Cohn & Wolfe is slowly emerging as a player to beat under the leadership of CEO Imperato

Cohn & Wolfe is seldomly acknowledged as a serious competitor by the top 10 PR firms.

Cohn & Wolfe is seldomly acknowledged as a serious competitor by the top 10 PR firms.

The agency's last known revenues, reported in 2002, were $33.7 million, down 19% from the previous year. PRWeek reported at the time that C&W was feeling the pain of the downturn "rather more keenly than some of [its] rivals." Now, at a time when we can only guess at a firm's financial performance, we must rely primarily on anecdotal evidence. The feeling about C&W right now is that it's a hot shop. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell calls it "probably our fastest growing PR operation," with "relatively focused operations geographically and functionally." C&W was also singled out for its strong growth by the company's CFO during an analyst call. Predictable words from the holding company, but Hewlett-Packard client Ryan Donovan, director, analyst and public relations, agrees that the buzz is good, and that the client experience maps to it. He calls his account lead, SVP Claudia Carasso, "one of the best people I've ever worked with in PR." Carasso, previously at Fleishman-Hillard, is one of a slew of key hires that C&W CEO Donna Imperato has made over the past year, including Michael O'Brien as New York GM (formerly at Ketchum), and boomerang hire Sherri Jaffe heading up the newly reopened Chicago office. Of course, the firm also had a significant loss when healthcare head Kathryn Metcalfe decamped to Novartis. It's easier to enumerate the successes - including such account wins as Intellisync, the leading WPP role on Pfizer's cardiovascular line, and Genentech - than it is to explain them. While still heavy into healthcare, C&W is successfully moving business outside that brief, and there is a palpable energy swirling around the firm. Now two years into the job, Imperato must certainly claim much of the credit for infusing C&W with some of her uniquely aggressive and competitive spirit, and her intense client focus. She has a transparently ferocious appetite for winning, which probably drives fellow WPPers and competitors nuts, but that kind of take-no-prisoners passion may have been a tonic for the recession-weary troops. Howard Paster, EVP at WPP, believes that C&W proves itself by listening, understanding, and responding to a client's real needs. Rip Gerber, CMO of Intellisync, agrees, lauding the firm's competitive mettle. "There was a real hunger for the business, a hunger to succeed and win. That was a big attraction," he says. "We're not their biggest client, but they make us feel like we're the most important." How well C&W sustains and builds on recent buzz will be something firms of all sizes will be watching. CEOs know media is just part of their job Neville Isdell, who was named CEO of Coca-Cola last June, believes "it is important to talk with the media, and I expect to continue giving interviews throughout my tenure as CEO." Isdell was responding to questions posed to highlight the results of the PRWeek/Burson-Marsteller CEO Survey, featured in this issue. "These are challenging times, and it is critical for business leaders to continue to participate in a dialogue with the media." Alas, not all CEOs believe this to be true. Part of the mission of the PR leader is to make the case for openness until it is heard. - Julia Hood

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