Rowland Communications Worldwide
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Rowland Communications Worldwide

Rowland has been losing momentum steadily for the best part of a decade, failing to grow significantly over a decade when competitors were tripling and quadrupling in size, and nothing happened in 2001 to reverse the trend.

Holmes Report

Rowland has been losing momentum steadily for the best part of a decade, failing to grow significantly over a decade when competitors were tripling and quadrupling in size, and nothing happened in 2001 to reverse the trend, although the firm’s performance was in line with the rest of the industry. New business included assignments from St. Joseph’s aspirin and Guidant Corporation, but it was long-term clients such as Canon, DuPont and Johnson & Johnson/McNeil that provided what growth there was.
National Reach
In recent years, Rowland has consolidated its U.S. operations, closing offices in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, so it was left with its headquarters in New York and satellites in Wilmington (where it serves the DuPont business) and Rochester. But in 2001, after flirting with several acquisitions, Rowland finally picked up a Washington office, thanks to the acquisition by parent Publicis of medical advertising group Nelson and agency president Mark Weiss says the firm is looking at the “medicine chest,” including nutriceuticals, as a potential growth sector.
International Reach
After spinning off its U.K., Italian and Australian operations two years ago, Rowland has a much reduced international network, but it maintains what it calls “integrated communications hubs” in London, Brussels and Geneva and continues to operate in 41 countries—although it doesn’t have significant critical mass in many.
Rowland has always been strong in consumer healthcare, and the Nelson acquisition extended that capability, adding issues management and public policy capabilities in Washington, D.C. It also continues to be a force in business-to-business marketing, particularly in its agribusiness work for DuPont, and has a strong crisis communications unit, led by Tony Katz.
Without any significant support from its parent, Rowland has not been in a position to make investment hires, but it does have a strong core team that has been together now for more than a decade, led by CEO Mark Weiss. Key players include Katz, business-to-business marketing maven Laura Sturtz and healthcare practice leader Maria Sweeney.
Rowland could learn a lesson from Creamer Dickson Basford, another firm that suffered steep declines in the 1990s but was able to turn itself around (it’s now part of Magnet). The turnaround began with the internal culture, with creating a work environment that attracted bright young people with energy and talent. Rowland doesn’t have a strongly defined culture, which makes it difficult to attract the kind of people needed to give the firm the kind of spark it needs.
Intellectual Leadership
Today, every agency has its own proprietary methodology, and most of them are difficult to tell apart. Rowland had one of the first, called Point of Entry communications, and it’s one of the few that is truly distinctive, offering clients a discipline neutral approach that enables them to target the right influencers with the right message.
When medical device company Guidant called in Rowland, it was in trouble: the stock was down 40 percent and takeover rumors were swirling around the company, and there was a cultural bias against proactive communication. Rowland helped steer the company through negative earnings news and a product recall, and then make an impressive comeback. It was a great example of what the agency can do when given a chance, and it makes one wonder what would happen if it was given that chance more often.
The Rowland brand, once one of the most recognizable in the industry, has been allowed to languish in recent years, to the point that it’s difficult to say what the firm stands for. Existing clients continue to regard the agency highly, as evidenced by their loyalty and their willingness to expand their budgets, but there is no “buzz” in the marketplace, and Rowland rarely gets invited to the big dances.
The Future
Most if not all of Rowland’s problems in recent years can be traced to its parent company, which has conspicuously failed to invest in PR the way its larger counterparts have. Rowland has never had the benefit of assignments handed down from its ad agency sister company—for the most part, it doesn’t even get called in to pitch integrated assignments. There was an expectation that might change after Publicis bought Saatchi, but so far there hasn’t been much action. Sooner or later, it seems, Publicis will have to consolidate its PR brands to create a single international entity.
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