While parent company Omnicom reported a double-digit decline in public relations revenues during 2009, Ketchum was able to beat the industry average, thanks in large part to continued stability among its largest clients: it was able to retain every one of its 50 largest relationships and continues to work for longstanding clients such as the California Dried Plum Board, Dow Chemical, Roche, Clorox and the U.S. Potato Board (all clients for 30 years or more). But there was new business too. The year started with the Philips win (in partnership with several sister agencies) and continued with new assignments from Applied Materials, Brink’s Home Security, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the City of Toronto, Digg, Newell Rubbermaid, and Telefonica. The fourth quarter was the agency’s strongest of the year and it enters 2010 with strong momentum.
Ketchum has eight offices in the U.S, including its worldwide headquarters in New York, where there’s a healthy balance of corporate, consumer and healthcare business, as well as the specialist (and rebranded) Ketchum Pleon Change employee communications operation; a Washington, D.C., office that provides healthcare, social marketing and public policy expertise; and operations in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. Those offices are supplemented by several specialist subsidiaries, including consumer tech expert Access in San Francisco and word-of-mouth pioneer Zocalo in Chicago. Ketchum also has a Canadian office in Toronto and a Latin American hub in Mexico City.
For years, Ketchum has continued to derive 70 percent of its revenues from the U.S., making it much less global than most of its peers. But that changed in 2009 when the agency joined forces with Omnicon-owned sister firm Pleon—a powerhouse in Europe—and by the end of the year the revenue split was much closer to 50-50. Ketchum needed a stronger German presence and Pleon was struggling to compete for U.K. and U.S. multinationals who required a more formidable presence in the Anglo-Saxon markets, so the merger of the two Omnicom firms made sense, and created a firm that is almost certainly the EMEA market leader in terms of headcount. Germany is now the biggest operation, with eight offices. The combined entity is also a formidable force in the U.K; in Spain; and in Austria. The merger also makes the firm stronger in Brussels, France and Italy. And it’s not just a question of more dots on the map: the firm has increased the number and scope of its multimarket work, serving clients such as Nokia Siemens (59 markets), IBM (19), FedEx and Newell Rubbermaid (12), Kodak (11) and Philips (10). While Ketchum does not have the same reach throughout the Asia-Pacific as most of its competitors, it does have a formidable Greater China presence, with five offices: strong operations in Beijing and Shanghai, impressive offices in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, and a well-established Taiwan presence. The rest of the region, however, is served via an affiliate network, expanded last year after Ketchum formed a strategic partnership with Hakuhodo in Japan, and in a similar alliance with Korean giant Prain.
Ketchum operates five core global practices, focused on brand marketing, corporate com-munications, food and nutrition, healthcare and technology. Historically best-known for its creative brand-building work, now led by Kelley Skoloda, the firm has seamlessly integrated digital and social media expertise into its creative process in recent years, and can also draw on the expertise of Ketchum Sports & Entertainment (which has offices in Los Angeles and New York), experiential marketing firm Concentric, and word-of-mouth specialist Zocalo. The food and nutrition practice continues to excel under the leadership of Linda Eatherton. Healthcare is another traditional strength, combining a core brand-building approach with expertise in medical education and a clinical trial recruitment business, MMG. On the corporate front, Ketchum has one of the strongest employee communications capabilities in the business and has been enjoying success in the energy sector. And in the technology arena, the team led by Esty Pujadas enjoyed a banner year in 2009, winning high-profile assignments from Philips and Telefonica while retaining the coveted Nokia business. And of course the firm’s digital and social media practice continues to grow, with a suite of proprietary tools.
With a strong, stable leadership team, Ketchum prides itself on being able to create new opportunities for its people at every level, including the most senior. In 2009 there was new roles for corporate practice stalwart Tom Barritt as director of online relationships and reputation in the food and nutrition practice; for Ron Culp as leader of the North American corporate practice; and John Weckenmann as senior counselor now focused on helping clients tap new global corporate resources. In the digital arena, the firm appointed Jonathan Kopp, a former partner at SS+K, as global director of Ketchum Digital, while Joe Becker joined from MWW to lead the practice in New York and Tim Weinheimer, formerly of Brunner Digital, became part of the Washington, D.C., team. Other key additions included Michael O’Brien, who returned from Cohn & Wolfe to take up a new role as director of New York client service, longtime Democratic strategist Dan Foley as director of North American public affairs, and “boomerang” Amy Kull as senior VP in the San Francisco food group.
Once the undisputed leader among the big agencies when it came to professional development and workplace excellence, Ketchum has seen several of its rivals imitate and even improve on some of its best practices, but maintains an impressive commitment to building a best-in-breed internal culture. This year, the firm’s Ketchum College professional development program, which offered almost 240 unique courses in 2009, has been re-launched as Ketchum University, reflecting a broader curriculum, with a myPersonal Trainer component that allows employees to learn new skills at their own pace. The firm’s global intranet, myKGN, is still as impressive as any in the industry, offering people to connect and collaborate with colleagues around the world.
Ketchum was a pioneer in public relations research and evaluation, and maintains its commitment, with managing director of the global research practice David Rockland playing a leadership role in international industry groups. On the corporate front, the firm unveiled its new CEO Accelerator program, designed to help CEOs take advantage of their “honeymoon” period by building a communications strategy based on 12 leadership communication principles, and brought together the change management expertise of its Stromberg subsidiary in the U.S. with a similar team from Pleon to create Ketchum Pleon Change, an industry leader in employee communications. The firm also conducted its third Media Myths & Realities research in 2009; released results of a Green Pulse poll, tracking environmental purchasing decisions; and surveyed female bloggers at BlogHer to assess opportunities for marketers to engage with these influential opinion leaders.
Ketchum’s innovative social media campaign to attract consumer-generated content for Doritos’ Super Bowl advertising won The Holmes Report’s Campaign of the Decade award, and the firm followed up that success with six SABRE Awards for its 2009—no agency had more. Among the highlights of the firm’s work last year: helping Clorox revitalize its iconic bleach brand with a “Truth About Bleach” consumer education campaign; generating massive media coverage for FedEx by offering a free resume-printing day to a growing universe of job-seekers; celebrating the 50th anniversary of Barbie with a fashion show that made the brand contemporary again; educating Americans about digital TV conversion for the National Telecommunications & Information Administration; and extending that Doritos campaign for a fourth year
Ketchum continues to be more active than many of its peers— Global chief executive Ray Kotcher was chair of the Council of PR Firms for the past two years and also plays a key role the Arthur W. Page Society—in terms of giving something back to the profession. The firm also continues to produce useful thought leadership, and to 2009 was clearly a year in which it extended its leadership in terms of industry recognition. All of that adds up to one of the strongest and most consistent brands in the industry.
With the addition of Pleon, Ketchum has doubled in size over the past five years, and now offers a far more comprehensive global reach than it did a couple of years ago. The North American operation is impressive, and appears to have returned to form after a couple of flat years at the start of the decade. The firm now has the infrastructure in Europe to compete with the biggest and the best, although full integration may take a while. So the obvious need is for a most substantial Asia-Pacific network to give it a global footprint to match that of its peers.