MSLGroup US: Agency Business Report 2015

MSLGroup experienced a "slight tailing off" of global revenue and slight single-digit decline in US revenue in 2014.

MSLGroup North America president Paul Newman
MSLGroup North America president Paul Newman

Principals: Olivier Fleurot, CEO; Paul Newman, president, North America
Ownership: Publicis Groupe
Subsidiaries: Kekst and Company, PBJS, Qorvis MSLGroup, and SalterBaxter MSLGroup
Offices: Global: more than 100 wholly owned; US: 16
Revenue: Global: $450 million to $500 million; US: $150 million to $200 million
Headcount: Global: 3,016; US: 624

MSLGroup experienced a "slight tailing off" of global revenue and slight single-digit decline in US revenue in 2014.

Incoming North America president Paul Newman, who joined the Publicis Groupe agency at the end of March 2014, attributed the latter to leadership transition in the New York office.

Andrew Silver came over to MSL from Edelman in September as New York MD, a position vacant since late 2013 when Joel Curran departed for an in-house comms role at the University of North Carolina.

"Not having a New York MD was a big factor [in the revenue drop]," says Newman. "It was key to have a president in place first before recruiting a New York MD, as they would be working together very closely."

The executive team was also bolstered by Denise Vitola, who was upped to North America consumer practice director in February 2015 and relocated to New York from her role as deputy MD of the agency’s Atlanta office. And Scott Beaudoin, global practice director for corporate and brand citizenship, relocated from Boston to New York. Andrea Morgan, former New York consumer marketing lead for Golin, moved to MSL as SVP in its consumer practice. Gailanne Grosso joined from Blue Advertising in the newly created role of executive creative director in New York in January.

Linda Recupero left in March 2014 after just a year as SVP and New York corporate practice director to join Nasdaq. And in January 2015, Ogilvy Public Relations tapped SVP Melissa Smith as EVP and New York brand marketing practice director.

Strong NYC operation
New York accounts for 30% of MSL’s US revenue, employing 160 people.

"Having a strong operation there is key for catching assignments from companies in Asia, Latin America, and the UK that want to enter the US market," adds Newman.

Since Silver joined, and in Q4 especially, Newman says there is much stronger momentum in New York, but also across the Midwest, Detroit, Chicago, and Atlanta regions, including content-only assignments in the latter two markets.

Client wins included coconut water brand Zico, and 24 Hour Fitness, as well as AOR assignments for TruGreen and, an "Airbnb for dogs" startup. MSL stopped working with Sealed Air. In Q1 2015, Washingtonbased Qorvis MSLGroup landed a major client – the National Safety Council. It also won a $1 million contract with Libya.

MSL continued to do "strong work" for PayPal, Netflix, and Procter & Gamble. Its P&G/Always Like a Girl effort won multiple honors at the PRWeek US Awards, including Campaign of the Year.

Globally, automotive is MSL’s biggest industry segment, with CPG the largest revenue stream in North America. The firm’s main auto client in the US is General Motors, which is serviced out of MSL’s Detroit office, supported by Chicago, New York, and Boston, among others. In early 2014, chief editorial officer and former ABC producer Stephanie Smith was tasked with raising MSL’s content game.

"Everybody needs a strong understanding of content, as well as a handful of specialists who bring those skills to clients when necessary," says Newman.

Notable hires included Carolyn Samuel, who moved from H+K London to become global client engagement director; Jeff Melton was brought on from sister Publicis firm MRY as SVP of global tech and platforms; and Allan Dib from Mediacom as SVP of North America planning insight and analytics.

One boomerang was Aleisia Gibson-Wright, GE Healthcare’s global PR leader for medical diagnostics, who returned in June to the newly created position of SVP and regional client engagement director. Bob Bejan, chief development officer, returned to Microsoft as VP of North America advertising sales and marketing, and Jenny Pigott, CEO of MSL subsidiary PBJS, left to be replaced by Don Lee. Lauren Wesley Wilson left Qorvis MSL in 2015 to concentrate on her ColorComm networking group. 

Jeremy Fielding was promoted to president and CEO of corporate consulting subsidiary Kekst, replacing incumbent Jim Fingeroth, who became executive chairman. Gershon Kekst became chairman emeritus.

MSL’s corporate and brand citizenship practice was the fastest-growing part of the business in 2014. Newman intends to capitalize on this by leveraging the July acquisition of UK sustainability consultancy SalterBaxter with clients in the US.

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