LONDON, June 20—Alison Canning, who launched Cohn & Wolfe in the U.K. and was managing director of Burson-Marsteller’s U.K. public relations operations before the international PR giant adopted its practice area structure, is joining Edelman Public Relations Worldwide as president of international operations. She will be responsible for all 30 of the firm’s offices outside the United States and will report to Richard Edelman, president and CEO.
Edelman is also acquiring Canning’s managing consulting business, First&42nd, as part of the deal to bring her on board.
“We are thrilled to attract a person of Alison’s caliber to the Edelman senior management team,” says Edelman. “We are committed to improving our already strong non-U.S. business, which currently accounts for a third of our fees. Alison is a recognized figure in the global marketplace, has a clear vision of the future of the PR industry and is exceptional at hiring talented people.”
Edelman says expanding in Europe will be the firm’s number one priority. The agency is currently ranked eighth in Europe, and would like to make it into the top five. Says Edelman, “We’re doing about $43 million in Europe and the big players are doing about $100 million, so we have some ground to make up.” In particular, the agency needs to expand beyond its marketing and healthcare expertise, adding corporate and financial and public affairs capabilities.
Canning, who will serve on the firm’s executive committee and its board of advisors, succeeds Michael Morley, who is deputy chairman of Edelman Worldwide. She will continue to serve as chairman of First&42nd while see searches for a new managing director to spearhead the firm’s growth in the U.K. and internationally.
“The First&42nd acquisition also takes us into a completely different market sector,” Edelman added. “While it complements our PR-centric model, First&42nd will continue to be run as a totally separate entity.” In the past two years, Edelman has expanded into issues advertising, buying an ad agency in Washington, D.C., now known as Blue; establishing its Strategy One research unit; and launching Edelman Interactive Solutions.
First&42nd has focused on three areas: communications and brand consulting; corporate social responsibility, which has been an area of focus for Edelman in Europe; and dynamic leadership, including human resources consulting and change management.
According to Canning, joining forces with Edelman provides her with two opportunities: “Firstly, it allows me to reposition and grow the Edelman brand outside of the US and to make it a real force for public relations excellence around the world. Edelman is the only real player outside the ‘big three’ holding companies with a truly global reach and strong, national management. The time has come to make it one of the ‘Big Four’.
“Secondly, it allows First&42nd to expand internationally at a much faster rate, with increased financial backing and an established international network. Our experience in India, where we opened our first international office, shows that this new type of consultancy offer is both appropriate and much-needed in an international context.”
Canning has experience representing clients such as the BBC, Nestle, BT, Procter & Gamble, Lloyd’s of London, Glaxo, MTV and Reebok. Before founding First&42nd, she served for three years as chief executive of Burson-Marsteller’s London office and ran Cohn & Wolfe for five years, during which time the company became a top 30 U.K. agency.