Arun Sudhaman 10 Feb 2017 // 2:30PM GMT
At first glance, Omnicom's decision to make Cone Communications part of Porter Novelli is not exactly trivial, but hardly a groundbreaking development.
Boston-based Cone is one of the smaller players within Omnicom PR Group's (OPRG) stable of 10 PR agencies, and there is enough consumer/CSR collaboration with Porter Novelli (on T-Mobile, The Almond Board of California and Ortholite) to make the shift a relatively logical move. Particularly when you consider that the firm has a much better chance of retaining its identity within Porter than it might inside a bigger beast like FleishmanHillard or Ketchum.
Cone gets access to Porter Novelli's global network, while bringing its CSR expertise into the equation. This kind of collaboration is already the norm among OPRG siblings (like the MMK+ alliance for P&G), so the formal move into Porter Novelli raises long-term questions as to whether Cone will preserve a separate brand and CEO, as Omnicom has insisted it will.
More importantly, perhaps, the decision offers some clues as to how Omnicom PR Group is looking to organize its PR resources — a question that has been keenly discussed since Karen van Bergen took charge of the new sub-group almost exactly one year ago.
In an interview with the Holmes Report last year, van Bergen made it clear that individual agency brands would be preserved, but that more collaboration among firms would be demanded. This move fits both those criteria, but also suggests that OPRG's smaller firms may expect more formal integration into the bigger players within the group.
That is already the case for some firms, like Paul Wilmot Communications' presence as a FleishmanHillard subsidiary, and Ketchum Change's spin-off to become part of DAS agency Daggerwings. For others, notably the more public affairs-focused entities like CLS Strategies, Gplus, Mercury and Portland — this kind of thinking could offer an opportunity or a threat, depending on the perspective of the agency principals involved.
Portland for example, prizes its relative independence, and remains the only Omnicom PR firm to retain its own London premises. Van Bergen and her deputy David Gallagher will no doubt be keenly aware of the balance between carrot and stick as they attempt to persuade their PR firms to work in a more cohesive manner.
Cone's shift into Porter Novelli also signals a clear vote of confidence in Porter Novelli as a standalone brand, itself the subject of considerable speculation given the turbulence at the latter firm over the past decade. Neither should that come as a major surprise; van Bergen spent three years stabilizing Porter Novelli and retains both a fondness for the brand and a clear belief in its potential as the third global PR network alongside FleishmanHillard and Ketchum.
As Omnicom looks to marshal its PR resources more effectively, particularly in smaller markets, there appears to be little doubt that we will see more in terms of both agency consolidation within OPRG, and spin-offs into the broader Omnicom agency family.