Porter and Ketchum show importance of momentum

Momentum is a difficult thing to achieve and it is very easy to let it slip through your fingers, but there's absolutely no doubt it's an elusive elixir to re-attain once you have lost it.

Momentum is a difficult thing to achieve and it is very easy to let it slip through your fingers, but there's absolutely no doubt it's an elusive elixir to re-attain once you have lost it.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the differing fortunes of two Omnicom PR agencies during the past week.

Over at the embattled Porter Novelli, Omnicom last Friday announced that CEO Gary Stockman will leave at the end of July following a four-year tenure at the $140 million agency. Global director of strategy Michael Ramah will act as CEO while a replacement is sought.

Meanwhile, uptown in Manhattan, sister Omnicom shop Ketchum this week revealed Rob Flaherty will assume the CEO role after a long tutelage under incumbent Ray Kotcher, who moves over to become chairman. The glossy video the agency produced to accompany the announcement was positively warm and fuzzy in style as it depicted the strong relationship between the two and the master handing over the reins to the young buck.

Two agencies within the same group: two very different transitions and stages of development - and as Omnicom's Dale Adams, CEO of the group's Diversified Agency Services unit within which both firms sit will no doubt reflect, two agencies at very different ends of the momentum spectrum.

All my dealings with Stockman have been positive and lead me to believe that he is a decent, hard-working, smart guy. His peers in the industry regarded him highly enough to appoint him chair-elect of the Council of PR Firms, a post he will presumably no longer be able to take on.

But as Porter Novelli entered its 40th year it was clear the course of the previous 12 months hadn't been as smooth as it needed to be to secure more time for Stockman to bed in his new team and regain that elusive momentum.

I remember writing in PRWeek's 2011 Editor's Choice feature that it would be a make-or-break year for Porter, but the eye-catching acquisition of well-regarded West Coast tech firm Voce and a surprisingly good performance in Europe wasn't enough to paper over the high turnover of senior staff and the loss of iconic client Procter & Gamble's Gillette brand work to sister firm Ketchum after two decades.

It was telling that P&G chose to continue working with Porter in many other territories around the globe. And with “friends” like the agency's short-lived and differently “wired” CMO Michael Goldberg at his side, Stockman didn't need any more enemies to continue the whispering that inevitably surrounded Porter and its future.

Compare all this to the relatively idyllic situation over at Ketchum, where it has long been a case of when, not if, Flaherty assumes the CEO role and where the agency has benefitted from continuity of leadership that has filtered down into super-solid client relationships and a positive overall atmosphere and philosophy that resulted in it becoming PRWeek Agency of the Year for 2012.

It remains to be seen what Adams and the Omnicom top brass decide to do with Porter and who is charged with steering the firm though this latest stretch of choppy waters, but all parties concerned – and even Flaherty and Kotcher at Ketchum – will reflect that momentum is a precious commodity that needs to be nurtured extremely carefully if it is not to be suddenly extinguished.

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