Praytell, Brooklyn-based advertising agency founded by Andy Pray ’02, named PRWeek's Agency of the Year
Twenty years ago, Andy Pray ’02 was immersed into the Mass Communications program at Doane College, taking advantage of every opportunity thrown his way. Literally.
His second week of his freshman year, he was the play-by-play announcer for a Doane football game in Illinois. He eventually became GM of the radio station, editor of the newspaper, and had his own TV show.
“Doane is a special place for people who want to make this happen,” Pray said.
After graduating high school in Big Timber, Montana, Pray had aspirations of being an anchor on Sportscenter. He jokes he “had a face for radio,” but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his big dreams.
In April 2002, one month before Pray was set to graduate, he received a call from Dr. Fred Brown, Doane College President at the time. Brown was interested in Pray’s plans after graduation. Pray told him he was interning at two radio stations at the time, but had aspirations to go into TV. Brown set up a time for Pray to meet the staff at 10/11 News, the CBS affiliate in Lincoln. Shortly after he graduated, Pray was hired by 10/11 as a camera operator.
Pray eventually transitioned from cameraman to reporter at 10/11. He then took a job as a news anchor at a station in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and then became a producer and news writer at a local TV station in San Francisco, California.
It was in San Francisco where Pray discovered his true calling.
“In a newsroom you’re getting calls from PR people all the time,” Pray said. “I interviewed at one PR agency, got a job that day, and never looked back. Going into PR was the best decision I ever made.”
Pray worked for a few different agencies in San Francisco before moving to New York, where his job took him to London to work for about a year. When he got back from London in 2012, he decided he wanted to become his own boss, taking a shot at starting his own PR agency.
“I started Praytell in my basement with my dog,” Pray said. “It all happened really fast. We got really lucky in the beginning, won a couple of pitches that we probably shouldn’t have won, and before we knew it we were a team of 20 people. It didn’t take long for us to grow to 40 people and now seven years later, we’re a team of 150 people.”
Praytell’s growth is no coincidence. The agency was named “Best Place to Work” by PRWeek six years in a row. No other agency in the publication’s history has been recognized with the honor more than four times.
As if that recognition isn’t impressive enough, earlier this year, Praytell was named Agency of the Year by PRWeek.
“The award is like the Oscars for our industry,” Pray said. “Usually there’s a big awards show, everyone is dressed up, and it’s a cool moment. This year we were all in the office and it was the most shocking moment of my career. We were all on Zoom and just freaked out. It was so joyful.”
Pray said the news was a very bright light in a period of darkness for him and his staff. In the span of a few weeks in the spring, Pray said the agency lost about 65% of its business because of the pandemic. Some employees at Praytell were furloughed and others took pay cuts.
“I think we were the only agency of our size that didn’t have to do layoffs, thankfully,” Pray said. “To get the news of the Agency of the Year honor was so special. It gave something for everyone to be proud of.”
With around 150 employees, Praytell has offices in six locations: Brooklyn (HQ), San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, and London. Last year, Praytell had over $21M in revenue. These numbers put Praytell in the category of a small, midsize agency.
Weber Shandwick, which won Large Agency of the Year by PRWeek and was named Honorable Mention Agency of the Year, is a global agency with offices across six continents. For perspective, Weber Shandwick has hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year.
“Us winning that award is an underdog story,” Pray said. “It’s like Doane beating a Division 1 opponent. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Praytell’s success can largely be attributed to their great culture, something Pray takes great pride in. Praytell recently offered new employee perks including fertility benefits to support growing families and a sabbatical program to encourage employees to stay long-term. Their staff retention rate is among the highest in the industry.
In PRWeek’s awards section, one judge said Praytell is “creative, both in its client work and commitment to build a strong culture.”
Pray acknowledges how significant this recognition is for his agency, knowing it will benefit recruiting employees and new clients.
“For us to be able to walk into a room and say we’re agency of the year is pretty special,” Pray said. “Now we just have to make sure that we don’t peak.”
Pray’s success story is one that can inspire all Doane students, particularly those who come from small towns with big aspirations. From Big Timber, Montana to Crete, Nebraska, to eventually Lincoln, Cheyenne, San Francisco, London, and New York, Pray’s professional rise has not come easy. Just as recently as this year, adversity has faced him often. Still very young in his professional journey, Pray is quick to credit his roots at Doane for helping him grow into the man and leader he is today.
“Doane has a special place in my heart,” he says. “It was a place that certainly made you feel like you could do anything. If you want to go do it, do it.”