NEW YORK: Burson-Marsteller has appointed Mike Fernandez as chair of its global corporate and financial practice.
Based in New York, Fernandez will oversee client development, strategy, and new offerings for the practice while reporting to global CEO Don Baer.
"I’ve never been in the agency world," Fernandez said. "I bring a fresh pair of eyes to it and that client perspective. On the client side, I have seen it all, basically every crisis from workplace violence to labor strikes to M&A activity. There's not much I haven’t seen in my long career."
Patrick Ford, Burson-Marsteller's worldwide vice chair and chief client officer, was the last executive to have the title of "chair of global corporate and financial" at the firm. Ford was named to the position after Allan Biggar exited in 2005 amid a global management reshuffle.
However, Burson said Fernandez’s new role is a newly created position because of its increased scope of responsibility across industries and geographies.
"It’s a position that in some ways we’re creating for [Fernandez], who has the unique qualifications for it," Baer said. "He’s exactly the kind of person and professional clients like."
Over the course of his career, Fernandez has worked in top comms positions at ConAgra Foods, Cigna, State Farm Insurance, US West, and most recently, Cargill.
"I will understand the pressures [clients] are under, not only with the external pressure they face, but also in terms of how they navigate a matrix organization to get things done," Fernandez said.
Fernandez departed Cargill on June 4 after a six-year tenure. As chief communications officer, he led comms, government relations, brand and marketing, and CSR for the food and agricultural giant, which is the world’s largest private company, according to Forbes.
Fernandez noted he was a Burson client when he worked at US West, Cargill, and Kodak. Earlier in his career, Fernandez was a press secretary for Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-SC).
Fernandez has been named to PRWeek’s Power List numerous times and was a member of the 2015 class of the PRWeek Hall of Fame. He is also on the boards of the Institute for Public Relations and the Arthur W. Page Society.
Baer noted the importance of diversity in PR in today’s era of global integration, and Fernandez said it is a topic of personal importance to him.
"The reality is the client world has increasingly become diverse, and they expect the agencies they engage to be able to deal with the diverse world they’re dealing with as well," Fernandez said.
HP and General Mills have recently asked agencies either competing for or working on their accounts to achieve a certain level of diversity on their rosters. HP CMO Antonio Lucio sent a letter asking the agencies it works with to formulate a plan to increase leadership diversity within a month, and to implement that plan within a year.
"In order to bring the best to our clients, we need to bring the widest possible perspective," Baer said. "[Fernandez] is going to help us with that, as certainly one of the most respected Hispanic comms leaders in the world."