ANALYSIS: Profile - Post-Scanlon spotlight falls squarely onWesthill's Reilly - The death of PR legend John Scanlon came as a shockto many in the industry, particularly his co-directors at WesthillPartners...

When Edward Reilly acquired a small ranch in Costa Rica, he

intended to undertake a small reforestation project. Instead, the ranch

grew into a business, trading cattle, sugar cane, and rice.

He is still dedicated to the ranch, but Reilly's main job is trading in

the less-tangible communications business. Reilly is founder and CEO of

three- year-old Westhill Partners, a New York-based communications


"We're really just coming out of the blocks now with it all together,"

says Reilly, whose idea was to create an agency weighted heavily toward

senior consultants backed up by top research.

"I was thinking of a firm small in size, but big in terms of the

talent," he comments. The idea was to use Internet technology to

communicate with clients and others, especially during times of change

or crisis.

Reilly, 48, comes to PR through the research door. After serving in the

Marines and graduating as a philosophy major from the University of

Massachusetts, he did a brief stint at the Princeton Seminary.

Realizing that theology was not his life's calling, he went into

politics, working on the reelection campaign of New Jersey governor

Brendan Byrne.

He subsequently worked on other high-profile Democratic campaigns,

including the presidential bids of Michael Dukakis and Richard


In 1986, the market-research company he started merged with KRC

Research, which a few years later became part of Sawyer Miller

Consulting, the foundation of what was to become BSMG.

Harris Diamond, BSMG's current president/CEO, recalls one particularly

memorable business trip with Reilly when they were working with a Latin

American president in the mid '90s.

"We went to Colombia, and our car was robbed at gunpoint by men with

machine guns. We were in the hotel, petrified, and I remembered he was

in the Marine Corp, and I said 'What do we do?'" According to Diamond,

Reilly then confessed that his special skills lay with the Marines' golf

team. Fortunately, Reilly and Diamond were eventually given presidential

security men to help them leave safely.

While contending with thieves may not have been Reilly's strong point,

his career has seen some ferocious battles, from politics to consulting

for the phone companies during deregulation.

He says it was a fairly natural extension to move on to corporate

reputation work: "The skills of people who come from politics are more

relevant to corporations than are those of people who have been doing

the product program." (Reilly himself has no product PR experience).

After a stint as vice chairman and partner of BSMG, Reilly left to start

Westhill, and he brought in colleague and tech expert Joshua Gilbert

from BSMG. He added Richard Mascolo's research company Skunkworks

Marketing Lab, and then Deborah Hayes, the former director of media and

corporate relations at Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions. Hayes was

Gephardt's deputy press secretary, and first met Reilly when he worked

as an advisor on the presidential bid.

Then joined John Scanlon, the late legendary New York PR man, as well as

Lou Colasuonno, who had been editor-in-chief of the New York Post and

the New York Daily News, and then a principal at The Dilenschneider


"I intercepted (Scanlon and Colasuonno) when they were thinking of doing

their own thing," Reilly says. "John and Lou fit into the model I

envisioned of senior consultants powered with diagnostic tools."

But in May, just as Westhill Partners was preparing to come onto the

scene, it suffered a major loss: the death of Scanlon. Reilly, like

Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, used to receive a 7am call from

Scanlon every morning. When Scanlon didn't arrive at the 9:30am meeting,

Reilly jumped a cab to his apartment to discover the sad news.

Fortunately, the clients that Scanlon brought to the agency have


They include the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Alfred Taubman, the former

Sotheby's chairman. Westhill's other clients include HBO, Merrill Lynch,

John Hancock Financial Services, Vanguard Media, Guinness/UDV, and the

Versace family and company.

In harmony with Reilly's vision, Westhill is a flatter organization than

most larger shops. It has eight partners (who tend to be very hands-on)

and another eight to 10 senior account people, and a total of 45


Last month, Reilly started working with Scientific Games International

of Alpharetta, GA, which was having difficulty with its new contract to

provide lottery services for the state of Iowa.

"What impressed me most is that we're working directly with Ed and

(managing director) Laura (Murray)," says R. Steven McCarthy, SVP of

sales and marketing.

"There's no one else that I've had contact with."

In addition to emphasizing its senior people, research and technology

are important parts of the agency Reilly is building. The Web played a

major role in helping client Bob Kerrey, the former US senator, in his

battle over the facts about his actions in the Vietnam War.

"In a 96-hour period, there were 562 stories written about this," Reilly

says. To get Kerrey supporters - the SEAL team, people from the New

School, and US senators - on the same page (so to speak), Westhill put

up a protected site with talking points within hours of meeting


Reilly's challenge now is to subtly remind clients that Westhill was

never only about Scanlon, even while the agency mourns his loss. The

task is made tougher by the close relationship the two shared. "It's a

difficult period to talk about," admits Reilly.


1983-1986: Founding partner, MRK Consulting

1986-1989: Partner and CEO, KRC Research (which merged with MRK)

1989-1991: Partner, Sawyer Miller Group (KRC merged with Sawyer Miller


1991-1998: Partner and vice chairman, Bozell Sawyer Miller Group (Sawyer

Miller merged with Bozell to become BSMG)

1998-present: Founder and CEO, Westhill Partners.

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