Today’s announcement by Omnicom that Karen van Bergen will assume the newly created position of chair of the Omnicom Public Relations group, to be succeeded as CEO of Porter Novelli by Brad MacAfee, marks the fourth such change among top ten PR firms in the past twelve months. From Stuart Smith at Ogilvy, to John Saunders at FleishmanHillard to Guillaume Herbette at MSLGroup, one can observe generational change and structural evolution.
Here are a few of my observations of these recent events:
- A much more global group — Three of the four new CEOs are Europeans and four of the top ten firms have a European in charge (Brunswick, the other). Though Europe is only 20 percent of the fees of most of the large firms (except Brunswick and Hill+Knowlton), the European units have fared quite well relative to the global numbers. Europe also presents a substantial opportunity for establishing hubs for multinational corporations work going outwards.
- A bias for corporate over marketing — The vast majority of agency heads are now corporate counselors, not marketers. I would say that only Andy Polansky of Weber Shandwick and yours truly came from the marketing side of the business.
- Trend toward politics over — When Jack Martin and Don Baer took over at Hill+Knowlton and Burson-Marsteller, I thought that the next generation might hail from the Washington/Brussels zip codes. Apparently, this is not to be.
- Still too few women at the top — With van Bergen moving up at Omnicom, this only leaves Donna Imperato at Cohn & Wolfe as the only female CEO among the largest firms. This has to change.
- The impact of profit margin pressure — At a time of rapid evolution of the sector, it is difficult to invest in new talent when the operating profit pre bonus is 25 percent. I hope that the CEOs taking the reins have an understanding with their holding company owners about what it takes to succeed.
I am looking forward to seeing Messrs. MacAfee, Herbette, Saunders and my long-time colleague Smith on the field of battle. Best of luck.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.