Business Spotlight

Bravo Group: The Tough Fight Story of Pennsylvania’s Top Independent PR Firm

Summer 2018 Catalyst

Since 1999, Bravo Group has worked on behalf of companies and causes where government and public opinion impact success. Whether it be a short-term problem or a long-view challenge, the largest independent PR firm in Pennsylvania assembles experience-informed and talent-driven skills under a single, overarching objective: help clients win tough fights.

After starting with two clients and one employee in a single location, Bravo Group has grown into a firm of more than 90 team members across four locations — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. and its headquarters in Harrisburg. This hard-earned-every-step-of-the-way growth has been driven by the founding and guiding vision of President and CEO Chris Bravacos.

“Chris’ vision was always building a firm where the nexus between communications and government relations delivered a product no one else in Harrisburg could, and his vision never changed,” explains Dennis Walsh, Bravo Group’s president of government relations. “As we grew, we were ahead of the curve in using social media and digital advocacy, and even now no one uses it the way we do. We continue to be a step ahead, and that goes back to his vision.”

Walsh and Bravacos met during their tenures in government while working within Gov. Tom Ridge’s administration. Bravacos points to this time as a top legislative aide when his vision for Bravo Group sharpened.

“When I started, I was really focused on how to achieve really important things when it didn’t seem as though there were the outside resources that would organize around how to solve a problem. Instead, they’d organize around what they needed to sell,” Bravacos remembers. “From day one of Bravo Group, we never needed to sell anything other than a solution.”

Bravacos knew his burgeoning firm could do everything from advertising and public relations to advocacy and everything digital, but so could many other companies.

“How all those are brought together in a unified way to express a strategy and achieve an important objective, that’s where I saw a need,” Bravacos says. “That’s what continues to attract people to work here and attracts clients to engage us in the important work they need.”

Offering a collective approach to clients requires specialists in disciplines that range from marketing and government relations to research and journalism, and experienced strategists to unify and hone successful campaigns.

Bravo Group’s team of more than 90 experts came together through patience and scrutiny because every addition needed to be the perfect fit for the whole.

“We hire smart people with very interesting, diverse backgrounds who work collaboratively, can be resilient and push ahead to win,” details Rhett Hintze, COO. “We invest in really good talent, enable them to grow, experience innovation and allow them to learn from failure. Through that process, they become greater than average.”

Assembling the right team under the banner of holistic solutions for clients has proven to be a winning mix, but there is also an internal ingredient in the Bravo Group recipe that allows it to thrive — a company culture compelled by five unshakable core values. They are low hierarchy (good ideas can come from anywhere), collective ego (successes and failures are shared as one), move fast (being open internally allows quick success replication), lead (the courage to offer clients new ideas and approaches) and, most important, integrity.

“Integrity is a claim we all have to live up to every day,” states Topper Ray, president, communications. “We believe it’s as important as any work we do, and the kind of work we do, we’re proud of it. There’s never a choice between integrity and anything else. If we don’t have it, we don’t have Bravo Group.”

This unique combination of talent, values and founding vision has delivered wins for clients that range from pro bono causes to Fortune 500 companies. It has earned Bravo Group numerous distinctions, such as 30th-largest PR firm in the nation and 100th globally, from top industry publications.

“Our success is always based on our clients’ success,” states Megan Madsen, vice president, communications. “Clients want to work with us. They feel and see our passion. We never hang it up. If we’re working on an effort and we don’t feel it’s going the way we want it to, people lose sleep here. Everyone here is in it for the success of the client.”

Twenty years of providing solutions to complex issues for clients have driven the firm’s growth, and the desire to solve more is what propels it into the future.

“We consistently feel like there is always another challenge,” Bravacos says. “Whether that’s competing with agencies much larger or something else, we always keep the same approach to trying to win and getting the opportunity to prove we can be exceptional. In that regard, I feel like we keep moving the goalposts to where we need to achieve instead of feeling satisfied.”

Chris Bravacos, President and CEO

Chris Bravacos created the firm that wins tough fights, bringing a campaign approach to communications challenges. With offices in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., Bravo Group is ranked by a national PR publication, O’Dwyer’s, as Pennsylvania’s largest independent public relations firm by revenue and 30th in the United States. Under Chris’ direction, Bravo has become a leader in energy, life sciences, health care, education and infrastructure communications, working on behalf of companies, causes and governments where public opinion is critical to success. Chris began his career in Washington, D.C., first as a press office intern for Congressman Jack Kemp, then as a congressional aide for Rep. Clarence E. Miller (Ohio) and Rep. Richard T. Schulze (Pennsylvania). He then moved to Harrisburg to serve as executive director of the state Republican Party. In that position, Chris played a key role in several successful elections, including the victory of Tom Ridge as governor of Pennsylvania. He joined the Ridge administration as a top legislative aide. Chris has continued advising numerous causes and state and national candidates. Most recently, he served as the Pennsylvania chairman of the Rubio for President campaign. Chris is a member of the Dean’s Council for the School of Communications at American University and is the chair of Excellent Schools PA, a statewide education reform advocacy organization. He graduated from American University with a double major in print journalism and political science with a concentration in marketing.

Dennis Walsh, President, Government Relations

A dynamic force in Pennsylvania politics, Dennis possesses a comprehensive understanding of public affairs and a vast network of contacts among key policymakers within the state. Recognized by his peers as one of Harrisburg’s most effective lobbyists, Dennis has achieved successes for a wide range of clients — from education and health care to technology and public utilities. He has earned a superior reputation as a top government strategist, working with clients to assist them in approaching and resolving a diverse range of complex issues before the state Legislature. Dennis served as secretary for legislative affairs in the cabinet of former Gov. Tom Ridge. He acted as a principal strategist and advocate on some of the most challenging legislative issues facing the commonwealth. Leading up to his tenure in the Ridge administration, Dennis acted as the chief of staff to former senator and later Attorney General Mike Fisher. Dennis is a member of the board of directors of the Capital Region Economic Development Corp. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton.

Topper Ray, President, Communications

Topper leads our campaign-style approach to public relations, advocacy and creative services. Before he joined us, he served as chief communications officer for Blank Rome LLP, helping to build the firm’s global brand. In addition, he was a principal in Blank Rome Government Relations LLC, where he provided media strategy and crisis communications counseling for CEOs, civic leaders and public affairs efforts. Topper also served as a senior vice president at Tierney Communications, where he led teams in the creative development and execution of integrated public relations programs for Fortune 500 clients. He began his career in Washington, D.C., as a press aide to George H. W. Bush in the Office of Presidential Advance, and as a press lead during the 1992 presidential campaign working for the Republican National Committee. Topper graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia with a Bachelor of Arts in history.

Rhett Hintze, COO

Rhett serves as Chief Operating Officer. He has led efforts to develop key technology policy initiatives, managed regional and statewide initiatives and been instrumental in securing support and funding for critical projects. Rhett previously worked in the Governor's Policy Office and the Office for Information Technology. His activities included enterprise technology policy development, multi-agency initiative coordination and oversight, and e-government strategy development and implementation. Additionally, he has worked in city, county and national government offices. Rhett received his Bachelor of Science in business/finance from the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University and his Master of Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University with an emphasis in public finance.

Megan Madsen, Vice President, Communications

Megan brings more than two decades of national advertising, communications and business development experience to her position as Vice President, Communications. From health care and consumer packaged goods to energy and higher education, she has a track record of successful marketing and communications strategies across a broad range of industry sectors. Megan most recently served as executive vice president for integrated services at Laughlin Constable, one of the country’s top 25 independent advertising agencies. During her tenure at the firm in Chicago and Milwaukee, Megan led multiple teams to national awards and oversaw client service, content development and channel integration for national clients in the health care, financial and major retail sectors. Before joining Laughlin Constable, Megan held executive positions at Neiman Group — now Allen & Gerritsen — in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Early in her career, Megan was the communications director for Pennsylvania’s Department of Community & Economic Development and for the state Health Department, as well as marketing manager for the American Medical Association. She is a Bloomsburg University graduate.

Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.