Q&A: Michael Birkin, Huntsworth board member, partner at RPMC

In July, Michael Birkin stepped down as vice chairman and Asia Pacific chairman and CEO at Omnicom and has taken on two new positions this summer: an independent director on the Huntsworth board, and as a partner, owning a 70% stake, in RPMC, an events and experiential marketing company.

In July, Michael Birkin stepped down as vice chairman and Asia Pacific chairman and CEO at Omnicom and has taken on two new positions this summer: an independent director on the Huntsworth board, and a partner, owning a 70% stake, in RPMC, a nearly three decades old events and experiential marketing company based in Los Angeles and London. There, he will work on his third build-up experience with founding partner Murray Schwartz, including opening an office in New York where Birkin will be based. Birkin recently spoke to PRWeek about these changes and how the industry is faring during this recession.

PRWeek: Why did you decide to join Huntsworth's board and join RPMC as partner?

Michael Birkin: My primary initiative this summer has been to resign from Omnicom and take a majority stake in RPMC, which together with my partner Murray Schwartz, we intend to build into a significant global marketing services player using our core service of brand experiences and brand activation and events. The Huntsworth situation is very different. I've known [Huntsworth chief executive] Peter Chadlington for a long time and when he heard I resigned from Omnicom, he approached me and said, "Would you be prepared to come on our board as a non-executive?" Because he's an old friend, and because I think Huntsworth is a very good company, I said yes.

PRWeek: What specifically will you be doing and what responsibilities will you have at RPMC?

Birkin: Having the majority ownership gives me the ability to do a number of things in the company. But I think I can do two things. The first is, from my experience of working around the world on all the major continents, I think I can help globalize the company through the various connections I've made. The second thing I can do is use my experience in managing a variety of marketing services companies to help broaden the services of RPMC into things that are, not completely different, but somewhat distinct from what we are currently doing... We're moving not just from events, where people go to enjoy something, but…everything to do with how a brand is interacting with a public.

PRWeek: How is PR doing compared to other marketing services like advertising? Is it turning around?

Birkin: What I've seen is that PR is holding up quite well, relative to other marketing services in this recession. Unlike the last recession, where PR did a lot worse than it should have done. Big PR firms learned a lot from that experience, and learned that senior people could no longer just be managers, that they had to remain very client-focused... they were better prepared.

The other thing is they are much better this time around in selling the value of their services, as opposed to last time. I felt that they missed [the chance to tell] the value for money that PR provides. I think with both of those, they have done a much better job as a result; I do think PR is in pretty good shape.

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