Ten months after Burson-Marsteller’s European region began its
radical reorganisation in earnest, rumours are flying that the agency
has been haemorrhaging staff.
B-M suffered its first blow when UK chief executive Alison Canning
announced her resignation in August last year. She will soon be joined
at First and 42nd, the agency she has since created, by Mike Seymour,
European managing director of issues and crisis management at B-M.
He resigned in May and is due to leave next month. In the interim at
least seven senior managers have taken their leave.
Notable departures include European marketing director, Alex Price;
European managing director of research and planning, Jane Atkin; UK
chief executive of Marsteller Advertising, Jeff Klein; chief executive
of Spain and Portugal, Juan Astorqui; and managing director of consumer
marketing, Liz Freeborn.
Managing director for UK healthcare Nigel Garland arrived in January
this year and was gone by March.
But European chairman Alan Watson, points out that numbers in the 190
strong UK office have actually increased.
B-M’s own records show that since November, 50 people have left, but 60
have joined, including 40 professional staff. However, former B-M
managers believe the agency has lost up to 80 staff in the past six
B-M’s figures represent a turnover of around 37 percent in the last
This is not an unusually high figure during an internal restructuring,
and in an industry where the norm is to change employers every two or
By comparison Lynne Franks PR loses 25 to 30 per cent of people in a bad
year, but without the radical changes seen at B-M. In a good year it can
be as little as five per cent, estimates Lynne Franks deputy managing
director Julian Henry.
But the real issue here is to more to do with employee relations and
staff retention then total staff numbers. So what has caused the above
average leakage of key staff? A former B-M account executive, who left
after the re-organisation began, said: ’The reorganisation wasn’t well
communicated and people didn’t buy into it.
’They are constantly restructuring but nothing ever seems to
Canning, who joined B-M in 1994, implemented her own reorganisation of
the UK office prior to the current one.
B-M has reorganised along practice lines, to match more closely the way
clients work. Profit and loss is no longer calculated by country,
measured instead on a European basis according to the five practice
areas: marketing, corporate, healthcare, public affairs and
The roles of general manager for each country have been abolished, and
staff have been appointed to head up the European practices.
B-M has shared the posts evenly across the region. Of the five practice
chairs, two are from Copenhagen, one is from Milan, one from Oslo and
one from London.
The new roles are part of a complex reporting structure. Cutting through
the practice lines are 25 client leaders, identified 12 months ago, who
focus on the largest businesses B-M serves. Some geographical posts
still remain, adding another dimension to the matrix. These are the
market leaders, who are intended to be ambassadors for the agency in
each country it serves.
Beside them are a handful of local, as opposed to European practice
leaders, mostly based in the UK. Eric Gerritsen, for example, will be MD
of marketing practice in the UK from September. He is currently market
leader for B-M Rome.
Those who have left say the structure is confusing, particularly for
practices which did not previously have a global outlook. Paul
Philpotts, B-M UK managing director and head of European financial PR,
says the changes have made a difference.
’It’s a different company now and I’m sorry that some people haven’t
felt they could fit in with it,’ he says. ’We’ve removed the financial
barriers to working right across Europe. It’s more difficult to say
’this is my fiefdom’ and some people didn’t like that.’
Meanwhile B-M’s competitors have been watching closely. Some have now
followed its lead but claim to have also learned from B-M’s
Scope Ketchum, which has reorganised to co-ordinate its practices across
Europe, has been careful to maintain strong country by country direction
for its teams. Profit and loss is still calculated by country rather
than by practice.
UK CEO James Maxwell says: ’Whereas B-M has chucked out local office
heads and moved immediately and radically to global practice groups,
Scope Ketchum has looked for a balance between strong local office
management and the growing influence of global specialist practice
groups which can enable teams to share knowledge, and market themselves
to global opportunities.
’We believe it is extremely important for people in local offices to
have a strong local structure, a strong sense of leadership and a strong
team image,’ he says.
But Watson insists B-M’s reorganisation had to be radical. He explains:
’The whole idea is to break away from turf thinking. At the end of the
day there is only one source of prosperity and that is what clients give