PALO ALTO—Andy Cunningham, who sold her firm Cunningham Communications to U.K.-based Incepta Group in July of 2000, has spun out the Citigate Cunningham CXO consulting unit she launched late last year. The firm will be known as CXO Communications, and will focus on positioning and other strategic communications issues.
“I have been talking about the bifurcation of the public relations business for several years,” she says. “I have seen the work we do split between execution—the standard media relations work that makes up most of the industry—and strategy, which is the area I have always been most interested in. We are going to focus on the strategy.”
That won’t be such a dramatic change, she says, because Cunningham Communications always included a strategy and positioning group, which was formalized as Citigate Cunningham CXO late last year. “We’ll be doing the same things we always did,” she says, “and we will continue to partner with Citigate Cunningham,” as Incepta will maintain a 25 percent ownership stake in the new company and Cunningham will continue to serve as a non-executive chairman of Citigate Cunningham.
But the firm will also be free to partner with non-Citigate PR firms, providing strategic input to their clients while they continue to handle execution.
Cunningham acknowledges some parallels between her plans and the strategy adopted by technology public relations pioneer Regis McKenna, who abandoned the agency business to focus on marketing consulting. The key difference, she says, is that while McKenna focused on product, she is more interested in corporate reputation and positioning.
“While senior executives and internal communication experts regularly seek counsel from a number of sources including management consultants, accountants, lawyers and marketing professionals, there is still no one place for them to turn when they need to tackle a business-critical communication assignment,” says Cunningham.
For that reason, CXO will focus exclusively on what she calls “bet the business” communication projects including launching new market categories, creating executive platforms, rebuilding brand reputations, developing and executing crisis strategies, positioning critical new products and helping companies meet and exceed new corporate governance requirements.
Says Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse Aviation, “When I launched Eclipse Aviation, Andy was one of the first people I called because I knew our challenge was to change the way the world thought about aviation. This is where CXO Communication excels. Creating a new market category and launching a new brand of jet aircraft in an industry that fears change and rejects innovation is a ‘bet the business’ kind of communication assignment. I never doubted this team could tackle it and their results have exceeded my expectations.”
Seven former Citigate Cunningham employees, including Steven Brewster; Kathleen Bowden; Aaron Feigin; Hamish Forsythe; and Jeremy Hartman will be joining her in the new venture.
“The CXO team has decades of experience working specifically on communication issues that face corporate officers and their teams,” said Cunningham. “This is a group of true professionals who have done countless executive platforms, managed numerous crises, developed scores of positions for both companies and products and conducted extensive thought leadership work for many corporations both large and small. Our job is to make a real difference immediately and we do.”
Citigate Cunningham, meanwhile, will continue under the leadership of Paul Bergevin, who was appointed president in October of 2002.