All you need to know about the momentum at Rowland Worldwide can be summed up in the following statistic: in 1989, Rowland was the fifth largest public relations agency in the world, with revenues of around $50million, while Fleishman-Hillard ranked seventh, with less than $40 million in fees; eleven years later, Fleishman-Hillard is in a virtual tie for first place, with $300 million, while Rowland has slipped to 19th, its fees still around the $50 million level. In other words, Rowland has neither speed nor mass, the two components of momentum. As a result, Rowland is rarely a finalist in the largest pitches, although it has picked up some good business in the past 12 months, from companies including Toyota, Guidant, Bausch & Lomb, and Marine Services Co.
Rowland’s headquarters office in New York is by far its largest, accounting for $25 million in revenues and ranking seventh in the world’s largest PR market. It has particular strength in business-to-business marketing, as well as respectable healthcare and corporate/crisis practices. But after that, it’s hard to find a significant market where Rowland is a real player. Its offices in Los Angeles and Minneapolis have been allowed to fade away, so now its only other two domestic operations are in third or fourth-tier markets such as Wilmington—headquarters to the agency’s flagship client, DuPont—and Rochester, home of the former Saatchi & Saatchi Business Communications unit.
It’s an indication of how low Rowland has fallen that its parent company was quite content to sell off three major overseas markets in 2000, including London, once the second largest operation outside of New York; Milan; and Sydney—all of which fell into Edelman’s hands. What does that leave? Pretty slim pickings.
As far as traditional public relations practice areas are concerned, Rowland continues to deliver fine work in the business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing segments, in healthcare (particularly in the OTC pharmaceuticals arena), and to a lesser extent in technology. It also has a solid corporate and crisis communications unit, headed by veteran counselor Tony Katz, and an alliance with IR firm Lippert Heilshorn that gives it financial communications capabilities. But where the agency has real breadth of expertise is in non-traditional areas, having added an impressive creative department, advertising and direct mail capabilities, and developed products for point-of-sale communications.
Rowland’s strategic approach (see Intellectual Leadership, below) requires a high concentration of senior counseling talent, and the firm is limited by the size of its leadership team, which includes CEO Mark Weiss and lieutenants Katz and Laura Sturtz, as well as healthcare practice leader Maria Sweeney. The firm has been attempting to add more talent at the senior level, bringing in former Siegalgale consultant Larry Oakner as executive VP and recruiting a host of more junior people. But there have been departures too, most notable Donna Ramer, a senior figure in the healthcare group, who joined Makovsky & Co.
As Rowland has fallen farther and farther behind its once-rivals, agencies like Fleishman and Ketchum and Ogilvy, it has become increasingly difficult to attract the best and the brightest people, and Rowland has done very little to create the kind of strongly differentiated culture that might act as a magnet for talent. The benefits policies and work-life balance initiatives are all very much in line with industry practices, but there’s no special Rowland “feel.”
Three or four years ago, Rowland CEO Mark Weiss unveiled the agency’s new Point of Entry communications methodology, an approach that appeared to provide all of Rowland’s work with a solid intellectual foundation, an approach that de-emphasized publicity for publicity’s sake and theoretically opened up a larger toolbox. The approach was sound, and when companies have allowed Rowland to execute—as companies like DuPont and the Recycled Paperboard Alliance have—it has proven highly effective. In 2000, the firm unveiled yet another smart product, offering “accelerated market development” for companies and brands. Again, it’s a sound intellectual approach—based in research and with measurable results—one that suggests Rowland delivers good strategic thinking. But why are there so few takers?
When Rowland gets the chance, it can still shine, as it has done so successfully for clients such as DuPont (particularly in the agricultural realm) and Canon in recent years. The firm has also developed an expertise in working with entrepreneurial technology companies. But it’s Rowland’s recent work on behalf of the 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance that showcase’s the agency’s broad capabilities at their best. Using its “BrandSpanding” approach, Rowland helped the alliance reshape its value proposition and refine its appeal to purchasing decision makers, using a mix of traditional media relations techniques, promotions, and partnerships to help the alliance reach opinion leaders at every point of influence.
Given the firm’s performance in recent years, it’s no surprise that the Rowland brand has been somewhat tarnished—a combination of its poor financial performance and lack of growth and its failure to effectively communicate the things that really do make it different from its competitors. The Rowland name is still one of the best-known in the industry—it has a proud heritage that goes back 40 years—but ask senior communicators or marketers what Point of Entry means and where it originated and the chances are you’ll get nothing but blank stares in return. Rowland needs to do for its methodologies what Burson-Marsteller did for its “perception management” approach.
While the last decade has clearly been a prolonged period of disappointment for Rowland and its followers, the acquisition of parent company Saatchi & Saatchi by French holding company Publicis has to give some cause for optimism, if only because Publicis could not possibly be less supportive. Indeed, Publicis has several other public relations brands, including Publicis-Dialog, the Sciens Worldwide healthcare PR unit of Nelson Communications, and public affairs firm Winner Wagner in Los Angeles. None of those brands alone can compete with the giant international agencies, but together they could be a potent force. In this era of consolidation, at some point someone has to realize the value of merging some of these operations and kick-starting a sleepy operation.