FleishmanHillard revamps media relations practice, puts Laura Russo at helm

Fleishman is refreshing its media relations practice by standardizing best practices, partly by implementing a media certification program.

Laura Russo
Laura Russo

ST. LOUIS: FleishmanHillard has selected Laura Russo to lead and modernize its media relations practice, effective immediately.

Russo, who has been named global MD, media relations, reports to New York GM Ephraim Cohen. She is based in New York. The practice is in the process of developing a certification program and analytics tool.

"The goal is to modernize the practice and inject some fresh thinking," said Russo, who has been with Fleishman since 2007 as SVP and senior partner. "I’m also putting together a cabinet of senior media people across the network."

SVP Chelsey Watts added via email that the leadership team will include appointed regional heads.

The agency’s more than 400 media relations employees will "operate as a global newsroom, identifying trends, and putting together packages of content to help clients share their stories," according to a statement.

Steve Naru, who is now Burson-Marsteller’s MD and head of U.S. media relations, previously held a "similar role" at Fleishman, Watts said. His title at Fleishman was SVP, senior partner, and global media relations practice leader, according to his LinkedIn profile. Naru left Fleishman in 2014.

"[Russo] and other leaders in the network had been filling the gap [since Naru departed] while we formulated our reimagined approach," Watts said.

Russo explained that the agency wants to revamp its media relations practice by standardizing best practices, partly by implementing a media certification program, which will tailor to specific regions while remaining global.

Fleishman is still determining what criteria of expertise and skills the training courses should meet, and anticipates the program will launch in Q1 of next year. Those helping to develop the program include Fleishman leaders in APAC, EMEA, and the Americas.

The agency is developing a "media identification" tool based on data and analytics, Russo added. Using this "mechanism," Fleishman’s media specialists can map out media strategies and walk clients through step-by-step.

While clients generally push for media placements in top-tier outlets, Russo said she encourages them to also consider other outlets that are "relevant to the audiences they’re trying to reach."

Russo also explained that she will expand upon executive media training, which will include "meet the media" sessions, among other things. She will integrate a "firm-wide standard" for media training and "ensure [the agency] is leveraging client stories across paid, earned, shared, and owned channels," a statement added.

Russo said she believed this would be a timely addition as earned media continues to demonstrate its importance and as the generational gap in traditional versus more modern PR skill sets widens.

Previously, Russo built and led Fleishman’s national media relations team that was based in New York. Her first stint with Fleishman occurred between 1998 and 2004, as SVP, before she stepped away for personal reasons and did freelance work from home, she said. Russo also held senior media relations roles at Edelman, AgitProp, and The Softness Group, according to her LinkedIn profile.

In late October, Fleishman announced it had also revamped its business development function and named Della Sweetman as chief business development officer, a new role. The agency named Mike Cearley global MD, social and innovation that same month. A few months prior, Fleishman promoted Clinton veteran Kris Balderston to president of global public affairs.

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