ANALYSIS: Profile - For acquisitive Harrison, dollars 1b in PRrevenue is not enough. A quality leather briefcase is what lured ThomasHarrison into the business world. But, as Claire Atkinson finds, there'smore than one reason he stayed

Thomas Harrison has a bull's skull in his office. It's a present

from his broker and a constant reminder of what can happen in business

if you don't adapt.



As chairman and CEO of Omnicom's Diversified Agency Services (DAS),

Harrison has spent the last few years helping steer the ship away from

its reliance on ad revenues towards more recession-resistant marketing

disciplines such as PR and direct marketing.



DAS, which includes PR agencies Fleishman-Hillard, Porter Novelli,

Ketchum, Brodeur and Cone, generated some dollars 3 billion in revenues

in 2000. It is Omnicom's fastest growing and most profitable division,

with PR revenues at almost dollars 1 billion. But the ever-ambitious

Harrison is looking to double that figure.



To achieve this goal, he's looking at a shopping list of around seven PR

firms alone. Though he's reluctant to give any hint of the targets, he

mentions public affairs, lobbying and healthcare as important sectors

for the company. 'We don't feel like PR has topped out yet. It is going

to grow in double digits this year.' (Omnicom's PR revenues in the first

quarter were up 14.2%.)



Harrison says the massive PR land grab of 2000 resulted in many senior

industry executives losing their heads. He won't name names, saying he

never focuses on what the competition is doing. 'I think a lot of people

made decisions in the frenzy of the economy that weren't the best

decisions.'



He excludes himself, saying that Omnicom companies made wise

choices.



Among Fleishman's purchases were KVO, and Greer, Margolis, Mitchell,

Burns & Associates, while Porter Novelli snapped up EBS Public

Relations. Though its purchases were small, Omnicom still managed to top

the list in PRWeek's Agency Rankings 2001 (see insert in this issue) in

terms of total US PR revenues.



Harrison won't discuss how he values PR firms, except to say, 'We look

at a company's fundamentals and client roster, and whether clients are

likely to survive. You make fair deals and you don't pay too little or

too much.'



He explains that every deal is different because the owners' priorities

usually vary, with some interested in long-term earn outs, others

short-term cash payments and succession issues.



Carol Cone, CEO of cause marketing specialist Cone, says she opted to

sell her agency to Omnicom because she wanted to work with inspiring

people like Harrison. 'He is a good listener, a totally engaging person.

We met and he followed up immediately by coming to the Boston

office.'



Harrison has an obvious love of public relations. His office is

decorated with framed clippings from The New York Times, documenting his

moves around the industry.



Harrison started out as a cancer research scientist before hanging up

his lab coat to become a 'corporate dude.' Earlier this year, he told a

group of medical students at West Virginia University, his alma mater,

how catching sight of a pharmaceutical sales rep with a nice leather

briefcase helped him decide to join the commercial world.



Harrison got his start as a business rep for Pfizer (an Omnicom client),

and jokes that he went from cell biology to 'sell biology.' He started

working on Pfizer's least lucrative territory, but quickly grew revenues

because he could relate to doctors on their level.



As a rep, he constantly tried to improve healthcare marketing materials,

and later moved to a healthcare advertising agency, Rolf Werner

Rosenthal, before deciding to go it alone. By 1987 he had launched

Harrison & Star Group, and after expanding the business for five years,

he was approached by current Omnicom CEO John Wren.



Though Harrison rebuffed Wren's advances at first, the two stayed

friends.



And in 1992, Harrison finally succumbed to Wren's purchase offer. The

time of the sale - 11am on December 22, 1992 - 'was a turning point in

my life,' says Harrison. The firm was DAS's 25th acquisition, at a time

when integration and globalization were becoming major issues. He became

president of DAS five years later, and CEO in 1998. DAS now has 127

marketing services firms, and PR is the new frontier.



Even during the past three years, Harrison says clients' attitudes

towards the profession have changed. 'I think they are looking at it in

a whole new light. PR is now much more measurable in terms of return on

investment and value generated.'



But since Omnicom encourages competition, as well as collaboration among

its firms, it is easy to see how its advertising agencies feel the need

to create their own grassroots marketing ventures to avoid giving away

revenues to their corporate siblings. BBDO has set up a multicultural

marketing initiative, the S/R Alliance, which, as yet, does not involve

Omnicom PR agencies. Nevertheless, Harrison has been instituting plans

for a financial incentive package aimed at less senior DAS employees to

get them working together.



The mentor in Harrison is often apparent, from his support of companies

he's bought, to his speech to the medical students. He emphasizes just

how his science background has helped him survive in the corporate

world.



'Psychology will help you in business or your personal life,' he says,

'You have to be able to read people.'



THOMAS HARRISON



1974-1981



Sales rep rising to marketing director, Pfizer Laboratories



1981-1987



AE rising to director of client services, Rolf Werner Rosenthal

Advertising



1987



Starts own healthcare advertising firm Harrison & Star Group



1992-1997



Sells Harrison & Star Group to Omnicom and becomes chairman of

Diversified Healthcare Communications



1997-1998



Joins Diversified Agency Services (DAS) as president and COO



1998-present



Chairman and CEO of DAS.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.