Hill & Knowlton Buys Washington's ProMarc
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Hill & Knowlton Buys Washington's ProMarc

The ProMarc Agency isn’t the first technology acquisition by Hill & Knowlton, or even the largest, but it could end up being the smartest, because ProMarc is not only the largest technology specialist in the Washington market, it is also one of the best w

Paul Holmes

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 2—The ProMarc Agency isn’t the first technology acquisition by Hill & Knowlton, or even the largest (that distinction belongs to San Francisco software specialist Blanc & Otus), but it could end up being the smartest, because ProMarc is not only the largest technology specialist in the Washington market, it is also one of the best workplaces in the public relations industry—providing H&K with benefits both tangible and cultural.

The combination of ProMarc, which had fees of around $4.5 million in 2000, with the existing Washington technology practice at H&K will create an operation with about $6.5 million in tech fees, making it one of the largest such entities in the D.C. marketplace (with only newcomer Qorvis offering serious competition). Overall, the H&K technology practice had fees of around $80 million last year.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the deal is that fact that ProMarc—unlike Blanc & Otus and the more recently acquired SocketPR in Atlanta—will be absorbed into H&K and will not maintain its own identity.

“I think every agency has to think through whether it really wants to be acquired,” says ProMarc founder and president Alisa Fogelman-Beyer. “I would call this a true acquisition. ProMarc as an entity will go away; it will be 100 percent integrated into Hill & Knowlton. That gives us an opportunity to do all the things we have been doing on a much larger scale.”

Fogelman-Beyer will become senior managing director and head of the H&K Washington tech practice, and will work as part of the firm’s U.S. tech practice, headed by Maureen Blanc.

The integration doesn’t mean that the ProMarc culture will die, says Hill & Knowlton U.S. president Tom Hoog. “Alisa has done some very creative things in a business sense and in a cultural sense. We have very similar values, but she has done some things in terms of keeping people jazzed about the work that we can really learn from.”

Hoog says executives from ProMarc have attended Hill & Knowlton College, the agency’s professional development forum, and were impressed.

“I think Hill & Knowlton has been very excited by the recognition ProMarc has received for the kind of culture we created,” says Fogelman-Beyer, referring in part to the fact that ProMarc was named among the top 10 PR firms to work for by this publication earlier this year. “I think they are interested in sharing some of our cultural orientation within H&K.”

Both ProMarc and the Washington office of H&K have been focused on the business-to-business sector, but there are no conflicts, says Fogelman-Beyer. Nor has there been any decline in revenues in recent months, despite the tremors that have shaken much of the technology industry—in part because the federal government remains the largest buyer of information technology services in the world.

“The entire technology sector has had the air taken out of it,” says Fogelman-Beyer. “But I think the next 24 months are going to be very exciting in the business-to-business sector, and a lot of the action is going to be here in Washington.”

Hoog agrees: “When we looked at the technology space, we felt the Washington market was more robust. The mix of business here, which includes a lot of wireless and telecom work, was very healthy.” In addition, H&K hopes to leverage its traditional strength in public affairs to put together a comprehensive technology offering.

Fogelman-Beyer, meanwhile, sees benefits in having resources beyond the Washington market.

“Our clients are very excited,” says Fogelman-Beyer, particularly by Hill & Knowlton’s global capabilities. Two ProMarc clients are already talking with H&K’s overseas offices, she says. “We were struggling to serve clients overseas. We have partnered with other agencies but we have had great difficulties.” The other immediate benefit to ProMarc clients is access to H&K’s offices on the west coast, where many technology reporters and analysts are based.

                But Fogelman-Beyer says the best thing about the deal is that “I won’t have to worry about cash flow and toilet paper any more.” Explaining, she adds: “I’m a public relations person. It’s what I love. As much as I have enjoyed building this business I was looking for a chance to get back to working with clients. I was spending 80 percent of my time on management issues and 20 percent on client issues. Now it’s going to be 20 percent on management issues and 80 percent on client issues.”

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