The world’s most prominent and most successful financial public relations firm, Kekst and Company, could just as easily have become a fashion PR specialist. At least, that’s the way its founder, Gershon Kekst, tell it. After leaving Ruder Finn, where he had spent most of the 60s, Kekst founded his own firm in 1970. “the first deals that came to us were financial,” Kekst told The New York Times in 1989. “If the first deals had been with the fashion industry, I think it’s fair to say that we’d be a fashion PR firm”.
In reality, it’s hard to imagine that Kekst would have been satisfied for long pitching stories about shorter hemlines and higher heels to women’s magazines. He would surely have found his way – sooner rather than later – into the C-suite, which is where he adds the greatest value, providing the kind of insight, wisdom, and strategic counsel few in the PR industry can match.
Those are the qualities that have helped keep Kekst at the top of his niche – the most lucrative and competitive in the industry – for close to four decades, during which time many rivals have come and gone. In the 70s and early 80s , Kekst found himself battling against investor relations specialists at Hill & Knowlton and Adams & Rinehart; in the 80s and 90s, a new generation of firms – many of them spun-out of A&R – sprang up; more recently, the firm has found itself competing with global M&A specialists such as AMO, Brunswick, Citigate Dewe Rogerson, and FD.
Through it all, Kekst has been a pioneer. He helped to invent modern M&A communications when – working alongside frequent partner Joseph Flom, a partner with the law firm of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom – he created the so-called “Jewish dentist” defense, mobilizing the customers of dental equipment manufacturer Sterndent to oppose an attempted takeover. It was the first time the grassroots techniques of public relations had been employed to turn the tide in a financial transaction.
For the next 40 years, the firm remained a leader in the financial communications arena, topping the U.S. ranking of M&A advisors consistently while Kekst diversified its range of services to include broader investor relations, crisis and issues management, corporate reputation and employee communications counsel, insulating Kekst and Company against market fluctuations. He also built up a senior leadership team of unprecedented depth, many of whom – Lawrence Rand, James Fingeroth, Jeffrey Taufield, Robert Siegfried – have been with the firm for almost all of its four decades in business.
In July of last year, Kekst and Company was sold to the Publicis Groupe, a Kekst client for more than 20 years. According to Maurice Levy, chairman and CEO of Publicis: “Kekst and Company is the premier strategic and financial public relations firm in the world with a client base that is second to none. Its well-earned reputation reflects the cumulative judgment and experience of professionals who have been at the center of many of the most high-profile, complex business communications challenges over the past three and a half decades. Whether advising clients on how to handle a crisis or how to maximize an opportunity, there simply is no other financial communications firm in the world like Kekst and Company.”
The son of a Hebrew teacher, Kekst, was born and raised in Salem, Mass., and educated at the University of Maryland, where he majored in psychology and developed an interest in radio journalism. “I didn’t want to be just a radio broadcaster, I wanted to be Edward R. Murrow,” he once told reporters. He soon realized that wasn’t going to happen, and so he joined Ruder Finn.
In addition to his role at Kekst and Company, Gershon Kekst is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He also serves as a Member of the Board of Trustees of Brandeis University and is Chairman of The Board of The Jewish Theological Seminary. He continues in his role as Chairman Emeritus of The Weizmann Institute of Science.