Karen van Bergen, CEO, Omnicom Public Relations Group: Power List 2017

2017 rank: 1

As leader of a $1.4 billion group of communications agencies, Karen van Bergen has propelled herself into a position of power that is helping raise the profile of PR within holding company Omnicom — and now she becomes the first woman to top the PRWeek Power List.

Omnicom’s 12-strong PR agency portfolio includes FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, Porter Novelli, Marina Maher Communications, and Portland Communications. Van Bergen brings in-house chops to OPRG from her time at Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, and she pioneered global cross-agency solutions at FleishmanHillard working on the groundbreaking Philips OneVoice setup.

Since taking on the newly created role in February 2016, van Bergen brought over former Ketchum European CEO David Gallagher to be OPRG’s international president for growth and development. She also extended the role of Paul George, global director of health and wellness at Porter Novelli, where van Bergen was formerly global CEO, to cover additional duties at OPRG leading global business development in health.

Despite these key hires, van Bergen intends OPRG to remain lean and mean and not become another cumbersome bureaucracy.

"There will be one or two additions, but I don’t want a vast, centralized organization," she told PRWeek.

Van Bergen says OPRG has already boosted talent, talent mobility, client collaboration, acquisitions, and innovation. Omnicom’s PR agency CEOs also highlight an easing of bottlenecks that used to blight the holding company on new hires, significant salary raises, and acquisitions.

It also helps having an advocate for PR in the senior echelons of the holding company. This approach bore fruit in the second half of 2016, with connected success on clients including Procter & Gamble, AT&T, and McDonald’s. "It’s elevated the status of PR," says Fleishman CEO John Saunders.

As he noted in last year’s Power List, Dutchwoman and this year’s Cannes PR Lions jury president van Bergen is "an overnight global success after 20 years."

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