OSLO—Three years after splitting the region apart, Hill+Knowlton is reuniting its operations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa under the leadership of new chairman and CEO Lars Erik Grønntun.
Grønntun takes charge of some 40 operations acros the region, excluding the UK, where CEO Richard Millar will continue to report directly to global chairman Jack Martin. Millar is also elevated to the role of global chair for creative strategy, tasked with a new global intiative that includes 'centers of excellence' in the UK, US and China.
Grønntun previously led H+K operations in Benelux, the Nordics, CEE and Russia/CIS, from Oslo, where he founded Gambit H+K in 1995. He took on the sub-regional role in 2011, when H+K chose to create a region called 'AMEASCA', which covered Australia, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Central Asia.
Since then, the firm has reverted to a more conventional Asia-Pacific structure under regional CEO Viv Lines, and has now done the same with EMEA under Grønntun. Previously, Millar led the UK and Germany, while Southern Europe and France was overseen by Cesare Valli.
Sconaid McGeachin remains president for H+K operations in Africa, the Middle East & Turkey, reporting to Grønntun
Grønntun told the Holmes Report that the re-unification made sense for client servicing reasons. "Clients still purchase the services of communications and PR across the region, so it makes logical sense," he said. "From a more internal perspective, it ensures we utilise the scale; H+K has a vast representation across the region — we need to be even better at bringing expertise and knowledge from one place and deploying it for the benefit of clients elsewhere."
H+K will, said Grønntun, appoint a regional leadership team but will not attempt to build a regional HQ. "That will typically alienate a network of local businesses," said Grønntun "70% of the business will be elsewhere than London — so you need an inclusive model. So I will establish management functions across the region."
One of the largest PR networks in EMEA, H+K's regional footprint has effectively ensured over-exposure to tough economic conditions in recent years, with growth in emerging markets like the Middle East offset by static operations in more mature economies.
Accordingly, Grønntun wants H+K's many local operations to improve their abilities in terms of servicing domestic business, rather than relying on a US-based pipeline. In Oslo, for example, the agency leads the global Statoil business, retained last year after a keenly-contested review.
"An important part of the strategy has been based on a better balance between the international and the local," he said. "Some international networks depend too much on one or two hubs when a big chunk of your business is dependent on your strength locally."
He also noted that the firm's development will involve two spheres. The first is conventional communications advisory services, — "more experience-based, knowledge-based, grey- haired" –spanning such areas as corporate, crisis and issues management. The second is what he describes as "digital, conceptual and creative ideas-driven communications and campaigns"
"London is going to be a powerhouse on the creative side — what we should do is be able to bridge those two areas," said Grønntun.
Millar will focus on insights, analytics and brand planning, as well as developing and diversifying the firm’s creative talent, and will bring that under the leadership and stewardship of a creative director.
“My ambition is for H+K to become known across the globe as creators of powerful ideas and multi-channel storytellers who engage audiences and change behavior," said Millar.
"In today’s global communications environment, creativity and innovation are what is required to effectively drive the conversations our clients want to be having, fuel the debates our clients want to engage in and further differentiate our clients and future clients from their competitors."