Porter Novelli - Looking to new areas

Loss of multimillion dollar HP account opened the door for firm to explore - and succeed in - new areas

Principal: Brad MacAfee, CEO
Ownership: Omnicom Group (part of Diversified Agency Services)
Subsidiaries: Cone Communications and Voce Communications
Offices: Global: 35; U.S.: 13
Revenue: Global: $150 million to $200 million; U.S.: $100 million to $150 million
Headcount: Global: 720; U.S.: 510

In September 2016, Porter Novelli lost its largest global account of more than 28 years, a $14 million product and corporate comms remit for HP the Omnicom agency handled with FleishmanHillard. By the end of the year, HP had moved all the PC and printers business over to Edelman.

Characterizing the more than 50 Porter staffers who worked on HP as "some of [the agency’s] best and brightest," CEO Brad MacAfee says: "When they showed up to pitch for different businesses, that was quite attractive to the various clients we secured."

Less than three months later, Porter Novelli had recovered 75% of the lost revenue; within the first two months of 2017, the Omnicom firm had clawed back "all of it and more," MacAfee notes.

The agency scored a slew of tech and consumer wins, most notably the global account for Western Digital, which covers North America, Latin America, EMEA, and APAC. The agency previously handled work for the data storage company’s subsidiaries SanDisk and Hitachi GST. "This happened nearly at the same time as the HP decision," he says. "This was a great win for us as it represents all brands in more than 20 markets."

Pursuing new business
Porter also won eBay’s business in the U.K., FICO in the U.S., Equinix in the U.S. and Mexico, and expanded its work for Amazon. It won eBay’s business in EMEA for B2B and corporate external comms.

"We had a lot of conversations with organizations we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to pursue [because of conflicts with HP]," MacAfee explains. "Some of those haven’t closed yet."

Technology was a close second to the health and wellness practice in terms of revenue growth, by about 1%, he adds.

Parent company Omnicom reported that PR outpaced other growth segments, recording organic growth of 2.8% in 2016, compared to a softer 2015 when group PR revenue was down 1.4% year over year.

"We’re a little more bullish," MacAfee admits,  "as HP’s a big account [loss] to overcome."

The CEO adds only one staffer was laid off. Porter closed its Austin office at the end of 2015, but continues to service the area through its technology practice.

Departures included Matt Ashworth, VP of the tech practice in Seattle, who left the firm to become GM and SVP at WE Communications’ Seattle office.

In 2017, Porter Novelli will move food and nutrition out of consumer into a standalone practice.

We're seeing more opportunities in food and nutrition, and we have a real strength and heritage there

Brad MacAfee

"We’re seeing more opportunities in food and nutrition, and we have a real strength and heritage there," MacAfee notes, adding Porter won business for Heineken in Mexico, Kellogg’s Nutrition Institute in Mexico, and Mars Dolmio in the U.K.

This new structure will be augmented by its quasi-merger with Omnicom sister agency Cone Communications, allowing Porter to tap into Cone’s forte for CSR and consumer. The deal, in which each agency kept their names and Bill Fleishman remained CEO of Cone, extended Cone’s reach into the 60 countries where Porter has a presence. The firms operate integrated teams for clients including T-Mobile USA, the Almond Board of California, and OrthoLite.

Porter raided sister firm Ketchum when Julie Schumacher Ciardiello came over in November as New York MD. Previous incumbent Darlan Monterisi became SVP of corporate comms at CA Technologies last May. Porter also strengthened its health and wellness practice’s leadership by hiring eight senior staffers, such as Maura Bergen as EVP for U.S. pharmaceuticals. It brought on pharma vet Matthew Foster as practice director in London.

"More people are saying health is down, but we’re not seeing that," MacAfee explains. Much of the firm’s 2017 growth has been driven by health and wellness, particularly new global work for GlaxoSmithKline. It also won business in the past year from Eli Lilly in the U.S., Roche in Belgium, Grünenthal in the U.K., and expanded its remit for Bayer into Belgium.

A year since taking over the top executive position at Porter from Omnicom PR Group chief Karen van Bergen, MacAfee highlights APAC as a standout region for growth. He adds 2016 was the first year North America organized itself under a single P&L.

Porter is also participating in initiatives across the Omnicom PR Group, such as pooling talent and resources with sister agencies Fleishman and Ketchum in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and France.

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