NEW YORK — Weber Shandwick is stepping up plans to launch an office in Cuba, after obtaining a specific US Department of Treasury licence that authorizes the PR firm to pursue operations in the country.

The licence enables Weber Shandwick to proceed with discussions with the Cuban government to secure the relevant permissions to establish an office in Havana. Weber Shandwick's move into Cuba would make it one of the first marketing services company to launch in the country, and comes ahead of President Obama's historic visit to Cuba next week.

Last year, Burson-Marsteller established a Cuba-specific practice ahead of WPP's efforts to commence trading operations in the country. Under a contract with the state-owned Palco Group, WPP now has a permanent executive based in Havana who is backed by a local support team. In addition, Moscow PR firm Rose launched services in Havana at the start of this year.

While the US trade embargo with Cuba remains in place, President Obama — and numerous other businesses — are attempting to kickstart business relationships with the country. Accordingly, Weber Shandwick is seeking to establish a presence in Havana to provide counsel to clients that can do business legally in Cuba.

"We are delighted to be one important step closer to our goal of opening an office in Havana," said Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick. "Communications is the currency for change, and for a global firm such as ours, this is a unique opportunity to facilitate engagement at this historic pivot point in US-Cuba relations."

The licence granted by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department gives permission for Weber Shandwick to "engage in all transactions necessary to establish and maintain" an office in Cuba, including marketing its services, employing professionals, and opening and maintaining an account at a financial institution in Cuba. Weber Shandwick has submitted an application to the Cuban government, and is awaiting an invitation for an official visit with Cuban authorities.
"President Obama’s leadership in reestablishing US diplomatic relations with Cuba has created a high level of interest from US companies and organizations wanting to engage with the Cuban people," said Micho Spring, a Cuban-American and chair of Weber Shandwick’s global corporate practice. "Our goal is to open an office to help our clients do this as soon as it is legally permissible."