Hill+Knowlton Strategies - refocused and back on track

A refocus on the U.S. market puts the WPP agency on track for a successful 2017.

Principals: Jack Martin, global executive chairman and CEO; and Beth Balsam, U.S. president and CEO
Ownership: WPP
Subsidiaries: Acertys, Blanc & Otus, Dewey Square Group, Group SJR, Ideal, PBN Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Public Strategies, Soho Partners, Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, and WPP-Scangroup
Offices: Global: 87; U.S.: 12
Revenue: Global: $350 million to $400 million; U.S.: $100 million to $150 million
Headcount: Global: 2,750; U.S.: 660
U.K. revenue: £36 million; Headcount: 310
Asia revenue: $51 million; Headcount: 610

Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ global executive chairman and CEO Jack Martin says a trio of initiatives his firm put into place in recent years — its acquisitions of Group SJR in the U.S. and Ideal in Latin America and its London creative hub — pushed it around the corner in 2016.

"We had one of the best years we’ve had for quite some time," he says. "I was very proud of it."

While the firm’s organic revenue growth was about 2.6% globally, mirroring holding company WPP’s overall PR performance, its creative center in London was up 12%, and Ideal’s revenue jumped 11%. Meanwhile, SJR outpaced both and the agency at large by a mile, with 26% growth, notes Martin.

H+K organized its top 50 clients under EVP and global head of client services Erin Gentry and new business under business development global head Sam Lythgoe. The firm also brought together its presence in New York with its legacy H+K business.

"The U.S. for H+K has candidly been a work in progress for the past several years. The integration of SJR into the U.S., in terms of clients and now cohabitating in the New York office, has been a real plus," Martin explains. "The U.S. in years past has been a tough market for us, but I feel really good about where we’re headed in 2017."

H+K's London office won bronze at Cannes Lions in the mobile category for its work on Adidas' A Valentine from Adidas effort. The campaign, launched on Valentine's Day through Instagram, aimed to take a stand for love between any two people.

The number of agency offices held steady from 2015 to 2016 at 87 total, including 13 in the U.S., and 39 of its offices are led by women, including GM Merrill Davis in Austin; GM Claire Koeneman in Chicago; Samcor president Cori Rice in Miami; U.S. president and CEO Beth Balsam in New York; and GM Ellen Moran in Washington, DC.

In early 2016, H+K acquired Montreal-based Acertys, helping to boost its ability to reach both English- and French-speaking Canadians.

Premium account win
A highlight of last year was Procter & Gamble’s decision to name the WPP agency its first global AOR for corporate communications, besting two other large agencies that also work with the CPG giant. It started work on the global account, which is handled mostly by U.S.-based staff, at the start of 2017. Earlier in 2016, H+K was one of five agencies with which P&G consolidated its PR work, along with Citizen Relations, DeVries Global, MMK+, and MSLGroup.

All Nippon Airways brought on the WPP firm after a competitive process to work on its first U.S. marketing campaign, including a year-long influencer program called Welcome to Experience Class. The agreement grew its relationship with the airline, after serving as its PR AOR in the U.S. for the past three years. In addition, H+K won global work from Huawei and grew its business with Pfizer.

Lee brought on the agency as its AOR to help the jeans company with its first major rebranding campaign in more than 10 years. It also helped the 125-year-old brand market products such as its Dream Jean. Hotels.com picked H+K as its U.S. AOR, growing a relationship that had previously been on a project basis. The firm began handling its day-to-day PR activity and media relations.

Olympic work
H+K won numerous Olympic accounts last year. The British Olympic Association brought on the firm in March 2016 for an integrated comms campaign promoting the country’s athletes before the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro with the slogan "Bring on the Great."

Later in the year, the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games picked the firm as its international PR and communications partner, an 18-month remit.

The agency won its first Cannes Lion in several years on behalf of Adidas for the A Valentine from Adidas campaign.

In September, Facebook reportedly ended its relationship of more than three years with the firm in Hong Kong to partner with Weber Shandwick. While its revenue was up in nearly all regions around the globe, it suffered in Canada due to lower oil prices and a called-off pipeline project.

The U.S. in years past has been tough for us, but I feel good about where we're headed

Jack Martin

The firm reorganized its leadership structure in the Western Hemisphere in 2016 as president of the Americas and CEO Mike Coates announced his retirement after 33 years at the firm. Goldy Hyder, Claudia Gioia, and Balsam, CEOs for Canada, Latin America, and the U.S., respectively, began reporting directly to Martin. Coates had been upped to Americas president and CEO in summer 2014 after serving as chairman and CEO of H+K Canada since 1995.

Tony Hynes moved over from sister WPP firm North of Nine Communications to become CEO of Blanc & Otus in November. Kate Augustine joined H+K early this year as global head of talent. She previously worked as manager of analytics recruiting for the Americas at McKinsey & Co. Among its major hires in 2016 was Nancy Fitzsimmons, previously an MD and corporate health lead at Twist Mktg, as an SVP in its corporate and crisis practice.

It also elevated Joe Householder, formerly a staffer of Public Strategies, to EVP of corporate and crisis, reporting to DC’s Moran and East Coast leader Howard Opinsky. Scott Reed, a top Republican strategist and former executive director of the Republican National Committee, also joined the firm as a senior adviser in DC. Penny Mitchell, a veteran of firms including Dna Communications and FleishmanHillard, joined to lead H+K’s U.S. health practice as an EVP.

H+K added senior leadership in two Asian countries last year, naming QC Liang as president and CEO of China, and Chetan Mahajan as president and CEO of India. The firm further boosted its leadership in India by bringing in Michelle Pereira as MD in Mumbai.

Aside from Coates, significant departures were Radhika Shapoorjee, president and CEO of H+K India; Allison Knaupe, GM of H+K Austin; Anne-miek Hamelinck, EVP of H+K San Francisco; and Ye Yu, EVP of APAC and chairman of China.

Several initiatives from last year doubled down on supporting and elevating women within its ranks. On the day before National Equal Pay Day in April, the firm launched a scheme to examine compensation data within its workplace, and it has supported the HER program across its offices, focused on mentoring and creating a culture that produces female leaders.

H+K launched a behavioral insights and strategies team last year called Smarter, which aims to partner behavioral science theory with research to improve comms. Part of the program is focused on staff behavioral science. It also rolled out its Sherlock+ influencer-mapping dashboard at Cannes.

"I think about 2016 as the first chapter in the rest of the story," Martin says. "We saw it all come together. All of the hard work we put into previous years began to come into focus, and we began to see the results."

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