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Bravo Group, largest PR firm by revenue in Pa., makes push into digital

Chris Bravacos, founder of Bravo Group, stands amid his PR firm's campaign creation group, comprised of writers, editors and graphic designers, at its headquarters in downtown Harrisburg. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

Chris Bravacos runs the largest public relations firm, by revenue, in the commonwealth — an operation that fills an eight-story building on North Second Street in downtown Harrisburg — yet he thinks of Bravo Group as something of a startup.

“The approach to communications is different today than it was five years ago,” he said. “We’ve hit the point where we’ve started over.”

For Bravo, that has meant a push into digital services and hiring a new team of content designers, writers and editors to boost the nearly 20-year-old company’s services, which include public outreach, government relations, media relations and advertising. Bravo works for companies in the energy and utility sectors, as well as in health care, financial services and nonprofits.

Bravacos traces the start of the new content group, known as the campaign creation team, to the 2012 presidential campaign and the rise of data analytics and social media outreach. Bravo began hiring team members in 2013, and the group now employs 16 people.

Bravo has 71 employees overall between its three Pennsylvania offices, with 23 new hires in the last year alone, including project managers and people who handle data analytics research, positions most PR firms never really needed before.

The future is in digital, Bravacos said. Larger communications firms need staff with digital skills to help clients reach audiences across a bevy of media channels, both traditional news outlets and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

But that investment also leads to a higher price tag.

“It takes a lot to be successful and there are no shortcuts,” Bravacos said. There are more people involved at all levels.”

He believes Bravo’s push to be a single source for clients helped propel the firm to a 34 percent increase in revenue last year. O’Dwyer’s, an industry trade publication, ranked Bravo at No. 33 in the country with nearly $11.5 million in revenue. That was No. 1 for Pennsylvania. Bravo was not on the 2016 list.

One-stop shop

Bravacos started the firm in 1999 after leaving the Ridge administration.

His GOP connections, including a friendship with former Gov. Tom Corbett, helped him build his client base and his team. With digital becoming the central part of any communications strategy today, Bravacos sees more companies seeking out partners who can handle any and all marketing and communications needs.

Amy Spangler

That’s what Fritz Bittenbender and Andy Carter seemed to be looking for when they hired Bravo.

Bittenbender is a senior vice president at Genentech, a California-based biotechnology firm. Carter is president and CEO of the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, a statewide trade group.

Bittenbender has been in the biotech industry for about 15 years and has known Bravacos since the Ridge days. He also worked in the administration.

Bravo was the first company he called in 2002 when he started at Pennsylvania Bio, a statewide trade association for the biopharmaceutical industry.

At the time, the association had three staff members. They relied on Bravo’s commununications expertise, Bittenbender said. “We wanted to raise the profile of the industry and have them help us rebrand the association.”

Bravo has since followed him to other jobs with bigger responsibilities. Today Bittenbender calls on Bravo for help on rebranding campaigns and marketing materials, as well as analysis to track who is talking about the company on social media and identify influential users it should be reaching to shift public opinion.

“They know issues and policies and how to define and move the landscape,” he said.

Carter concurred. HAP first hired Bravo about a decade ago and rekindled the relationship when Carter took over the association in 2012. He began implementing a strategic plan that called for greater consumer engagement through digital channels such as Facebook and Twitter, in a bid to garner support for health care initiatives pushed by the association.

Bravo helped HAP create digital content through Facebook and Twitter for the first time. Today the association has almost 120,000 followers on social media services.

For community hospitals, increased online interactions can help them improve engagement with patients and families, which should lea to quicker responses to changing consumer expectations and service needs, Carter said.

He expects HAP will start using Bravo’s lobbying arm to advocate for legislative priorities, including proposals to require insurance companies to reimburse for telemedicine services if they pay for the same service in person.

HAP also is backing a bill that aims to give nurse practitioners more freedom by removing a requirement that they practice only in collaboration with at least two physicians. The bill would allow nurse practitioners, after 3,600 hours and three years of collaboration with a physician, to practice independently — a policy called full-practice authority.

Outside of the Harrisburg area, Bravo has developed a reputation as more of a full-service PR firm, not just a lobbying firm, Bittenbender added.

Bravacos said he would like to open a Texas office as the company continues to grow in the energy sector.

Bravo’s energy clients include Energy Transfer Partners and Southwestern Energy. The Williams Companies Inc., the Oklahoma-based energy company behind the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, which will cross Pennsylvania from Susquehanna County to Lancaster County, is another client.

Given the firm’s government relations focus in Pennsylvania and the proximity to Washington, D.C., an office in the nation’s capital is another possibility.

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