Omnicom’s public relations revenues declined by 11 percent in 2009, but once again Fleishman-Hillard outperformed the group as a whole, with its fees down in the low single digits and its profits up slightly. Perhaps the most significant win of the year was the selection of OneVoice—a partnership of Fleishman-Hillard, Ketchum, DDB, TogoRun and Kreab Gavin Anderson—by consumer electronics giant Philips. Additional new business successes included Abbott, ADP, Autodesk, Avaya, Boehringer Ingelheim, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, GM Chevrolet, Hyatt, Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol brand, McCain Foods, Nestle waters, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Qualcomm, Schering Plough and Western Union. The firm also maintained its relationships with some of the longest-tenured clients in the industry: Emerson (57 years), Blue Cross/Blue Shield (50 years), AT&T, Hallmark, Boy Scouts of America, Motorola, Procter & Gamble (all more than 20 years), J&J, Pfizer and Eli Lilly. More than 50 percent of the firm’s top 50 clients have been with Fleishman-Hillard for more than a decade.
Fleishman-Hillard is almost certainly the largest public relations firm in North America, where it has fee income in the $300-350 million range, about 60 percent of its worldwide revenue, and it also has more offices throughout the U.S. than any of its competitors. There’s strength in every part of the country: the central region, led by Susan Veidt, includes the headquarters office in St. Louis, a major Kansas City operation, and strong teams in Chicago and the Twin Cities; the mid-Atlantic features a Washington, D.C., presence that is arguably the strongest of any multinational (including thee FH branded operations, GMMB and Mercury Public Affairs); the East includes New York and Boston; the West includes a powerful presence in both L.A. and San Francisco, as well as smaller but impressive offices in San Diego and Sacramento; the Southwest continues to offer formidable competition in Texas; and in Canada, the firm has a network of five offices.
Fleishman’s U.K. operations are its largest in the EMEA region, with about 125 people and strength across all major practice areas—public affairs, healthcare, technology, consumer and corporate—under the leadership of Lucien Vallun. But Fleishman also has an increasingly formidable presence in the region’s two other key markets: in Germany, it has consolidated its Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich offices under a single leadership structure, with Wolfgang Kuesters at the helm of a team of about 70; while in Brussels there are close to 50 under the leadership of Caroline Wunnerlich. After two years of growth of close to 30 percent, Fleishman-Hillard continued to close the gap of the longer-established Asia-Pacific players in 2009, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. That means that over the past three years the firm has almost doubled in size in the Asia-Pacific region, which continues to be the fastest-growing part of the global business, and now has 13 offices in the region, with Jakarta the most recent addition to the network.
Fleishman-Hillard has a well-balanced portfolio of business, shared across five major practice areas. The public affairs group is the firm’s largest, accounting for about 25 percent of revenues, spread across its formidable Washington, D.C., office and subsidiaries such as Vox Global and GMMB. The corporate practice contributes slightly more than 20 percent of revenues, which will come as no surprise given the firm’s historic strength in the corporate and business-to-business realm, but the healthcare practice comes in just behind it. The remainder of the business comes from the marketing communications practice (18 percent) and technology sector (15 percent). In the former area, the firm has added a new convergent marketing practice, providing a 360-degree approach to customer communications to generate leads and drive sales. The firm’s digital practice, meanwhile, continues to expand, and FH teams conducted more than 25 “digital immersions” for clients.
One of the things that sets Fleishman-Hillard apart from many of its competitors is the stability of its senior leadership team, which was a hallmark of John Graham’s tenure as CEO and has continued under Dave Senay. In 2009, there was something of a reorganization in the U.S., where agency veteran Paul Johnson departed from his role as vice-chair. Steve Hardwick, a veteran of the ad agency business with Grey, arrived as president of the Eastern region, freeing Nancy Seliger to take on a new global role as executive vice president for global client relations; J.J. Carter, who had headed the consumer practice in San Francisco, took over as general manager of the office; and Danielle Hurtt assumed responsibility for agency marketing. Key additions over the past 12 months include David Hakensen, formerly of Padilla Speer Beardsley as general manager of the Minneapolis office, and John Sparks and Bill Walker as GMs in Calgary and Toronto respectively.On the digital front, meanwhile, the firm added experts in Dallas, San Francisco and DC.
Fleishman-Hillard continues to gain recognition as one of the best workplaces in the public relations agency world. In addition to being named Best Large Agency to Work For by this publication (based on a survey of employees throughout North America), the agency was named one of the Top 50 Companies for Executive Women by the National Association for Female Executives. In part, that’s a result of Fleishman’s continued commitment to professional development. Despite the budget pressures of the past 12 months, in November, 56 employees from around the globe attended a Digital Academy held in Washington, D.C., and 250 rising stars attended Management Academy sessions around the world. The firm also put together training programs directed at client relationship managers, and expanded its Learning Lab webinar series.
Senay says that despite the firm’s market leadership position, “we realize that maintaining the status quo is a death sentence.” That belief has manifested itself in a number of new offerings and initiatives, several of them in partnership with other Omnicom agencies. In late 2008, FH launched MobileBehavior, which has established itself as a leader in mobile marketing, integrating location-based marketing, special event consumer capture and engagement, and employee communications into the mix. In early 2009, the agency announced the creation of FHX, an experiential marketing company drawing on Fleishman-Hillard’s digital and special audience-based marketing practices. More recently, FH has partnered with sister company Bernard Hodes to launch the Talent Asset Impact, a social engineering solution that improves an organization’s ability to cope with upheaval and re-engage with its employees.
Fleishman-Hillard picked up two North American SABRE Awards for its work on behalf of Papa John’s Pizza, a campaign that took founder John Schnatter on a road trip across the U.S. to find the Chevrolet Camaro he sold in 1981 to fund his new business and that showcased the firm’s impressive digital and social media capabilities. In addition, Fleishman’s work on behalf of Gatorade, reuniting a group of 30-somethings to replay a football game from their youth, creating a reality TV show, and demonstrating Gatorade’s ability to fuel athletic performance won the Grand Prix PR Lion at Cannes. The firm also continued its work as global agency of record for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, managing international communications—in traditional and digital media—for the inauguration ceremony in September.
There was a time when FH could be accused of hiding its light under a bush; but not today. To emphasize its digital expertise, Fleishman partnered once again with Harris Interactive on the Digital Influence Index, an in-depth study that measures the impact of the Internet and other media on consumer behavior and decisions. FH people, meanwhile, produce some provocative blogs on subjects ranging from metrics to mobile marketing, from gay and lesbian outreach to FDA policy. On a global level, the firm joined with Omnicom to make a significant investment of money and talent in supporting the World Economic Forum’s international conferences. Finally, FH re-launched its website, with a host of cutting-edge features designed to underscore its digital capabilities. Visits have increased by 30 percent since the new site went live.
Fleishman-Hillard is back on form in the North American region, producing good work and good numbers despite the difficult economic conditions of the past 12 months. It’s clearly the largest firm in the U.S. market, which raises the question of where continued growth is going to come from. The answer seems to be a broader, deeper and more strategic range of services, a shift that began with the launch of the firm’s Communications Consulting Worldwide unit, the expansion of its public affairs capabilities, and the creation of a comprehensive, forward-looking digital practice. And there’s still plenty of room for growth in Europe and Asia.