Paster leaps from H&K to parent WPP

NEW YORK: The WPP Group has underscored its commitment to reinvigorating its PR and public affairs capabilities by naming H&K chairman and CEO Howard Paster as EVP of PR/public affairs.

NEW YORK: The WPP Group has underscored its commitment to reinvigorating its PR and public affairs capabilities by naming H&K chairman and CEO Howard Paster as EVP of PR/public affairs.

Paul Taaffe, a 12-year veteran of H&K (and president since 1998), has moved up to sit in Paster's chair.

WPP is the world's second-largest communications company for combined PR revenues, behind Omnicom. With such global agencies as H&K, Ogilvy PR, Burson-Marsteller, and Cohn & Wolfe, PR earned WPP $788 million in 2002.

However, group CEO Martin Sorrell has attributed much of the parent company's decline to the battering that PR took in the recent downturn. That, and the fact that the group's PR firms have grown in number over recent years - particularly with the addition of Burson and C&W through the Young & Rubicam acquisition - was the impetus behind Sorrell wanting a safe pair of hands sitting beside him at the parent-company level.

"We have a fairly complex group of businesses in this area, Sorrell said, "and Howard will be helping me look after them. He has run H&K very successfully, and his appointment at this time is a very good idea."

Paster explained that his brief from Sorrell was to help the business succeed, "from strategy and positioning, to finding the right talent, to looking at geographies and practices. My brief is not to just manage the businesses."

He would not rule out that he would be looking at potential rationalizations of agencies, but added, "Most of the businesses are in such a position that it makes no sense to discuss combinations. But we will be looking at how agencies can do more together. With the larger number of PR firms - we've gone from four to 10 in recent years - it's going to require more time and attention to help in these areas."

Both Sorrell and Taaffe paid tribute to Paster's running of H&K over the past eight years. "My vision for the next few years is a combination of 'more of the same,' said Taaffe, "but with a more aggressive speed-to-market response. And while we're seen as having strength in corporate consultancy, I also see enormous growth in the marketing arena."

PR agency bosses - including Chris Komisarjevsky at Burson and Donna Imperato at C&W - will continue to report to Sorrell, although Paster will inevitably take on some of that dialogue in his new role. Although WPP is headquartered in London, Paster will be based in WPP's New York office due to the fact that eight of the 10 PR firms in the group are based here.

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