Behind the Scenes with One Strategy Group: The Rise of a PRWeek Up-and-Comer

Guest post by Alia Aljunied.

One Strategy Group was recently designated by PRWeek as a 2024 “Up and Comer” firm in a profile that highlighted its “extremely curated” senior team. To delve deeper into the journey and vision behind this next-generation advisory firm, I sat down with David Meadvin, CEO, and Brian Ellner, President of One Strategy Group.

Recognizing the Need for Change

Both Meadvin and Ellner experienced pivotal "aha" moments that underscored the necessity for a paradigm shift in the traditional agency model. For Ellner, the realization came from observing seismic changes disrupting the big agency model. The advent of AI was particularly significant, taking over tasks traditionally managed by junior associates and reshaping the industry's operational framework.

In addition, "we are living in what many have called a perma-crisis," Ellner noted. "Clients were looking for senior-level counsel, and the traditional model of pushing work down to junior and  mid-level associates wasn't working. The world had become too complex, and clients need experienced hands to navigate it."

Meadvin shared a similar epiphany, born out of his experiences post-COVID. As he re-engaged with CEOs in person again, it was clear that we are in the middle of a generational shift in corporate leadership. "It seemed like every conversation I had was with a younger CEO navigating enormous complexity," he recalled. "There was no firm designed for this next generation, recognizing all the complexity and all the opportunities, so the early team – Brian and I, my cofounder Everett Rosenfeld, our VP Alexis Roberts and others, started from a blank page and built that firm together."

The “Dinner Party” approach to talent

Both Ellner and Meadvin emphasized that the firm's strength lies in its team of senior-level experts who are eager to break free from the constraints of traditional agencies. "We've been fortunate to attract great talent looking for a different model," Ellner explained. "The number of incoming resumes and inquiries is almost overwhelming."

Meadvin compared their talent strategy to curating a dinner party, which means assembling a team that is diverse in background, thought, and experience, maybe a bit eclectic, but united by qualities like curiosity, creativity, and a good sense of humor. "When you bring this group together, you know that really magical things will happen."

Differentiation Through Strategy and Relationships

Meadvin and Ellner agreed that corporate leaders today are looking for differentiated strategic counsel first and foremost. "Our client relationships often start with the CEO and the c-suite," Meadvin shared. "Because we’re embedded with the leadership team, we are able to align tactical efforts with strategic goals. We often describe it as being the Sunday night phone call before the Monday morning meeting.”

Ellner added that their senior talent's extensive relationships are another critical differentiator. "Unlike a traditional communications firm, much of the value we provide never appears above the radar. It’s about making a critical introduction, or bringing just the right group of people together. We have offices in New York and DC, along with a great West Coast ecosystem, and we’re increasingly global.”

Evolving with the Industry

Avoiding traditional labels like "communications" or "PR firm," One Strategy Group positions themselves as strategic advisors ready to tackle their clients' biggest challenges. "We have our areas of excellence, but we are always looking to expand and bring in new leaders and practice areas," Meadvin said.

Reflecting on their journey, both leaders emphasize the fun of building something new with a great team. "Starting a company is inherently stressful, but surrounding yourself with people who make you smarter and who are willing to challenge you makes the journey joyful," Meadvin said.

Ellner highlighted the impact of empowering great talent. "Seeing what great talent can achieve when you remove bureaucratic constraints is eye-opening," he said. "We've stripped things down to their essence—hiring talented and strategic people and letting them excel."

Diverse and Forward-Thinking Clients

OSG's client base is as diverse as its team, from Series A startups to some of the largest publicly traded companies. "Our clients gravitate toward us because they want to think ahead," Meadvin said. "They don't want to talk about issues the way people did six months ago."

The firm's commitment to diversity is not just a strategic choice but a natural outcome of their approach. "By focusing on the next generation, we attract a diverse array of clients," Meadvin said. "Our clients appreciate our ability to merge corporate and values-driven strategies."

Ellner added, "we thrive at the intersection of corporate strategy and purpose. This is where we see the greatest opportunity for impact."

The Road Ahead

Looking ahead, Ellner emphasized that the firm’s future lies in its ability to adapt and innovate. "The verticalization of consulting is an old model," he said. "Many firms get stuck in one lane. They’re known for digital, PR, or content. That’s not what clients want. They want athletes, problem solvers, and creative thinkers. Everything else is just tactics.”

While One Strategy Group is deeply focused on the ways that AI will change the industry, Meadvin and Ellner agree that the only way to grow is to embrace constant change. “We tell our team that we need to wake up every morning asking ourselves whether the approach that worked yesterday will keep working tomorrow. We’ll never be the team that repeats the same playbook. Our job is to challenge ourselves and challenge our clients.”