Hill+Knowlton Strategies: Agency Business Report 2014

Nearly four years after Hill & Knowlton merged with sister agency Public Strategies to rebuild its business in the US, Hill+Knowlton Strategies' headway in the region is still a work in progress.

US president and CEO Andy Weitz
US president and CEO Andy Weitz

Principals: Jack Martin, global chairman and CEO; Andy Weitz, US president and CEO (pictured)
Ownership: WPP
Subsidiary agencies: Public Strategies, Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, Blanc & Otus, Soho Partners, PBN Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Dewey Square Group, Group SJR, Scangroup
Offices: Global: 94 wholly owned; US: 17
Revenue: Global: $350 million to $400 million; US: $100 million to $150 million
Headcount: Global: 2,250 to 2,500; US: undisclosed

Nearly four years after Hill & Knowlton merged with sister agency Public Strategies to rebuild its business in the US, Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ headway in the region is still a work in progress amid another leadership transition.

However, while holding company WPP’s PR and public affairs revenue dropped 1.7% last year, 2013 was the strongest in the past five years for H+K’s US operations, says US president and CEO Andy Weitz.

"We’ve learned a lot in the last three years," he adds. "It’s been a long process of getting the right people in, the proper tools, and striving to play a more strategic advisory role with our clients." 

Last June, former US president and CEO Dan Bartlett left to become EVP of corporate affairs at Walmart. The firm promoted Weitz, who previously served as US COO and co-chair of the global corporate advisory practice, to replace him.

"I had the benefit of familiarity and the opportunity to think about what we wanted to do differently," says Weitz, who is based in Austin, TX.

Other personnel changes included David Bowen, who took over last July as head of the global healthcare practice, and Drew Levinson, who joined as SVP in the US media relations practice. Earlier this year the firm promoted Tali Mackay to lead the US healthcare division.

Michael Kehs returned as head of its Houston office and US energy practice. W2O Group’s Craig Alperowitz joined H+K as US marcomms practice leader, succeeding Sergio Morales, who left the firm. Jeff Eller, EVP and co-chair of the agency’s global crisis practice left last month to advise General Motors over its recall problems.

Digital offering
Seeking to boost its digital and content creation offering, H+K acquired Group SJR last June, appointing the boutique firm’s managing partner Alexander Jutkowitz as vice chairman and chief global strategist. The firm, which specializes in content creation, audience development, and insights and analytics, works with clients such as Dell, GE, and Target.

In the tech sector, the firm won business from VMware, a former OutCast Agency client; LG Electronics in Asia; and Informatica. As part of WPP agency coalition Team Detroit, the agency expanded work with Ford in financial communications.

Shell also hired the agency for corporate work in the US and Europe. Canada was another bright spot for the agency, with account wins in the country such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and Whirlpool.

H+K stopped working with Salesforce in the US in February after deciding not to participate in an RFP. Its Qualcomm and CA Technologies accounts were out to pitch, as of press time.

Outside the US, H+K faced challenges in Asia after losing the HP China business in 2012. After spinning off its China operations into a separate division in early 2013, the agency reversed that decision by unifying all 16 offices in Asia-Pacific into one regional structure reporting to chairman Vivian Lines.

Latin America also underperformed in 2013, partly due to a lack of large "anchor clients" in the region, Weitz explains. He says expanding business in the region is a priority for H+K this year.

Africa is a "big part of [the firm’s] expansion plan," Weitz says. Last summer Brand South Africa rehired the agency for a three-year global contract. In early 2014, the firm launched H+K Access, a service providing communications support for Chinese companies operating in Africa. H+K sees great potential for growth in this area because China is the continent’s largest single investor and aid donor, committing $75 billion in the past decade.

With these global expansion efforts in mind, H+K launched a global mentorship program that partners staffers with employees in other regions.

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