When Omnicom goes looking for public relations acquisitions, its targets are typically multinationals such as Fleishman-Hillard and Ketchum. But Omnicom will occasionally spend big bucks on a boutique, particularly if that boutique is a clear leader in its niche, and if that niche has the potential for rapid growth and the ability to add a new dimension to the holding company’s portfolio of services. Presumably, that’s why Omnicom decided last year to buy Boston-based Cone, which enjoys a reputation as one of the most creative public relations firms in the country and as the clear leader in the expanding field of cause-related marketing.
The mission at Cone is “Building 21st Century Brands,” and the agency accomplishes that mission by providing in-depth expertise in cause branding and interactive marketing as well as more traditional public relations services: marketing communications, media relations, and sports marketing. Cone is one of a handful of midsize PR firms that consistently creates “signature programs” for blue-chip clients, programs that serve as a platform not only for PR activity but also for the company’s positioning with consumers, employees, and a wide range of other stakeholders. Examples include cause branding programs such as ConAgra’s Feeding Children Better initiative and Gillette’s Women’s Cancer Connection, as well as programming for Timberland, Jiffy Lube, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
The firm has also established itself as a pioneer in the Internet arena, through its New York office and Cone Interactive subsidiary, which is equally adept at launching new media start-ups and working with established companies extending their brand presence to the Internet. The firm has worked with pioneers such as About.com and iVillage, and current clients include BMGMusicService.com, SmartMoney.com, and Shop.org.Revenues for 2000 are expected to top $12 million, representing a 25 percent increase over 1999—with much of the growth coming from cross-selling opportunities created by the Omnicom deal.
But Cone continues to add its fair share of new business from other sources, including Target, Fidelity, Sports Illustrated, and Washington Mutual in the cause branding arena; BMG and CondeNet in interactive; and Sylvania and Jiffy Lube for marketing communications. Key new hires include Rich Goldblatt, a former Fleishman-Hillard and Edelman executive who is a new senior VP in the interactive group, and VPs Bill Fleishman, Denise Keyes, Jennifer Murray, and Julie Fenton.