable answer to a problem plaguing the music industry for decades, put physical discovery back on the table for music consumers starving for a more tangible relationship with their music, and used technology to solve a problem technology had created. Agency research showed that, while the band’s target consumers were no longer shopping at music stores, they were devoted customers of craft beer. What if, the agency asked, it launched the album on a beer?
Teaming up with Aeronaut Brewing Co., the agency created a beer that paired flavor with sound. T.R.I.P. (The Reckonings in Pandimensionality) sported a label that captured elements from the band and brewery and included a social media trigger linking consumers to the album and the band’s Twitter chatbot that generated the band’s reports from different dimensions. The team produced a YouTube trailer explaining the collaboration to consumers and media and prepared live interactive events that captured attention from a broad range of media outlets.
Nearly 2,000 cans of the album sold out within weeks, inspiring the brewery to release a second batch, twice the size — which also sold out. Judges loved the use of consumer insights and called the campaign "ambitious, brave, and non-traditional." "This represents the future of our business," said one judge.
HONORABLE MENTION: Wendy’s and Ketchum
CAMPAIGN NAME: Wendy’s Nuggs Breaks Twitter History
When Twitter follower Carter Wilkerson asked Wendy’s how many retweets it would take to get a year’s worth of free chicken nuggets, the answer was 18 million. Game on. Wendy’s social media team directed outreach, including a challenge to retweet record-holder Ellen DeGeneres, and bolstered the good vibe by bringing in a charity to benefit from the #NuggsforCarter publicity. At more than 3.6 million retweets — the most in Twitter history — everybody won.
WINNER: The Lights Out, Aeronaut Brewing Co., and Adam Ritchie Brand Direction
CAMPAIGN NAME: T.R.I.P. Through the Multiverse
Boutique agency Adam Ritchie Brand Direction brought together indie rock band The Lights Out and Aeronaut Brewing Co. for an entirely original album release.
The Lights Out had a problem: It was an obscure, unsigned band with a new album to promote in the already-crowded music scene. Adam Ritchie Brand Direction decided that, to break through the noise, the album needed a creative release campaign. The team then orchestrated the album release on the side of a beer can.
One judge called the release an "outstanding concept and a truly original idea — flawlessly executed." The T.R.I.P. Through The Multiverse campaign was fueled by research of music fans’ habits. Fans didn’t go to music stores anymore, they didn’t want to pay for individual albums, and they mostly found new music on top Spotify playlists. But the agency did find music fans were shopping for beer as often as once a week.
Based on that research, the partnership began between The Lights Out and craft beermaker Aeronaut Brewing Co., which brewed a brand new beer inspired by the album and printed instructions to getting the album on the side of the can.
Because of the unique release, the obscure band generated coverage from major websites and publications, including on Uproxx, Men’s Journal, and Paste. The brewery sold out of 6,000 cans of the T.R.I.P. album beer and music fans were out paying for music again, only in a different way.
HONORABLE MENTION: Frito-Lay North America and Ketchum
CAMPAIGN NAME: The Spotted Cheetah
Frito-Lay and Ketchum brought the unlikely pairing of Cheetos and fine dining together with a pop-up restaurant. For three days, The Spotted Cheetah served a three-course menu featuring only Cheetos recipes created by celebrity chef Anne Burrell. Media coverage spanned NBC’s Today and Food & Wine magazine, reservations were completely booked within six hours, and even celebrities showed up. As one judge commented, "Cheetos does it again."
WINNER: Heineken USA’s Strongbow Hard Apple Ciders and Current Marketing
CAMPAIGN NAME: Strongbow Nature Remix U.S. Launch
For the relaunch of Heineken Strongbow hard apple cider in the U.S., Current Marketing highlighted the product’s unique all-natural heritage for its Nature Remix campaign.
To get people talking — particularly its target millennial audience — the team joined forces with Swale, New York’s first floating food forest created by nature artist and activist Mary Mattingly, on the creation of a floating apple orchard and perennial garden oasis on the waters of the Hudson River. Bringing the full vision to life required 50 tons of soil, 10 tons of gravel, 10 tons of lava rock, and 200 perennial edible plants.
Timed to open on the first day of spring, March 20, Current pitched Swale as a summer urban oasis destination to New York and national media, attracting coverage that spanned food, lifestyle and travel outlets. The team took a three-phase strategy that unfolded during planning, building, and launch.
A winning combination of high-quality and -quantity coverage broke through category clutter and helped positively impact business results. From lifestyle and green living to travel and business outlets, the team went beyond a traditional approach and reached millennials from across the country. For the three months of the campaign’s pulse outreach, Strongbow outpaced the category with sales up 10.9%, while the total cider category sales slid 6.9%. One judge cited the program’s "inventive partnership and excellent bottom-line results in a crowded category." Another said the "creative idea on a tight budget" won the vote.
For the relaunch of Heineken Strongbow hard apple cider in the U.S., Current Marketing highlighted the product’s unique all-natural heritage for its Nature Remix campaign. To get people talking — particularly its target millennial audience — the team joined forces with Swale, New York’s first floating food forest created by nature artist and activist Mary Mattingly, on the creation of a floating apple orchard and perennial garden oasis on the waters of the Hudson River. Bringing the full vision to life required 50 tons of soil, 10 tons of gravel, 10 tons of lava rock, and 200 perennial edible plants.
Timed to open on the first day of spring, March 20, Current pitched Swale as a summer urban oasis destination to New York and national media, attracting coverage that spanned food, lifestyle and travel outlets. The team took a three-phase strategy that unfolded during planning, building, and launch. A winning combination of high-quality and -quantity coverage broke through category clutter and helped positively impact business results.
From lifestyle and green living to travel and business outlets, the team went beyond a traditional approach and reached millennials from across the country.
For the three months of the campaign’s pulse outreach, Strongbow outpaced the category with sales up 10.9%, while the total cider category sales slid 6.9%.
One judge cited the program’s "inventive partnership and excellent bottom-line results in a crowded category." Another said the "creative idea on a tight budget" won the vote.
HONORABLE MENTION: Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media
CAMPAIGN NAME: Disney #DreamBigPrincess Global Photography Campaign
Using Disney’s Dream Big, Princess initiative as a springboard, Disney PR conceived the #DreamBigPrincess photography campaign, a precedent-setting global cause marketing activation that encouraged kids everywhere to dream big. The campaign featured a series of empowering images of real-world girls and women, captured by 19 professional female photographers from 15 countries. The campaign reached its $1 million donation goal in a record-breaking five days.
WINNER: Hot Octopuss and Manifest New York
CAMPAIGN NAME: Bring Your O Game
Orgasming isn’t a topic women are confident talking about. With the launch of its latest sex toy, The Queen Bee, Hot Octopuss set out to break down taboos around the O word and empower women to embrace sexuality as a core part of wellbeing.
Aided by Manifest New York, the company opened the world’s first orgasm pop-up store in Manhattan called The Changing Room: By The Queen Bee. Women were invited to the space to talk to sex therapist and orgasm stylist Diana Barone, before donning a silky robe and heading into a luxurious private changing room to try out the new toy.
On the day of launch, Hot Octopuss sent pictures of a line of women around the block, which it had staged, to press to generate hype. In the weeks leading up to the store opening, 2,500 women applied for a slot with Barone, and 150 women tried out the product at the pop-up. Sales of the Queen Bee were 350% higher than the total cost of the campaign. The campaign also led to people buying other Hot Octopuss toys.
Publications such as Time Out New York, New York Post’s Page Six, and Cosmopolitan covered the campaign. Additionally, social media conversations among U.S. women talking about orgasms increased by 16% immediately following the launch. "Clever execution in an edgy category," said one judge. "Effective use of media with the requirement they experience the product. This brand kept it classy and upscale in a category that can easily become seedy."
HONORABLE MENTION: The Clorox Co./Kingsford Charcoal and Current Marketing
CAMPAIGN NAME: Stand With Ribs
Charcoal brand Kingsford wanted to ignite interest in its new Long-Burning Briquets. Current aided Kingsford to enlist NFL star Vince Wilfork to bring people together to declare barbecued ribs America’s national food. Kingsford filed a #StandWithRibs petition and made videos with Wilfork. Kingsford saw a 20% sales increase, and the brand’s performance product line achieved 10% higher sales than its other products.
WINNER: Frito-Lay North America and Ketchum
CAMPAIGN NAME: Tostitos Party Safe Bag
In a daring twist on traditional Super Bowl strategy, Tostitos decided to address the serious side of the celebration. To make sure consumers got home safely once the party was over, Frito-Lay developed a special edition Party Safe Tostitos bag that doubled as a breathalyzer-like alcohol detector.
The Tostitos Party Safe Bag included a special circuit board and high-sensitivity sensor to detect alcohol. If alcohol was detected as someone breathed into the bag, a custom circuit board forming a steering wheel, featuring a don’t drink and drive message, appeared along with an Uber code that could be used on Super Bowl Sunday to claim a ride home.
For credibility, the brand partnered with longstanding advocacy organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). For a solution, it teamed up with Uber to also offer $10 off any Uber ride on Super Bowl Sunday using the ordinary Universal Product Code on the back of Tostitos bags. For a connection to the NFL, Frito-Lay engaged Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker, whose aunt and uncle were killed by a drunk driver after watching him play in Super Bowl XLVII.
Video content quickly went viral, generating more than 13 million views. The campaign made Tostitos the talk of Super Bowl LI — without airing a single commercial. By Super Bowl Sunday, both the limited-edition Party Safe Bags and regular bags sold out nationwide. More than 30,000 Uber rides were given through the promotion, making the roads safer and raising lasting awareness. "It’s rare that a PR team actually has a hand in creating a product. Amazing," said one judge. Another judge called it a "brilliant use of tech and comms to help solve a persistent problem."
HONORABLE MENTION: Astellas Oncology and Spectrum Science Communications
CAMPAIGN NAME: Astellas Oncology C3 Prize
In collaboration with Spectrum Science Communications, Astellas created the C3 Prize, a global innovation challenge aimed at inspiring novel, non-treatment and non-medicine based ideas to help patients navigate the healthcare system, coordinate care, and survive life post-treatment. After 118 submissions from 15 countries, three winners were provided with grant money and mentorship to help realize their ideas.
WINNER: GSK Consumer Healthcare, Excedrin, and Weber Shandwick
CAMPAIGN NAME: The Debate Headache
GSK Consumer Healthcare and Weber Shandwick used the unconventional presidential election as a springboard for its Debate Headache campaign. Social listening found a spike in conversations around headaches related to the U.S. presidential race in spring 2016, a link Excedrin validated with custom research revealing that nearly 7 out of 10 Americans believed the election caused more headaches than any other in history.
With the help of a clinical psychologist and headache specialist to help people understand the physical and emotional impact of headaches, the team engaged mainstream media with head pain relief kits, leveraged existing consumer and media conversations, and identified social media as a channel to inform consumers and spark conversations with reporters. Combined, the efforts created one of the year’s biggest Twitter trends — #DebateHeadache.
The campaign earned 400 media placements and included influential media spots in The New York Times, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live. CNN named Excedrin the "Debate winner before it even began." The brand also had a 10% sales lift over the prior year. #DebateHeadache became one of the most far-reaching and authentic brand engagements during the election season. During the four-week post-campaign period, sales were up 9.7% from the prior year and up 7.6% over the prior four weeks. "It was a risky strategy that paid off," said one judge. Other judges called the campaign "brave." The message was simple: no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, headaches are universal, and Excedrin is here to help.
HONORABLE MENTION: Sunovion Pharmaceuticals and Biosector 2
CAMPAIGN NAME: Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health
To advance the narrative around mental health, Be Vocal partnered with Getty Images and Shaul Schwarz on a photography collection featuring 10 individuals who are living well with mental health conditions and a documentary film that shows the struggles and the power of hope and recovery. The campaign drove visitors to www.BeVocalSpeakUp.com with the site reporting over 102,000 visitors since new content launched with 26% of visitors returning.
WINNER: GE Power Digital and Highwire Public Relations
CAMPAIGN NAME: GE Software for a Cleaner Planet
GE Power sat at a bold, new crossroad. While representing GE’s legacy as an electricity company, GE Power became the platform from which the industrial giant would launch its future. By building and selling software applications for managing power plants, GE Power would position the company as a top 10 software vendor.
But to start, GE Power comms had to win over an industry wary of digital disruption. In the run-up to its premiere at GE’s October 2016 Minds + Machines conference, the team of four endeavored to demonstrate success from its peers through case studies, assure prospects that GE would provide support in all aspects, and emphasize GE’s software would help them reduce their carbon footprint. GE Power’s comms team worked with "flawless execution," one judge said. It unveiled early customers at key moments, such as Excelon at launch, and scored a feature in The Economist that compared its business favorably to rival Siemens. It also secured speaking engagements for software executives at 25 digital and energy events, and carried out other "creative tactics" that generated momentum.
By the end of the first half of 2017, GE generated $1.9 billion in software revenue, the lion’s share of which could be attributed to Power Digital Solutions. In addition, GE increased its share of voice against competitors from 47% at the start of 2017 to 55% by the end of the summer. As of Q2 2017, Prime Research analysis showed GE with a leading share of voice in 10 of 14 markets in which the business has prioritized sales.
Judges were quick to praise the campaign, with one saying, "Communications was totally integrated with the business strategy, which is critical."
HONORABLE MENTION: Dell and PPR Worldwide
CAMPAIGN NAME: Dell Helps Women Entrepreneurs Make it Real
To help close the underrepresentation of women in business, Dell and its PR partner, PPR Worldwide, launched the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN). The annual summit allows women entrepreneurs to come together in a supportive atmosphere that contributes toward a greater good. Dell also used the event to position itself as an adviser and advocate for female entrepreneurs, generating a projected $36 million in IT spend from leads developed the network.
WINNER: Chevrolet and Weber Shandwick
CAMPAIGN NAME: Hit by a Bolt
Silicon Valley and the automotive industry are colliding in the age of electric and autonomous vehicles. As a 100-year-old brand, Chevrolet wasn’t quite top of mind when it came to talk of tech and cars.
Those conversations were dominated by Elon Musk and his beloved Tesla vehicles, Google, and even Apple. These tech players were doing what tech does best: disrupt. Few expected a traditional manufacturer such as Chevy to actually disrupt the disruptors. But that’s what happened when the company announced its all electric Chevy Bolt.
Working with Weber Shandwick, Chevy delivered what one judge called a "comprehensive step for the auto sector" with its Hit by a Bolt campaign. Innovation was in the driver’s seat throughout the campaign, and drove every aspect of Chevy and Weber Shandwick’s media strategy. First, the Bolt was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show, a tech event. The press was able to test the vehicle at the conference, and General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra’s keynote during the show was broadcast via Facebook Live. The marquee all-access story on the car broke in Wired, an influential tech magazine, and a far cry from a leading outlet on autos. These, and other media activations, led to the most coverage Chevy has ever received in its 100 years as a brand. Crucially, all of this attention drove sales, with Chevy reporting strong sales in key markets, 74% of whom were first-time Chevy customers.
HONORABLE MENTION: Willow and Current Marketing
CAMPAIGN NAME: Willow Launches First Wearable Breast Pump
Little innovation has occurred in breast pump technology, but as it so often does, Silicon Valley swooped in and disrupted the space at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Willow nearly stole the show with its revolutionary hands-free, internet-of-things breast pump. Willow’s self-titled product won numerous CES awards. PR efforts alone resulted in 38,290 purchase inquiries — 27,000 within the first week — and more than 218,000 unique website visits.
WINNER: Pantene and DeVries Global
CAMPAIGN NAME: Pantene Gold Series All Strong Hair is Beautiful Hair Campaign
To support the launch of Pantene’s Gold Series, its first product collection specifically for African-American hair, Pantene and DeVries teamed up to create the Strong Hair is Beautiful Hair campaign. Featuring a range of styles never seen before from a mainstream beauty brand, the campaign changed perceptions about beauty standards and the definition of beautiful hair.
Pre-launch efforts included seeding products to local hairstylists to generate buzz and demonstrations hosted by hair stylist Chuck Amos and Pantene scientist Dr. Rolanda Wilkerson at salons in key markets. Momentum built behind the drop of an exclusive editorial in Essence that was synchronized with the premiere of the campaign anthem video that featured some of the most influential African-American talent in the industry. Pantene advertised during Empire, and it timed all product social posts to line up minutes before the spot aired.
As the first mainstream beauty brand to represent the broad range of African-American hairstyles in an elevated way, Pantene changed long-held perceptions of African-American hair, sparking a national conversation about its strength, beauty, and history.
BET called the campaign "an example of a mainstream brand reaching out to an underserved market and executing its objective respectfully through genuine empowerment," and the Smithsonian National Museum congratulated the brand on its powerful message. Judges said the "comms-driven campaign" was "authentic and achieved business results."
HONORABLE MENTION: Procter & Gamble and Egami Group
CAMPAIGN NAME: P&G The Talk
P&G wanted to reframe the conversation on My Black Is Beautiful away from beauty only to encompass other factors that make a black woman’s life beautiful. Egami helped P&G create a pivotal, provocative piece of content focusing on a parent speaking to her children about racial bias. The campaign ignited a national conversation around racial bias and how it impacts black families. In just two months, the film generated over 250 media placements.
WINNER: DuPont, Gagen MacDonald, and Think Marketing
CAMPAIGN NAME: Countdown to Day One: Creating DowDuPont
After DuPont announced its intent to merge with Dow Chemical in 2015, the workplace was filled with uncertainty. The plans were to close the deal within a year’s time and spin off three new companies in 12-18 months. The merger would entail a cost restructuring that would eliminate 10% of the workforce, and DuPont had appointed a new chairman and CEO weeks before the announcement.
The impact of 20 or more months of uncertainty on leaders and employees had the potential to wreak havoc on the companies, but partnering with Gagen MacDonald and Think Marketing, DuPont created and executed communication strategies that enabled the business to deliver significantly improved results, minimize disruption, and build employee and leader confidence.
To keep employees and leaders engaged and confident in the change journey, DuPont developed a consistent employee narrative, created a continuous feedback loop, and implemented a robust measurement, analytics, and reporting discipline.
Ongoing measurement tools and surveys revealed that, by the close of the transaction, the team not only met, but also exceeded its goals and targets. Employee confidence was up 16% and employee understanding of the change journey jumped 11%. For the nine-month period leading to the transaction close, 62% of employees said they were excited, motivated, or encouraged about the future. One judge called it "one of the most complicated internal business challenges," which the company "navigated brilliantly."
HONORABLE MENTION: JetBlue
CAMPAIGN NAME: Ready for Takeoff: JetBlue’s On-Time Performance Program
With a budget of just $100,000, the comms team helped launch the program with a focus on how timeliness is critical to the airline’s overall success. The team used employee focus groups, cross-functional leadership meetings, and surveys to identify roadblocks to timeliness. In the first six months after launch, JetBlue was no longer near the bottom of the list for on-time flights. On-time departures increased 4.2% year over year, and arrivals increased 4.1%.
WINNER: Mobile Stü and Allen & Gerritsen
CAMPAIGN NAME: Mobile Stü — One Beat for Peace: #blackwithblue
Relations between black communities and the police who serve them have always been strained, but those tensions have hit historic and dangerous heights over the last decade or so.
The dynamics of this relationship, or at least parts of it, are a common topic in rap music, so it’s pleasantly ironic that one of the most sincere efforts to diffuse the tension came from a grassroots campaign grounded in rap music.
"This is community engagement at its finest," one judge said of rap artist Mike Boston’s Mobile Stü, a recording studio in the back of a pickup truck that Boston drives around the city of Boston in an effort to de-escalate violence in its inner-city communities. The rapper typically brings it after an act of gang violence.
Recognizing Boston and his work on the Mobile Stü, Allen & Gerritsen developed a comprehensive campaign for the Mobile Stü, complete with brand identity, a website, and a community activation partnership with the Boston Police Department and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester; all of this pro bono.
The goal was very much in line with what Boston had been doing the whole time: giving a voice to inner-city youth who felt they didn’t have one, while also driving awareness of the #blackwithblue campaign. And drive awareness it did.
The campaign drove tens of millions of earned media reach, coverage on major TV programs such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, and even led to the rapper receiving the Boston Celtics’ Heroes Among Us Award in front of 17,000 fans.
HONORABLE MENTION: One Orlando Alliance and Edelman
CAMPAIGN NAME: Creating a Voice in the Wake of Tragedy
The One Orlando Alliance formed to meet the emotional and medical needs of a community in pain following the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub. Within 30 days, it received more than 100,000 donated gifts and $500,000 worth of food donations, and it directly helped 45 of the 49 families who lost a loved one, and 39 of the 52 families facing significant medical hardships following the most violent attack against the LGBT community of all time.
WINNER: Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media
CAMPAIGN NAME: Disney #DreamBigPrincess Global Photography Campaign
The Disney Princesses have been around since Snow White debuted in 1928. Last year, Disney launched the Dream Big, Princess campaign to modernize the perception of princesses and reach global audiences.
Disney partnered with 19 female photographers from 15 countries to shoot an empowering photo series of real girls and women with the goal to inspire children around the world. Subjects ranged from the founder of the first female cycling team in Afghanistan to a 9-year-old soccer player dressed in a mud-covered Snow White dress in Atlanta. Dream Big, Princess was promoted in 43 countries. Judges agreed the campaign brought the Disney princess into the modern era and made it more accessible to a global audience.
"I hope the cynics are happy," one judge said. "This [campaign] proves once and for all that the princess inside each of us, and all we can achieve with this idea, validates Disney’s Princess platform."
The campaign also partnered with Girl Up, the United Nations Foundation’s program supporting adolescent girls’ leadership and empowerment, and pledged to donate $1 million once social mentions reached 1 million. Disney met that goal in just five days.
To connect the empowering images to Disney even more, some subjects did video interviews for the campaign, talking about which Disney princess they related to and inspired them the most. As a result, the social and media response to the Dream Big, Princess campaign and Disney princesses was overwhelmingly positive.
"Disney reimagines what it means to be a princess," one judge said. "And it is beautiful."
HONORABLE MENTION: BlackBerry and Cunningham Collective
CAMPAIGN NAME: BlackBerry Brand Transformation: From Smartphones to the Smart in the Phone
BlackBerry had worked for three years to shift its business from consumer phones to enterprise cybersecurity software, yet no one was talking about the new focus, not even BlackBerry. Cunningham Collective and BlackBerry completely rebuilt its comms strategy in one year with the new software focus at the center. The rebrand shifted the public and media perception that the brand was fading into obscurity and boosted the company’s stock after years of decline.
WINNER: BlackBerry and Cunningham Collective
CAMPAIGN NAME: BlackBerry Brand Transformation: From Smartphones to the Smart in the Phone
Not long ago, the world thought BlackBerry’s fate was sealed. Despite transforming itself into a leader in enterprise cybersecurity software, the press continued to see BlackBerry as another technology firm condemned to obscurity.
Its comms function needed a revamp. For this task, BlackBerry brought on Cunningham Collective. However, BlackBerry’s roadmap became all the more difficult to articulate; its business spans multiple categories. So Cunningham decided to create a whole new category, "The Enterprise of Things," which is how data can be transmitted securely in the Internet of Things. And BlackBerry was poised to position itself as that space’s leader.
Cunningham assumed day-to-day leadership of BlackBerry’s comms teams across 14 countries, aligning all external and internal comms with its comeback story.
Its success depended upon executing a compelling narrative, thought leadership programs, influencer engagement, an expanded digital footprint, a new KPI system, and deploying its workforce as brand evangelists.
Over the course of more than a year’s work, the media’s tone shifted from focusing on its demise, to its software pivot, to glowing headlines praising its reinvigoration. As a result of the successful execution, BlackBerry’s stock reached a four-year high in June 2017 and is up 50% overall. One judge said the campaign should be credited with "bringing a brand back to life."
HONORABLE MENTION: Nielsen, Weber Shandwick, and MRM McCann
CAMPAIGN NAME: The Science Behind What’s Next: Nielsen’s Evolution in the Marketplace
Being known as the "ratings company" created a drag on Nielsen’s reputation. Targeting key decision-makers, Nielsen launched The Science Behind What’s Next to show how it’s innovating measurement analytics, relying on help from Weber Shandwick and MRM McCann. A judge complimented the "thought-provoking content" that showed how Nielsen "continues to evolve." The campaign generated an 8.2% increase in website traffic.
WINNER: State Street
CAMPAIGN NAME: Staring Down Wall Street: Fearless Girl
To support greater gender diversity on its boards, State Street Global Advisors, chose the right moment (International Women’s Day), the right place (opposite Wall Street’s Charging Bull), and the right figure (a proudly defiant and expertly sculpted bronze girl).
On the eve of International Women’s Day, March 8, the team placed a bronze statue of a young girl opposite the symbol of corporate America, Wall Street’s Charging Bull. The appropriately named "Fearless Girl" stood representing the power of women in business — hands on hips, chin high, in a place the business community couldn’t ignore.
On the day of the statue’s unveiling, State Street called on the more than 3,500 companies it invests in on behalf of clients to take intentional steps to increase the amount of women on their corporate boards and issued guidance to help them take action. The company made clear it would not hesitate to use its proxy voting power to affect change if companies failed to comply.
During the course of the 2017 proxy season, State Street Global Advisors proactively engaged more than 600 companies with no women on their boards and voted against 400 of them that did not commit to taking steps toward adding at least one woman this year. In 2018, 42 companies committed to taking steps to increase the number of women on their boards.
"Fearless Girl was simply brilliant," said one judge. Another said the campaign was "steeped in cultural relevance."
HONORABLE MENTION: Early Warning and Porter Novelli
CAMPAIGN NAME: Zelle Gets Money Moving
Early Warning and Porter Novelli’s campaign for the brand launch of Zelle, a bank-based P2P system, raised awareness, educated consumers, and changed industry and consumer perceptions of the banking industry. Launch at Money20/20 guaranteed buzz, and a national media blitz timed to the Digital Banking Conference drove awareness. The campaign helped change behavior, nearly doubling the number of consumers using P2P.
WINNER: FWD.us and FP1 Strategies
CAMPAIGN NAME: Reforming Louisiana’s Criminal Justice System
Criminal justice reform was a hard sell in Louisiana. An LSU survey revealed only 2% of respondents put reform at the top of their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
Because the same survey found the budget and economy were respondents’ top priorities, FWD realized the key to selling reform in 2017 would be tying it to budget negotiations. FWD also wanted to highlight the disparity between African-American and Caucasian views on the fairness of the criminal justice system as a key campaign message.
Using fact-based arguments and real-life stories to build public support, the campaign demonstrated criminal justice system reform would save money while reducing recidivism, and preparing men and women to safely re-enter their local communities.
FWD built a strong coalition of local third-party partners to serve as validators through earned media outreach, stakeholder engagement, and local events. The team also planned promotional events tied to messaging focused on the injustice of the criminal justice system and the economic benefits of reform for Louisiana message.
The campaign achieved its goal — Democratic Gov. John Edwards signed 10 criminal justice reform bills into law in June 2017. The reforms are designed to reduce the prison population by 10% and save $262 million in prison spending over the next 10 years. An estimated $184 million will be reinvested in programs to reduce recidivism.
"Tough issue, but terrific results. Effective use of personal stories and assets," said one judge, while another felt appealing to the "full spectrum of Louisiana voters" was critical.
HONORABLE MENTION: Pharmaceutical Care Management Association and Toba Communication
CAMPAIGN NAME: Drug Benefit Solutions
To promote pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and the proven tools they utilize in lowering prescription drug costs and increasing access, the association’s DrugBenefitSolutions.com developed a series of digital ads. Spots were designed to hammer a single message for a limited period of time, then rotate to the next message. They told a story about how PBMs reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
WINNER: One Orlando Alliance and Edelman
CAMPAIGN NAME: Creating a Voice in the Wake of Tragedy
When Orlando’s landmark Pulse nightclub became the scene of one of the country’s deadliest mass shootings and the single worst attack against the LGBTQ community in U.S. history, local nonprofits and community organizations stepped up to help victims, their families and the community in the aftermath.
The fragmented nature of the assistance effort led Edelman to spearhead the creation and launch of One Orlando Alliance, a first-of-its kind, umbrella nonprofit to serve as a unifying voice to meet immediate and long-term needs of the LGBTQ community in Orlando. The agency worked with local leaders to engage more than 30 LGBTQ organizations, identify shared challenges, and align for a core mission — all within days of the initial shooting.
The launch garnered a global television audience, helped drive resources and donations to the participating organizations, and increased media attention. Increased exposure helped connect survivors with medical device companies who provided limbs free of charge; counseling, free hotel rooms, and clothing were provided to families; and under-funded and under-resourced groups were connected with new relationships facilitated in part through the alliance.
The alliance was named Best Local Activist Group by the Orlando Weekly in 2017 and was chosen by Out magazine as being part of its 2016 Out 100 List, celebrating the most powerful individuals in the LGBTQ community across the country.
"The most uplifting response to the most horrific tragedy," said one judge, while another called it "a strong response to an incredible human crisis."
HONORABLE MENTION: General Mills and Ketchum
CAMPAIGN NAME: General Mills Flour Recall — No Raw Dough
General Mills and Ketchum proved that, with quick action, a brand’s image can resist tarnish. After the FDA/CDC linked E. coli cases to the company’s specially milled tortilla and consumer flour, General Mills recalled product and used the opportunity to educate consumers about E. coli. The company told its restaurant customers not to give raw dough to consumers, reached out to media on how flour is made, and connected reporters to experts to better inform coverage.
WINNER: Department of Defense Warrior Games and Edelman
CAMPAIGN NAME: Warrior Games: By Air, By Land, or By Sea
When The Department of Defense decided to open its Warrior Games, a Paralympic-style competition for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans from the U.S., U.K., and Australia, to the public, it turned to Edelman to rally the host city of Chicago to attend the games and remind everyone what it means to "support the troops."
Edelman set out to prove our service members aren’t just heroes in the past tense — winning the gold in wheelchair basketball or simply finding their way onto the court is an inspirational and relatable triumph over mental and physical struggles.
The agency portrayed these warriors as role models worthy of any civilian’s time and attention, and encouraged civilians to do whatever it would take to get to the games, just as these service members had. Advertising featured the athletes competing in adaptive sports against the backdrop of the city. A pre-games tour included Good Morning America and more than 10 ESPN shows. A partnership with event producers United Entertainment Group gave athletes a true hero’s welcome at seven venues.
More than 50,000 people came out to cheer on the athletes, compared to an estimated 5,000 the previous year.
Judges called the campaign "inspired" and "fresh," noting it created "strong awareness of an important issue." The true success is measured in the words of the athletes themselves: "I can’t stop talking about how awesome and life-changing this has been" and "Here in Chicago, we feel like celebrities."
HONORABLE MENTION: Washington Traffic Safety Commission and C+C
CAMPAIGN NAME: Distracted Driving Law — On the Road, Off the Phone
Anticipating a new law making it illegal to hold and use a cellphone and other electronics while driving, C+C supported the Washington Traffic Safety Commission in quickly creating and implementing a campaign to ensure Washington drivers were aware of the new law. The campaign also provided an opportunity to emphasize the dangers of distracted driving. The campaign helped achieve a 12.5% reduction in distracted driving.
WINNER: International Rescue Committee
CAMPAIGN NAME: Refugee Resettlement Campaign
In 2017, the International Rescue Committee faced a grave challenge amid rising distrust of Syrian refugees: change how the public viewed the refugee crisis, and humanize its victims.
As Syrian refugees were falsely and increasingly associated with terrorism attacks throughout the year, the nonprofit wanted to bring the humanity of its subjects into focus. It also wanted to educate the public on how rigorous the U.S.’ resettlement process is, how refugees benefit communities, and the bipartisan support resettlement has historically received.
By telling the refugees’ story, and by articulating why it believes the U.S. should help resettle them, the comms team set out to establish the organization as a thought leader and advocate. This in turn would raise the committee’s profile, influence, and income.
Judges praised how the nonprofit met the challenge on such a heated topic with a multilevel strategy built on thought leadership, an internal task force, authentic content, and celebrity and corporate partnerships.
One judge called the preparation and execution "flawless." Another said it was "moving" with "great results on a timely topic." The campaign yielded high-value media placements and partnerships, such as YouTube, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor. International Rescue Committee’s YouTube and Facebook views increased from 575,680 in 2016 to about 21.9 million in 2017.
Total growth across social media platforms increased 83%. Unique site visits increased 70%, and mobile visits increased 139%. Audience share among its peer set of NGOs increased by 18%.
HONORABLE MENTION: Richard Nixon Foundation and KTStewart
CAMPAIGN NAME: It’s Time to Take Another Look
President Richard Nixon left behind a complicated legacy defined by the Watergate scandal. "There’s no tougher client than Richard Nixon," one judge said. But following its renovation, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum wanted to invite the public to revisit his legacy with an open heart. The campaign executed was "a surprising entry" that even changed another judge’s own views. Attendance to the museum spiked 61% year over year during a three-month period.
WINNER: National Sikh Campaign and FP1 Strategies
CAMPAIGN NAME: Telling the Sikh American Story
Sikhs have long been victims of discrimination in the U.S. because of their physical appearance. Since 9/11, Sikh Americans have experienced more than 300 instances of documented violence and discrimination.
After a self-described white supremacist opened fire inside a house of worship and killed six Sikh Americans in Wisconsin in 2012, the National Sikh Campaign decided to take a proactive approach in defining themselves to their neighbors and launched the We Are Sikhs comprehensive comms campaign in 2017.
Focused first on telling Sikhs’ stories through online and TV advertising, third-party engagement on both sides of the aisle, online amplification through targeted email blasts to journalists, and community events nationwide, the program then zeroed in on Fresno, California, home to a large Sikh population and the location of the highest rate of harassment and violent hate crimes.
The campaign drove online conversation that reached more than 5.5 million voters and gained the attention of many of Washington’s most influential organizations. Judges commented on this "provocative campaign that really broke through" and "put a face on one distinct minority group" and noted "the real humanity in the execution."
A post-campaign poll proved the group moved the needle, with significant increases in the percentage of people who knew more about Sikhs and said the group had "generally American values," believed in "equality and respect for all" and were "patriotic."
HONORABLE MENTION: The Clorox Co./Brita and Current Marketing
CAMPAIGN NAME: The Filtered Life
Brita and Current Marketing took a stand against internet haters with its The Filtered Life campaign and Filter Your Feed tool. The video series featured people, including Brita’s partner and NBA MVP Stephen Curry, sharing their unique stories of overcoming negativity, hate, and bullying in different ways. The team created a Filter Your Feed tool that allows people to scrub their Twitter history of negative words and delete posts they may have regretted.
WINNER: Save the Children and Weber Shandwick
CAMPAIGN NAME: Unboxing the End of Childhood
Nearly one in four children around the world are robbed of their childhoods due to violence, early pregnancy, and forced labor. To bring this crisis to light and publicize the launch of Save the Children’s End of Childhood Report and Index, an evaluation of countries based on a number of serious events that threaten children, Weber Shandwick tapped into the unboxing phenomenon for its own series with a disruptive twist.
The agency created videos of three children unboxing what they thought were toys, but turn out to be objects that signify threats to childhood, including a pickaxe (forced labor), a positive pregnancy test (childhood pregnancy), and ammunition (forced conflict).
By tapping into Save the Children’s regional Facebook pages around the globe, the team had a built-in syndication network to circulate the video. It turned to creative media methods to intercept viewers when they least expected, such as using search optimization to plant the series among real unboxing videos on YouTube and Facebook.
Launched on International Children’s Day and relying solely on organic reach versus paid media dollars, the campaign featured a daylong takeover of Facebook’s own "Nonprofits on Facebook" page. To date, the video series has received more than 2.3 million views, reaching audiences in 36 countries around the globe.
One judge called it "one of the most impactful programs I have ever seen," and another described it as a "beautifully produced piece, simple and elegant in its message."
HONORABLE MENTION: 84 Lumber and Brunner
CAMPAIGN NAME: 84 Lumber’s The Journey
Despite a network of more than 250 stores across the U.S., national brand awareness of 84 Lumber was near zero. To change that and act as a launch pad for the company’s national recruitment campaign, Brunner put 84 Lumber on the map with a 90-second Super Bowl commercial focused on an immigrant’s journey. The successful campaign gave 84 Lumber the ability to lead conversations not only about building materials, but also politics, immigration, and recruiting.
WINNER: GSK Consumer Healthcare, Excedrin, and Weber Shandwick
CAMPAIGN NAME: The Debate Headache
A contentious presidential election presented a vehicle for GSK Consumer Healthcare and Weber Shandwick to boost its Excedrin pain reliever brand. No matter their political party, beliefs, or loyalties, Americans told Excedrin the election was the single biggest headache of the year.
Excedrin identified an opportunity to deliver bipartisan relief with #DebateHeadache. The team tapped a clinical psychologist and headache specialist to help people understand not just the physical, but also emotional impact of headaches. It engaged media with a head pain relief kit and used social media as a channel to inform consumers and spark conversations with reporters with engaging, positive, bipartisan content.
On the morning of the last debate, a social takeover on Twitter contained a simple message: "The possibility of a #DebateHeadache is high. Be prepared with Excedrin." By being contextually relevant, bipartisan, and relatable, the campaign struck a nerve that resonated within ongoing social media conversations and ignited new ones, drove earned media attention, and demonstrated Excedrin’s expertise. The brand had an incremental 10% sales lift versus the prior year. Two weeks post-launch, the brand captured the year’s highest market share.
#DebateHeadache became one of the most far-reaching and authentic brand engagements during the election season. The campaign "capitalized on a moment in time in a smart and thoughtful way," said one judge. "Such a clever campaign that captured social voice and market share," said another. "Outstanding approach to conversation hijacking," was one judge’s takeaway.
HONORABLE MENTION: Wendy’s and Ketchum
CAMPAIGN NAME: Wendy’s Brings Fresh Beef Center Stage
With competitors turning up the volume on their fresh ingredient claims, Wendy’s wanted to set the record straight. When a Twitter follower accused Wendy’s of lying about its "fresh, never frozen" claim, the chain’s quick-witted and speedy response went viral. Agile PR then helped take the episode mainstream, breaking the story on BuzzFeed, and even with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. The proactive, irreverent "hand-to-hand combat" approach drove the conversation.
WINNER: Kampgrounds of America and Allison+Partners
CAMPAIGN NAME: Bringing a New Generation of Campers to KOA
Kampgrounds of America (KOA), an iconic American travel brand for over 50 years, has kept pace with contemporary camper needs by offering high-quality campgrounds with everything from tent and RV sites to deluxe cabins and resort-style glamping
But KOA needed a campaign to identify and target the contemporary camper for its new and improved sites and find a way to ignite media and consumer interest. Allison+Partners believed research would provide the route.
Working with KOA’s research partner, Cairn Consulting, Allison+Partners produced the North American Camping Report. The report revealed that 40% of new campers are Latino, Asian-American, or African-American while 44% are millennials, and contemporary campers require technology (76% of campers go online while outdoors and campers who check their email spend an average of three additional days camping).
Armed with this information, Allison+ Partners developed an integrated campaign grounded in research and designed to entice new guests. It included panel discussions with experts, a partnership with Hispanicize 2016, and outreach to key media influencers.
The campaign helped make 2016 the most successful year in KOA’s history, with 77% of current campers and 52% of new campers naming KOA as their top-of-mind campground, an all-time high. Business from new campers generated $30 million, an increase of 2%, and overall occupancy increased 5%, while registration revenue jumped 11%. "Great use of data throughout to tell a story and assure success," said one judge.
HONORABLE MENTION: Find My Spark and W20 Group
CAMPAIGN NAME: Find My Spark
Faced with the challenge of selling a medication in the women’s sexual health category, Valeant Pharmaceuticals turned to analytics and research to better understand the target audience for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), break down communication barriers, and enhance dialogue. Based on the data, Find My Spark was developed, a sophisticated, unbranded campaign aimed at driving improvements in awareness. Its website generated more than 75,000 visits.
WINNER: Alaska Airlines and C+C
CAMPAIGN NAME: The Great American Eclipse Flight
The 2017 eclipse provided the perfect vehicle to raise Alaska Airlines’ profile, as the company merged with Virgin America and expanded beyond its Northwest roots. Alaska Airlines dominated national media coverage of the event by providing the country with a view of the eclipse at 38,000 feet on a flight path that intercepted eclipse totality.
Media outlets clamored for seats on the five-hour "flight to nowhere." In a few days, national media, including NBC, AP, USA Today, and BBC, booked seats. To give each news outlet a personal angle, C+C helped secure astrophysicists, a Hayden Planetarium lecturer, and even a NASA astronaut to share their unique perspective. To simplify the complicated story to the media, C+C developed a media kit with a "10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Alaska Eclipse Flight" and designed a "flight map" to clearly explain the flight path and how Alaska Airlines would intercept totality. In-flight video was posted on Alaska Airlines’ owned media channels and a blog post told the story of how veteran Alaska Airlines pilots worked collaboratively with an astronomer to calculate the flight path.
While other airlines attempted to get in on the eclipse frenzy, Alaska Airlines owned the national event through its unique approach — a meticulously calculated "flight to nowhere" to intercept totality combined with an integrated media outreach strategy.
"A great strategy for a challenger brand," said one judge. Another said the campaign successfully "drove brand conversation."
HONORABLE MENTION: Frito-Lay North America and Ketchum
CAMPAIGN NAME: The Spotted Cheetah
Cheetos took a gourmet turn when Frito-Lay North America and Ketchum created a pop-up restaurant in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood featuring an expertly crafted three-course meal by chef Anne Burrell. Open for three days during New York’s Restaurant Week, The Spotted Cheetah delivered both hot stories and coveted restaurant reservations. One judge said it "engaged the right media and influencers to recruit a new generation of consumers."
WINNER: Paqui and Olson Engage
CAMPAIGN NAME: The One-Chip Challenge
Paqui turned the heat up on its brand-name recognition by creating a tortilla chip seasoned with the Carolina Reaper, the spiciest pepper in the world. Inspired by million-view videos of people attempting to eat the pepper, Paqui and Olson Engage positioned the new product as a "one-chip challenge" to consumers.
The team broke the news via an exclusive story on Mashable, which was shared more than 227,000 times, then brought chip samples — along with lots of vanilla ice cream and milk — to New York media offices and prompted journalists to take — and share — the challenge themselves.
Dozens of top-tier media outlets complied, including Time and BuzzFeed, whose taste-test video drew nearly 2 million YouTube views. Today hosts at the time Tamron Hall and Billy Bush were sent reeling in a segment that went viral on its own.
The chips were sold individually, in a coffin-shaped box for $4.99 each, both through the Paqui website and also at select retailers nationwide. The company wanted to be sure no one missed the lethally spicy point, so they were called "Carolina Reaper Madness" and featured an illustration of the grim reaper on the package. The conversation quickly migrated online, as consumers all over the world began posting videos and photos of their own attempts. This drove a quick sellout of every chip made and shipped, and a market for the chips quickly sprouted on eBay.
The One-Chip Challenge put the previously unknown Paqui brand squarely on the map, accelerating its national launch. Sales for the brand rose more than 400% during Q4 2016.
HONORABLE MENTION: Wendy’s and Ketchum
CAMPAIGN NAME: Wendy’s Nuggs Breaks Twitter History
Wendy’s fast, irreverent response to teen Carter Wilkerson ended up leading to the most retweets in Twitter history. The organic, unfolding, and feel-good coverage that spawned from Wendy’s challenging Wilkerson to get 18 million retweets brought good publicity to the brand, and Wendy’s gave back to the tune of $100,000 in Wilkerson’s name to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which enjoyed a 9% increase in its own Twitter engagement.
WINNER: McDonald’s and Golin
CAMPAIGN NAME: theSTRAW
When McDonald’s added an extension to its hit Shamrock Shake line, Golin broadened its appeal to a new tech and innovation audience and reinvigorated excitement about the brand.
The star of the lineup, the dual-layer Chocolate Shamrock Shake, had a built-in consumption challenge: there was no good way to get an even distribution of both chocolate and mint flavors with every sip. Stirred up, it became a brown mess. Sucked down with a straw, only one flavor came up at a time.
With the help of robotics and aerospace engineers, the Golin team found a solution that improved product delivery and got people talking: theSTRAW (Suction Tube for Reverse Axial Withdrawal). Engineers developed 20 prototypes before settling on a revolutionary device with multiple holes increasing in size as they ascend the length of theSTRAW (to compensate for pressure differences along the height of the drink).
The team developed a tech-focused, Apple-influenced strategy that included a video, a Facebook Live event featuring the tech minds behind theSTRAW, and a limited-distribution of STRAWs packaged in elegant black boxes.
After McDonald’s got people talking, the brand actually gave theSTRAW away. A limited run of 2,000 STRAWs were distributed nationwide, and people lined up for a chance to get one at participating restaurants. Demand for the item became so strong, some were even selling on eBay after the release for up to $160.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jack Link’s and Carmichael Lynch Relate
CAMPAIGN NAME: Jack Link’s Reclusive Spokesbeast Sasquatch Helps the Brand Reclaim its Spot on the Culture Map
To help one-time category leader Jack Link’s regain its dominance in the meat snacks space, Carmichael Lynch Relate moved its spokesbeast Sasquatch front and center and partnered with world-class athletes known for their creative hair to champion the protein benefits of Jack Link’s jerky. The strategy put Jack Link’s firmly back on the pop culture map and back in a category leadership role.
WINNER: Rachel Chesley
CAMPAIGN NAME: FTI Consulting
After perusing Rachel Chesley’s bio, it’s hard to believe she is only in her 20s and has been in the PR field for just four years.
The FTI Consulting director has provided strategic counsel to Monsanto around its $66 billion acquisition by Bayer, the largest all-cash transaction in history; advised Shire throughout its pursuit of Baxalta, which ultimately resulted in a $32 billion merger; and provided strategic counsel to Cincinnati Bell in its transactions designed to help transform the business into a hybrid IT solutions and fiber optic company. Additionally, Chesley continues to represent Perrigo in its ongoing investor relations and media engagement after advising it throughout its hostile transaction defense against Mylan.
Judges noted Chesley navigated complex financial dealings with "prowess and ease." "She has made major strides in a very difficult practice of financial communications," said one judge. "To be counseling C-suite in significant mergers at her age is remarkable." FTI Consulting has recognized Chesley’s abilities internally. In 2016, she was a finalist for the firm’s Going Places Award, which is open to FTI’s more than 4,500 global staff. And in 2017, she participated in the company’s International Leadership Academy, which is open to a maximum of 25 staffers.
In her spare time, Chesley is a junior board member of the Bubble Foundation, which partners with schools to foster healthy lifestyles for children through nutrition and wellness education.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jacquie McMahon
CAMPAIGN NAME: Ketchum
Less than three years into her career, Jacquie McMahon, a senior executive in Ketchum’s New York corporate practice, is already taking on leadership roles and is seen as a go-to resource for clients. "[She’s garnered] fantastic internal engagement and outside activities, as well as impressive client leadership with big name brands," said one judge. Also, as associate director of programming for PRSA New York, she helped generate $18,000 in revenue for the chapter last year.
WINNER: Catherine Hernandez-Blades
COMPANY NAME: Aflac
"One of the most well-rounded and accomplished professionals in the business." That’s how one judge described Catherine Hernandez-Blades, SVP and CCO at Aflac.
With more than two decades under her belt, Hernandez-Blades is known for her history of building diverse, high-performing teams within highly regulated Fortune 500 companies, a reputation that’s only been bolstered by her work at Aflac, where she’s become a results-driven change agent businesses need in order to find relevancy and success.
She lives these values outside the office as well, having volunteered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the National Kidney Foundation, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Her philanthropic personality drives business results, too. Throughout 2016 and 2017, Hernandez-Blades applied insights from Reputation Institute to pioneer engagements that led to a five-point increase in the company’s RepTrak score — a key metric in Aflac’s space. Since joining the company, she’s consolidated eight multidirectional departments into a single, high-performing corporate communications team, boosting productivity by 400% without increasing budget or headcount. Hernandez-Blades manages a team of 30 at Aflac.
Before Aflac, Hernandez-Blades served as VP and chief marketing and comms officer at Flextronics. There, she focused on global brand and reputation management through multidisciplinary teams spread across Asia, Europe, and the Americas. "Catherine is a model for making a difference in and out of the office," a judge raved.
HONORABLE MENTION: Frank Shaw
CAMPAIGN NAME: Microsoft
At Microsoft, Frank Shaw is the perfect communications professional for the job. He brings the perfect mix of storytelling proficiency, technological prowess, and inclusive leadership. He spearheaded the creation of a custom data system that determines how Microsoft’s messages tell its story, and an issues management team that works globally and around the clock to manage issues. The team’s efforts resulted in more than 100 killed stories.
WINNER: Kathy Bloomgarden
COMPANY NAME: Ruder Finn
During Kathy Bloomgarden’s tenure as Ruder Finn’s CEO, a role she has held since 1999, she has displayed her "evident and exceptional" leadership, judges noted. With a laser focus on client service and passion for growth and learning, she has spent the past two decades working with CEOs and business leaders across technology, healthcare, and corporate sectors.
Bloomgarden pushes for Ruder Finn to continuously pioneer new technologies, social channels, and mobile platforms. Most recently, she helped spearhead the launch of the firm’s first Amazon Alexa skill called Kathy’s Thoughts — a platform for executive leadership comms.
She has instilled a global mindset at Ruder Finn, with an integrated and creative approach to business. Under her leadership, the firm has consistently broken into new markets around the world. The agency is now a market leader in China.
In her spare time, Bloomgarden is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a board member of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, Partnership for New York City, and China Institute. She has also been published in Forbes and Entrepreneur and regularly writes for Fortune.com’s Most Powerful Women section.
One judge remarked on how Bloomgarden is not only a driving force for the PR profession and her firm, but also for women. "She is a seasoned pro with dozens of lifetime achievements," said another judge. "She is trusted by clients, staff, and industry."
HONORABLE MENTION: Judith Harrison
COMPANY NAME: Weber Shandwick
Judith Harrison has implemented great change at Weber Shandwick as its diversity and inclusion SVP. Thanks to her, the firm’s broader Diversity Council membership was up 34% to 235 employees from 2016, and nearly 20% of VP and SVP hires at the firm in 2017 were people of color. "[Harrison’s] legacy is extremely impressive and her tenacity for advancing diversity and inclusion come through in every element of her career," one judge said.
WINNER: Antonio Lucio
COMPANY NAME: HP
"A CMO who lives his values," is how one judge described HP CMO Antonio Lucio (fifth from left). Another judge said this professional "embodies what a true marketing leader should be, driving innovation and important work both internally and externally."
Last year’s honorable mention, Lucio launched 14 award-winning marcomms campaigns across several business units at HP. In Q4 2016 alone, HP’s global visibility increased by 20% quarter over quarter, and the brand’s share of voice improved by 42%.
Under his leadership, HP marketing launched The Wolf, an award-winning HP Studios series that highlights how corporate networks can be hacked and how HP can help companies protect themselves.
His work in diversity and inclusion really resonated with the judges. Because of his leadership and dedication, HP now boasts one of the most diverse boards of any tech company in the U.S. — 42% women, 42% total minorities, and 25% underrepresented minorities.
Lucio’s recent Reinvent Mindsets campaign, dedicated to identifying unconscious bias toward women and underrepresented groups, contributed to an increase in hires at HP among women and people of color.
As a leading benefactor for Free the Bid, a nonprofit advocating equal opportunities for women to bid on commercial jobs in the advertising industry, Lucio organized a $100,000 donation from HP.
His pioneering work in marketing and its reinvention at HP, as well as his role in the diversity and inclusion conversation, led Lucio to be named the second most influential CMO by Forbes in 2017.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jennifer Saenz
COMPANY NAME: Frito-Lay North America
CMO Jennifer Saenz drives effective marketing strategies with interactive marketing, shareable experiences, and personalized engagement. Under her leadership, her team created breakthrough initiatives, including The Spotted Cheetah pop-up restaurant and the Cannes Gold Lion award-winning Cheetos Museum. Saenz also led the creation of the Tostitos Super Bowl Party Safe Bag and the repositioning of Lay’s Wavy business to appeal to women.
WINNER: Maret Montanari
COMPANY NAME: University of Alabama
"I wanted to hop in my car and go straight to Delaware after seeing this campaign." PR pros live to hear such feedback about their initiatives. The fact this comment was elicited by Maret Montanari’s entry underscores the sentiment all judges shared in naming the University of Alabama junior PRWeek’s 2018 Outstanding Student.
The thoroughness of her research was immediately evident. A dozen interviews with tourism experts and millennials, as well as two focus groups, produced detailed findings on millennials’ sentiments about travel, as well as Delaware. Sound insights were gleaned from the data, which helped lay the foundation for her "Delaware on Demand" campaign.
From there Montanari’s creativity shone bright, as she laid out a multi-tiered initiative to boost tourism. Her proposed tactics included an international competition where participants create a Pinterest board based on their dream trip to Delaware; a craft beer fest at various state locations; and the development of a Snapchat ad with an interactive in-app game, "Live like a local," that prominently featured unique state experiences.
And with each tactic, Montanari suggested numerous impressive influencers who could help amplify the efforts. Moreover, each piece of strategy was supported by a clear, sensible plan to evaluate its success. An appealing website, engaging video, and a journalist pitch any pro would be proud of rounded out a submission that prompted one judge to claim, "She could work at an agency right now and thrive."
HONORABLE MENTION: Rachel Hobbs
COMPANY NAME: Elon University
Judges found Rachel Hobbs’ entry refreshing in that a key element included detox periods where visitors disconnected from social media. Her research and influencer engagement plan were strong, but Hobbs’ creativity really came through when presenting the concept for a Netflix reality show that would serve as an ode to Delaware. Unanimously deemed "very professional," her sound journalist pitch was coupled with a detailed budget breakdown any pro would be wise to mirror.
WINNER: DePaul University
DePaul has grown its program while raising the bar. The 10-year-old program is one of the largest in the U.S. Applicants to the graduate program have increased 25%, enrollment increased 23.3% last year, and students’ average entering GPA increased 7.3% over the past three years.
Focused on achieving positive career outcomes, 100% of its graduates were employed within six months of graduation for two straight years. "Its ability to get students jobs is unmatched," noted one judge. The school’s curriculum has a real-world focus that emphasizes writing and business basics. To stay on top of the latest practices, input from local and national PR leaders is used to shape teaching approaches.
Each year, classes visit more than 100 Chicago and New York agencies and corporations, and more than 250 professionals visit classrooms. The New York Way, a weeklong immersion into agency management and execution in which 30 students spend a week in New York City networking with major agencies and professionals, remains one of the most popular offerings. Graduate assistant positions are coveted due to professional experiences and networking opportunities. For the second year in a row, the program received more requests for interns than it could fill. And for the third straight year, DePaul PR graduate student teams won the coveted Arthur W. Page Society Case Study Competition.
Graduates land at major agencies, with 5% of Edelman’s local workforce and nearly 8% at both FleishmanHillard and Ketchum being alums. "A first-rate student experience that pays off in placement," said one judge.
HONORABLE MENTION: Syracuse University/Newhouse
The PR department is among the largest departments in the famous Newhouse School. Last year, the school graduated its first Financial and Investor Communications Emphasis students, who majored and minored in economics, business, or math. Also new is a weekend intensive social media analytics course taught by W2O vice chair and chief innovation officer Bob Pearson. On average, students intern three times and 80% are employed six months after graduation.
The small and scrappy PR duo at Cloudflare, an internet security company based in San Francisco, put in the work of a "PR army," as one judge noted.
Over one year, the PR duo handled more than 20,000 media mentions, 350 press briefings, five product launches, and one annual internet summit. The team works closely with Cloudflare’s executive team to create a global, seamless message that comes straight from the top.
Cloudflare "took an uninteresting topic and company and did incredible storytelling, made bold choices, worked with founders, and got incredible results," a judge said. Cloudflare hit the mainstream news in August, but not in a positive way. The PR team found themselves in a crisis when the company was found to be the hosting service for The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website. Acting quickly, Cloudflare decided to delete the website from its servers and, in the same stroke, start a conversation about how to handle offensive content online.
As Cloudflare quickly and openly explained its decision to delete the website both internally and externally, the coverage turned from negative to largely positive. That particular incident, along with all of Cloudflare’s PR efforts, fall in line with the company’s mission to "build a better internet." The team proved it can take a controversial moment such as The Daily Stormer crisis and turn it into an opportunity to spread awareness through education, thought leadership, and campaigns.
HONORABLE MENTION: ACLU
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been one of the loudest voices pushing back on decisions from the Trump administration. With a comms staff team of 30, the ACLU fought against President Donald Trump’s early Muslim ban, educated the public about Trump’s cabinet nominees and decisions, and launched a citizen mobilization platform, PeoplePower, to help others take action on immigration and voting rights challenges. "Hugely impactful work in a year when the stakes were sky high," one judge said.
In just two years in operation, Bospar has evolved into a go-to agency for tech clients with practices in consumer, developer, enterprise, fintech, security, and social.
And the agency does it without a centralized HQ. Bospar leverages virtual technology to create an integrated team of pros in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. A best practices manual instructs staff members how to maximize the value of video all-employee gatherings. The approach is a "great example of how to grow and technologically connect a virtual agency," said one judge.
"Excellent client results and a highly effective growth model for an agency of this scale," said another. Last year, Bospar exceeded $3 million in revenue, had a 33.5% increase in revenue growth, a 12.1% lift in net profit, and a 258.5% growth in profit. Bospar led a funding round for Conversica, a mid-stage startup, securing 450 stories and resulting in 1,300 visitors to Conversica’s website, 1,300 social mentions, and 35 product demo requests. The campaign led to 50% growth in revenue for Conversica. The agency helped propel Ebates into a leading online shopping destination.
The firm also partners with CloudNow, a nonprofit consortium of leading women in cloud computing. The agency has invested $100,000 of its time in the organization, helping it double its following and coverage. The agency is also focused on making its employees happy with a wellness allowance of $100 a month for gym fees and trips to the spa. A fun committee spends at least $1,000 a quarter on activities that bond the staff and let them know they’re appreciated.
HONORABLE MENTION: Maxwell
Maxwell added nine new clients to its stable of category upstarts in 2017, and is on a trajectory to increase by more than 25% to nearly $3.8 million. Maxwell helped Pacific Foods manage its sale to Campbell Soup Company and develop messaging that reassured its stakeholders and positively positioned the brand. The agency also helped the American Pulse Association and USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council increase domestic sales of pulse crops by nearly 40% in 2016.
"Good guy" firm C+C continues its double-digit growth and strong profit rates that it has achieved since inception.
Focused on clients that positively impact their communities, C+C tackles important issues including safety, smart commuting, composting, green building, financial responsibility, recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, healthcare, education and climate change for campaigns that lead to real behavior change.
C+C does whatever it takes to get great results and provide exceptional client service. The commitment pays off — 73% of the firm’s 2016 revenue came from clients who have been with them for five or more years, compared to a 30% industry average for small firms. Of the $1.8 million of revenue added in 2017, half comes from growing business from existing clients.
Last year, the firm grew three new practice areas (multicultural, creative, and one-on-one engagement), and added an associate creative director in Boston and new bilingual team members in Spanish, Korean, and Chinese.
A "Work hard. Be nice to people" culture kept turnover at 9%. The firm launched an official mentoring program and created a longevity benefit, including bonuses and paid sabbaticals for staff that reach the 10- and 15-year marks.
Employees also have 100% paid medical and dental, flexible work schedules, a 401K program with a 4% match, and 100% participation and family leave.
HONORABLE MENTION: Kyne
Making the leap from boutique to small, Kyne remains exclusively focused on healthcare accounts, improved internal processes, culture, and overall employee satisfaction. The firm increased its Dublin office four-fold, outgrew its Los Angeles operations, and boosted its New York staff by 30%. Kyne also has initiatives to keep employees healthy and happy, including a weekly healthy lunch, in-office massages, and a stipend to attend classes and events. The firm also expanded its digital and social media capabilities and resources.
WINNER: Olson Engage
"It’s their year," exclaimed one judge. "Very impressive work, client and staff tenure, and overall growth. They killed it."
Olson Engage delivered big ideas and bigger impact for clients, drawing on social media insights to convince Starburst to sell internet-busting, sales-boosting all pink packs, putting the Paqui tortilla chip brand on the map with the world’s spiciest chip, and even taking the iconic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile airborne to hype the brand’s improved hot dogs.
The agency teamed up with eight content production companies in New York and Los Angeles to launch a Branded Entertainment Center of Excellence in its New York office, and worked with acclaimed director Douglas Tirola on a full-length documentary film, Brewmaster, for client Pilsner Urquell.
The agency’s largest clients are its oldest clients. Its portfolio has included MillerCoors since 2004, Mars Wrigley Confectionery since 2005, and PepsiCo since 2010. While it aced maintaining relationships, it also had a strong new-business year, adding 20 new accounts, including Target’s Sports PR AOR and lead social agency status for both GE Healthcare and 3M. Internally, there was not a single VP-or-higher departure. The agency cut voluntary turnover in half from 21% to 10.5%, and it increased the amount of hours spent on training and development by 39%. Other gestures included new "chill rooms" in offices, meetings that run 20 and 45 minutes, and leaders that model healthy habits, such as going to the gym during the day and getting to sleep early.
With the 13th consecutive year of revenue growth and its third double-digit growth in the last four years, the agency is on a roll.
HONORABLE MENTION: Zeno Group
A sense of community and collaboration animates Zeno’s 23 offices worldwide. The team effort led to double-digit growth — 15.5% globally and 12.1% in the U.S. — for the eighth straight year. Total revenue reached $62.9 million. Zeno won 51 new clients in the U.S. this year across consumer, tech, healthcare, corporate, and digital. The agency took on bigger assignments with greater depth and complexity and committed to pro bono activities at the cusp of social change.
WINNER: Weber Shandwick
Weber Shandwick understands it’s not enough to just earn attention for clients — earning the right kind of attention is what really drives results. The approach has landed the agency top honors in its category for the fourth year running.
"The reigning champ deserves its spot," said one judge. "Exceptional client work, incredible diversity and culture, creative programming, and great leadership."
About 60% of Weber’s global growth came from existing clients. The firm retained 100% of its top 50 clients and expanded a number of those relationships, including GSK Consumer Healthcare, GM, and Mattel. New wins included the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, American Pecan Board, Nexxus, Ancestry.com, and the Craig Newmark Foundation.
Weber’s award-winning work for Excedrin’s #DebateHeadache campaign skillfully inserted the brand into one of the most heated conversations of the year: the U.S. presidential debates.
Other notable work included helping the W.K. Kellogg Foundation bring the complex topic of racial healing to communities across the U.S. and partnering with Mattel’s Barbie brand to leverage the U.S. presidential elections with She Should Run, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in public leadership.
Internally, Weber Shandwick created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group to focus on actions and accountability and employee engagement, and it advanced D&I through its work with clients.
HONORABLE MENTION: Edelman
Edelman continues to innovate with a new Earned Impact approach that uses data-driven insights and analytics to optimize content distribution, a Capitol Perspectives program that helps clients navigate the new political environment, and a Transformation Advisory Service focused on unlocking value or managing disruption. The firm is also building flank strategies and capabilities in its digital and advisory services. One judge praised Edelman’s "bold work that resonates, strong client testimonials, great new wins and diversity investments."
WINNER: Weber Shandwick
Weber Shandwick took top honors for Outstanding Large Agency and Agency of the Year for the fourth consecutive year — a first for any PR firm. The strong track record is a result of a commitment both to "the agency’s culture and delivering client results," said one judge. The Excedrin #DebateHeadache campaign and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which brought the complex topic of racial healing to communities across the U.S., were two of this year’s highlights.
Weber Shandwick posted double-digit growth in eight markets and single-digit global revenue growth, retained 100% of its top 50 clients, expanded a number of those relationships, and added strong new business wins to its stable of clients.
Solid business wins are only part of what makes the agency great, and judges praised the firm’s "incredible diversity and culture" and "creative programming."
To enhance its approach to solving complex client problems, Weber Shandwick organized team members around the firm’s core strengths (market-leading insights, integrated media expertise, content creation chops, and client experience) and gave longtime leaders new roles to bring that talent together to deliver more deeply integrated work.
The agency’s newly-created Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Working Group strengthened DEI committees and recruiting, increasing VP/SVP hires of people of color nearly 20% and increasing its Diversity Council by 34%.
HONORABLE MENTION: Olson Engage
With 13 straight years of revenue growth, Olson Engage proved yet again to be one of the best and most consistent agencies in the U.S. The Chicago-based firm delivered big, headline-grabbing creative ideas such as sending Skittles superfan Marshawn Lynch to Houston, Scotland, to hype the Super Bowl that took place in Houston, Texas. Olson Engage also upped its staff by 10% in the past year, while cutting its voluntary turnover in half. Judges were impressed with the firm’s campaign work, with one saying, "they killed it."
WINNER: Frito-Lay North America and Ketchum
CAMPAIGN NAME: Tostitos Party Safe Bag
For adding a dash of social responsibility to its Super Bowl strategy, Tostitos’ special edition Party Safe Bag is this year’s Campaign of the Year. The bag, which doubled as a breathalyzer-like alcohol-detector, featured a "Don’t Drink and Drive" message along with an Uber code that could be used on Super Bowl Sunday to claim a free safe ride home. This campaign also won top honors in the Best in Integration category.
The brand partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), teamed up with Uber, and engaged Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker, whose aunt and uncle were killed by a drunk driver after watching him play in Super Bowl XLVII.
PRWeek Awards 2018 chair of judges, Prudential’s Colin McConnell, said, "This campaign has it all. A serious and important message, delivered at the right time through the right channels, with an ingenious and useful innovation, an authentic spokesperson, and an activation that makes a difference. Tostitos Party Safe Bag gave consumers a reason to prefer Tostitos and an offer you can’t refuse: call an Uber instead of driving drunk. The lasting impression of this campaign may change behavior and save lives."
By Super Bowl Sunday, both the limited-edition Party Safe bags and regular Tostitos bags sold out nationwide.
The campaign hit it out of the park, with extensive media coverage and video content — all without airing a single commercial. The Party Safe bags were the life of the party as well as a potential life saver.
HONORABLE MENTION: Pantene and DeVries Global
CAMPAIGN NAME: Pantene Gold Series All Strong Hair is Beautiful Hair Campaign
Pantene’s Gold Series, its first collection specifically for African-American hair, represented the broad range of African-American hairstyles in an elevated way. The campaign changed perceptions and sparked a national conversation. It was a great example of a mainstream brand reaching out to an underserved market. "In an age where brands are challenged to express their social value, Pantene did it right," said chair of judges Colin McConnell.