Charting the future of public relations
2015 PR Trend Forecast: 15 People To Watch
Holmes Report
Holmes Report
News and insights from the global PR industry

2015 PR Trend Forecast: 15 People To Watch

The Holmes Report picks out 15 people from the marketing and communications worlds who are likely to have a very interesting year ahead.

Holmes Report

2015 PR Trend Forecast: 15 People To Watch
Our 2015 Trend Forecast has already uncovered five global PR trends to watch, along with forecasts for consumer and technology marketers.

But who are the people that are likely to have a particularly interesting year ahead? The Holmes Report's editors pick out 15 people from the PR and marketing worlds to watch in 2015.

Tony Cervone
SVP, global communications, General Motors

Tony Cervone
 
Automotive industry veteran Tony Cervone returned to General Motors in May, as the company and its new CEO Mary Barra were facing a major crisis, responding the charges that it had covered up an ignition-switch problem that lead to fatalities and a major recall. The company weathered that storm, and the challenge in 2015 will revolve around making the world forget about the issues that led to the crisis (issues that are, to be fair, more than a decade old) and focus on the narrative of turnaround and reputation rebuilding that had been taking hold as the automaker recovered from its bankruptcy and repaid its government bailout money. — Paul Holmes (PH).
 
Mike Coates
President/CEO, Americas, Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Mike Coates
 
There’s a case to be made that Hill+Knowlton has had its best people in some of the worst (or, more accurately, least important) places, from Lars-Erik Grønntun in Norway to Michael Coates in Canada. No offense to either market, but they are not in the top 10 when it comes to influencing global PR trends, but last year saw both Grønntun and Coates emerge to lead their respective regions. Of the two, Coates has the biggest challenge, with the flagship US operation still in need of significant rebuilding. If he can duplicate the success he has had over 20 years leading the firm’s business north of the border, he could restore H+K to its rightful position as an industry leader in the world’s most important PR market.—PH

Marion Darrieutort
President and CEO, Agence Elan

Marion Darrieutort
 
In just six years, former Edelman director general Marion Darrieutort built Agence Elan into the leading independent in France. She did so in part by challenging the established order—her experience at Edelman and at TBWA gave her an insight into how both big global firms and the large, indigenous “corporate” units of leading ad agencies operated, and she created a genuinely different alternative, a firm that offered strategic thinking and creativity, French flair and an international perspective. In that context, the announcement in September that Elan had been acquired by Edelman was somewhat surprising, and it raises some interesting questions about how the new Edelman-Elan offer—headed by Darrieutort—will continue to shake things up, and whether her strong vision of the future of the PR business will have implications beyond her native country.—PH

Lynne Anne Davis
President, Asia-Pacific, FleishmanHillard


Lynne Anne Davis

Fleishman’s Asia-Pacific chief makes the list as the next PR Lions jury head at the Cannes Lions. The role does not always amount to an easy ride, particularly in a PR industry which continues to question why its campaigns are consistently overlooked for top honours. Last year, for example, 40% of entries were submitted by PR agencies; but the industry accounted for less than 3% of the top prize winners were. As PR firms continue to compete for talent with ad agencies and others, success at Cannes becomes a necessity rather than a luxury. Accordingly, PR people will be watching the deliberations of Davis’ jury closely. — Arun Sudhaman (AS)

Fraser Hardie
Senior partner, Blue Rubicon


Fraser Hardie PRSummit 2013
 
Last year was an eventful one for Blue Rubicon, the firm Fraser Hardie founded in 1999, as it used its private equity funding to acquire UK public affairs specialist Open Road and expand its international operations in the Middle East. But the firm has been eyeing the US market for some time, and there’s no question that its approach—which blends corporate, consumer and public affairs seamlessly, and brings together research-driven insight and uncommon creative flair—would add something different to a market where most mid-market firms are focused on a niche such as consumer or tech. But the streets of New York are littered with the corpses of failed start-ups launched by successful UK agencies; if Blue Rubicon is to be an exception, Hardie will need to come up with something genuinely new and exciting.—PH
 
Margery Kraus
Executive chairman, APCO Worldwide


GPRS Margery Kraus
 
It may seem strange to focus on Margery Kraus’s role at APCO a month after she gave up the CEO role to Brad Staples, but it is difficult to imagine a personality as forceful as hers—APCO is a firm created unmistakably in her image—fading away just because her title has changed. Indeed, she is likely to continue playing a central role in many of the major questions facing the agency—not the least of which is the continuing speculation over a possible sale—and her ability to find a balance between letting the new leadership team build on the firm’s success and finding ways to contribute in a new role will be critical.—PH

José Antonio Llorente
Founding partner and chairman, Llorente & Cuenca

Jose Antonio Llorente
 
Times have been tough for the Spanish public relations industry recently, with the country’s economy suffering more than most as a result of the global economic crisis. A number of industry leaders have responded by looking to the rest of the Spanish-speaking world for growth, none more aggressively than corporate and financial communications specialist Llorente & Cuenca. José Antonio Llorente has the potential to build a strong international network, which already includes 10 offices in Latin America, but there will be strong competition from both Anglo-Saxon agencies and local Latin American agencies.—PH

Marc Mathieu
Senior vice president of marketing, Unilever

Marc Mathieu
 
Reputation and brand are becoming increasingly intertwined, and the communications and marketing functions are converging. Nowhere is this change more apparent than at consumer products giant Unilever, which in recent years has created a number of great issues-driven, integrated campaigns for its brands (Dove Real Women, Dirt Is Good) and last year launched its first corporate ad campaign, focusing on its Project Sunlight CSR initiative. Marc Mathieu is regarded by many as the architect of Project Sunlight, and a proponent of a new model of engagement between brands and consumers, one in which purpose matters as much as product. If Unilever’s efforts are rewarded in the marketplace, that model could become the new norm.—PH
 
Robert Phillips
Co-founder, Jericho Chambers


Robert Phillips

After spending more than a year trolling sensitive industry types with his claim that ‘PR is dead’, former Edelman EMEA CEO Phillips’ book of the same name publishes later this month. An advance copy suggests that it is, unsurprisingly, well written and eruditely argued, but there is little to indicate an industry that is in grave peril. Instead, Phillips makes the eminently sensible case for the end of spin and an embrace of authentic, transparent communication — ideas that should not surprise anyone who has observed the evolution of public relations in recent years. Whether the big networks are best-placed to make this progression is another question, and one Phillips tackles with much relish, presumably to the chagrin of his former Edelman colleagues. Regardless, Phillips is a big thinker and his ideas ultimately help, rather than hurt, the PR industry. A confident and vibrant profession would do well to keep him inside the tent rather than setting him up as a kind of bete noire who must be opposed at all costs.—AS

David Plouffe
SVP of policy and strategy, Uber


David Plouffe
 
A number of former White House communications professionals have built great careers in PR, both in agencies (the late Frank Mankiewicz and Jody Powell) and on the client side (Leslie Dach) and Obama veteran David Plouffe has the communications smarts and business savvy to join them. Joining Uber in August, he chose a role that will challenge the crisis communications skills he honed on the campaign trail and in government: Uber has spent much of the latter half of the year lurching from one difficult situation (threatening to smear a female journalist who wrote critically about the company) to another (defending its pricing policy during the holiday period). Like many tech innovators before it, Uber will need to make the transition from combative challenger to industry leader, and Plouffe will play a major role in setting the tone.—PH
 
Paul Taaffe
CEO, Huntsworth Group plc


Paul Taaffe

Once dubbed the ‘boy wonder’ upon taking charge of Hill+Knowlton’s London office before he had turned 30, Paul Taaffe cuts an older, wiser figure now after his dramatic exit from WPP in 2011. A four-year stint as Groupon’s comms chief will come to a close in April when Taaffe becomes Lord Chadlington’s successor as Huntsworth CEO. The UK group has struggled in recent years, and much will depend on Taaffe’s ability to reinvigorate the company’s collection of agencies.—AS

Melissa Waggener
CEO, president and founder, Waggener Edstrom


Melissa Waggener
 
Something seems to happen to PR firms when they hit $100 million—if they can’t diversify internationally and in terms of expertise, they stall. That’s what happened to Waggener Edstrom, which has been describing itself as “multiservice” and “integrated” for years now but is still widely viewed by others as a tech agency, still too closely associated with its longtime marquee client Microsoft, and still subject to constant speculation about possible buyers. Through it all, Melissa Waggener’s leadership has remained principled and clear-eyed, and the company has continued to focus on innovation (both internally and as a focus on its client work), but there is a feeling that this year will be a watershed, one in which WagEd must convince the outside world that it has a rich future as well as a storied past.—PH

Arthur Wei
VP & CMO, Lenovo Group


Arthur Wei

China’s Lenovo saw its sales growth stall in 2014, as its efforts to compete with international tech brands were hampered by domestic rivals such as Xiaomi. But big things are expected in 2015, following the company’s acquisition of Motorola’s handset division and IBM’s server unit. After ushering in a successful new brand positioning for the company, CMO Arthur Wei has a critical role: convincing international consumers of Lenovo’s brand credentials, while fighting off competition at home, as it aims to reach $100bn in revenues.—AS

Jim Wilkinson
SVP, head of international corporate affairs, Alibaba Group


Jim Wilkinson

Many Chinese companies are attempting to expand overseas, but few appear to be taking their global reputation as seriously as Alibaba, which hired former Pepsico exec Jim Wilkinson to oversee corporate affairs last year, ahead of the company’s landmark IPO. So far, the strategy appears to be paying off, with Alibaba winning plaudits for its efforts to build a cohesive global brand. Still, as many of its Chinese peers are only too aware, it is unlikely to be all plain sailing, and Wilkinson has a key role ensuring that Alibaba’s global reputation continues to trend upwards.—AS

Holly Zheng
President, BlueFocus International


Holly Zheng

After buying three international firms in barely a year, Chinese communications group BlueFocus’ global ambitions are clear. The acquisitions of We Are Social, Fuseproject and Vision7 (along with the group’s 20% stake in Huntsworth) indicate that CEO Oscar Zhao’s Western market growth strategy is accelerating nicely. Recruited to oversee these efforts last year was Holly Zheng, on whom much responsibility now falls. Zheng, who is based in San Francisco, reports directly to Zhao and is charged with expanding BlueFocus in North America and Europe, via acquisitions, partnerships and organic growth. Backed by a considerable war chest, the former Marvell comms exec is likely to find herself a fairly popular figure in independent agency circles.—AS
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