ATLANTA: Cohn & Wolfe is planning to close its Atlanta office -
where the agency was founded - on November 30, and fold its Washington,
DC office into Burson-Marsteller's public affairs practice at year's
The closure is part of an effort by C&W to refocus on its historic
strength in consumer marketing, and to ensure, according to CEO Steve
Aiello, "that the agency is a nimble, responsive, unbureaucratic
Aiello admitted that, in this vein, C&W no longer sees itself as
competing directly with the largest agencies, which include its WPP
brethren Burson-Marsteller, H&K, and Ogilvy.
The decision was "difficult emotionally, but easy in business terms,"
said Aiello, adding, "it simply made sense in terms of making our
investments pay and refocusing on our responsive, measurable, collegial
Nevertheless, Atlanta PR pros were shocked. For most of its 30-year
history, C&W was considered the vanguard of PR in the Southeast. Five
years ago, it was number one in the market, and last year was still
number five on the PRWeek Atlanta Agency Rankings list, with revenues of
The operation had hit a rough patch, however, suffering two straight
years of leadership and client losses. The departure of founder and
chairman Bob Cohn and former Atlanta chief Jim Overstreet in 2000 was
the first blow. It was followed by the defection of GM Tony DeMartino
and several top execs early this year.
Cohn sold the firm to Burson in the early '80s, and the headquarters was
moved to New York. "Over the years, (New York) never invested in this
marketplace as Ketchum has done so skillfully," claimed Cohn.
This is the third major-market C&W office to close. The Chicago and
Sydney, Australia offices were shut down earlier this year. Aiello said,
"I cannot guarantee that there won't be more restructures as we go
The two remaining Atlanta clients, Hilton and PGA of America, will be
managed out of the LA and New York offices, respectively.