Porter Novelli is expected to report global revenue growth of about 25 percent, or around $270 million in fees, with U.S. growth at 40 percent (half of it organic) and domestic fees closing in on $145 million. The consumer practice has added Red Lobster, Toyota, and Best Foods, while the convergence group has picked up Worldcom and Nextel, among others, and the healthcare practice won assignments from Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Astra-Zeneca, Roche, and Wyeth. New corporate accounts include GE Capital and FT.com, while the firm is handling public affairs programs for the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, Physicians Leadership on National Drug Policy, and The Aspen Institute. The only significant losses were Nissan, Iomega, and Baskin-Robbins.
Geographic expansion has been driven by the C&B merger, which added considerable strength in both Boston and San Francisco, and a presence in Atlanta. The merger also provided a shot in the arm to PN’s Chicago business, previously focused on the consumer marketing arena but now offering a healthy tech practice, supplemented by the acquisition of local agency EBS. Three additional offices—in Raleigh, Austin, and Phoenix—have been opened since the merger. Meanwhile, Porter Novelli’s core operations in New York and Washington, D.C., are still among the leaders in their respective markets. Despite some improvement, the Los Angeles office is still a weakness, as it is for many out of town agencies.
Porter Novelli’s international operations are not the tidiest in the world, but despite a decentralized approach, the agency has been investing in a strong central brand and shared values and standards, and with offices in 93 cities and 52 countries, PN has one of the strongest international operations—particularly in Europe, where the U.K. operations (Countrywide Porter Novelli) are among the best in the market. Unfortunately, the other European powerhouse, Germany’s Kohtes & Klewes, is now a separate brand, leaving a significant rebuilding job ahead in the most important market in continental Europe. But the Latin American region is growing, thanks to major assignments from Hewlett-Packard and Procter & Gamble. The agency’s network in the Asia-Pacific region has not yet been developed to similar levels, accounting for less than $10 million in fees, or about 3 percent of worldwide revenues. PN is increasing the number of accounts it handles on a global basis, with clients such as Gillette, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer and PricewaterhouseCoopers using the agency in at least two regions and five countries.
The key accomplishment of the last year has been the integration of the former Copithorne & Bellows into the Porter Novelli Convergence Group, giving PN a healthy, branded presence in the technology sector, after years of relying on C&B and sister company Brodeur to deliver tech expertise. The tech group is now the agency’s largest, accounting for about one-third of revenues, followed by the consumer and healthcare practices (22 percent and 19 percent respectively), which have long provided the solid foundation of Porter’s success. National PA capabilities were boosted by the addition of California-based Nelson Communications, which complements both existing Washington operations and last year’s acquisition Goddard-Claussen. Healthcare has always been a strength, whether it’s traditional pharmaceutical PR or social marketing in Washington, and the agency’s consumer work is excellent. The corporate practice has grown considerably in recent years, but its small in comparison to the agency’s other practices and doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
The integration of C&B into the Porter Novelli Convergence Group resulted in some fallout, with longtime C&B partners Mel Webster and Rob Moore leaving the firm early in 2000, but agency founder Dave Copithorne has flourished in the new organization, first as leader of the merger team and more recently in a new agency-wide role. Other C&B executives with expanded roles include Steve Jursa and Gary Stockman. Significant new hires include Paula McMartin, formerly senior VP at Cairns & Associates, in the New York consumer practice; Shandwick veteran John Jordan as the head of a new convergence practice in Washington, D.C.; and food and nutrition expert Gary Silbar, who most recently headed his own Chicago-based agency. The only departures of note, apart from the C&B partners, were Tom Goodwin, who joined public affairs specialist Hawthorn, and Julie Schumacher, who took a leadership role at Vorhaus.
In addition to international transfers—20 in the last 18 months—the agency also has more employees working from home, and more working flexible hours as it strives to maintain its reputation as one of the best places to work in the public relations business. Bob Druckenmiller’s leadership style is relaxed and easy-going, and has helped to create a workplace in which collaboration and teamwork are the key to success.
Porter Novelli’s leadership in healthcare and consumer marketing has been underscored by research that has developed psychographic profiles of customers in each marketplace, giving the agency an insight into the mindset of its audience and helping more precisely target its efforts. Copithorne & Bellows, meanwhile, has long maintained what may be the best product review lab in the technology industry, designed to help companies prepare for the product review process. Since the merger, PN’s consumer clients such as Gillette and Polaroid have been able to take advantage of this unique resource. Also on the technology front, PN has emerged as a leader in applying technology to its client service approach, building more than 70 extranets to help clients share information with their account teams.
Once again, Porter Novelli’s most notable programs were high-profile consumer marketing assignments such as the launch of Gillette’s new Venus razor for women or Polaroid’s teen-marketing initiative, including the company’s sponsorship of Britney Spears. Or they were healthcare programs, such as its award-winning anti-smoking campaigns, its work for the National Network for Immunization, or on the public affairs side its ongoing efforts on healthcare reform. Or they were programs for technology clients ranging from established players like Hewlett-Packard to upstart dot-coms like Gay.com.
The Porter Novelli brand lacks neither familiarity nor favorability—it’s well known in the consumer marketing and healthcare arenas in particular, while the Convergence Group has quickly established a name for itself in the technology arena, making the transition from the Copithorne & Bellows name almost seamless. But Porter Novelli is suffering from the homogenization that is a problem for all the major agencies: as they grow larger and offer a wider range of services, it’s increasingly difficult for any of them to differentiate themselves dramatically.
Porter Novelli was overtaken as the largest of Omnicom’s three public relations brands this year, thanks to spectacular growth at Fleishman-Hillard and the loss of its own German affiliate, but it is still clearly one of the top tier agencies, both domestically and internationally, and it will continue to get whatever support it needs from its parent company. Moreover, with the elevation of David Copithorne to an agency-wide role, it now appears that a succession plan is in place, and that should strengthen the firm going forward.