H&K, GCI expand their digital media operations

NEW YORK: Hill & Knowlton and GCI Group have both recently announced plans to broaden their digital media practices.

NEW YORK: Hill & Knowlton and GCI Group have both recently announced plans to broaden their digital media practices.

H&K has relaunched its interactive practice as H&K Digital, led by SVP Julie Atherton, who joined the firm seven months ago. GCI has unveiled its digital media practice, helmed by Austin, TX-based SVP Paul Walker.

H&K's strategy is to integrate the digital component into the existing practice areas as needed.

"Others [at the agency] understand what it is, but you have to look to the experts to guide you if that's what you need," Atherton said of the structure. "The focus is that we are part of the team, and we are channel agnostic."

The firm has had a digital unit since 1994, but had not packaged it as a separate entity, noted chairman MaryLee Sachs, to whom Atherton reports. Sachs said that, in addition to the firm's corporate and public affairs practices, H&K Digital will expand in marketing, specifically within consumer-generated media.

Sachs has tasked Atherton with "redefining the group to meet the challenges of a changing marketing environment - to 'pull' or permission-based marketing versus traditional 'push' marketing," she said.

GCI's Walker has been working with Whole Foods Market, Dell, Women's Tennis Association, and Intercontinental Hotels Group on digital initiatives since he joined GCI in April. GCI helped Whole Foods launch a podcast that became iTunes' most downloaded food podcast, said Walker.

"It was an eye opener for them, being ranked above Bon Appetit and NPR," he noted. "They could speak directly to consumers, versus going through the filter."

Walker, who has worked as a venture capitalist and CEO of b-to-b online service company Snap, called digital media the "model of the future" that would change PR.

The practice's current focus is on existing clients, but Walker has begun talking with other companies.

"This will transform branding, marketing development, and sales," Walker said. "Agencies that don't have this will grow slower, and some may fail."

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