The firm's 2007 growth came mainly from the expansion of work with existing clients, with the latter half of the year bringing in a lot of accounts, including Comcast, Ericsson, Century 21, and Virginia Tech, Penn noted.
"In that sense we had a very strong finish," he says. "One of the highlights was the work we did with Microsoft and Google. Digital has been our biggest growth area. A lot of people didn't realize that we've had a digital department for a long time, but we've really dramatically expanded it in the last two years, and we're in the process of telling more people about it."
Digital work has become integral to much of the firm's work, and allows clients to spread their messages, in many cases, more effectively and efficiently than through traditional means. For example, Penn cites Burson's digital launch of the $5 note on behalf of the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing in 2007.
"That's an example of how you can take something and rather than do it conventionally, do it digitally and get good success," he says. "They didn't have to do all the brick-and-mortar stuff they would otherwise have had to do."
While digital works is the top driver in growth for the firm, Penn also highlights Burson's issues and advocacy practice, which can provide a "complete product" to corporate or advocacy groups thanks to Burson's connections to Penn Schoen & Berland, Direct Impact, and Marsteller Advertising.
Penn spent a lot of time with the Hillary Clinton campaign, where he was chief strategist until vacating that post after he, on behalf of Burson, met with Colombian officials to discuss campaign strategy for a trade agreement that Clinton opposes. Before this development, the question naturally arose as to how much time he could devote to his firm. Penn says that while "we obviously [had] some intense periods in the campaign," he always strongly manages the firm, which he says has posted very good results.
"I think [also] that we have really excellent leadership - [among] the CFO, the COO, and the EVPs - that is spurring greater efficiency within our global team."
Current headcount numbers are between 1,900 and 2,000, according to the firm. Senior hires included worldwide COO Richard Powell, formerly with Quinn Gillespie & Associates; Penn Schoen & Berland chairman and Burson vice chairman Don Baer, previously with Discovery Communications; Latin American healthcare practice chairman Rafael Casas-Don, previously with Baxter International; MD and New York market leader Tony Telloni, formerly with Edelman; MD and Australia market leader Brian West, formerly president and CEO of Hill & Knowlton Asia-Pacific; Brussels MD Dennis Lambert-Noon, former publisher of European Voice; MD and head of the US multicultural practice Mireille Grangenois, previously with the Baltimore Sun; and MD of the issues and advocacy practice Paul Gallagher, previously a producer at CBS' 60 Minutes.
Senior staffers who left Burson in 2007 include global healthcare practice chair and chief strategic officer Ame Wadler, Europe CEO Heidi Sinclair, and DC region president Rob Tappan.
Senior-level promotions include Bill Rylance, now vice chairman of global development and Asia-Pacific chairman; Jeremy Galbraith, now CEO of Europe; Robert Mack, now market leader in Brussels; and Chris Foster, now chair of the US healthcare practice.
The agency made no acquisitions or mergers with any other company in 2007.
Burson opened an office in Boston in April 2007. It reported growth in North America, Latin America, and South America, as well as Asia-Pacific, if Australia was excluded.
Worldwide president and CEO Mark Penn says Asia "tends to grow in spurts," and, after two solid years, it leveled off in 2007. The firm also sees a lot of potential growth in the Middle East. The bulk of Burson's work, however, remains based in North America, Penn says.
Practice areas include digital communications, crisis communications, public affairs, media, technology, and brand marketing. Burson also provides advertising through affiliate Marsteller, grassroots outreach through Direct Impact, lobbying through BKSH & Associates, and polling and strategic messaging through Penn Schoen & Berland.
The firm says its digital and crisis communications practices did particularly well in 2007. The most growth was seen in the digital communications, crisis communications, media, corporate/financial, and advertising practices. Brand marketing experienced the least growth, though the practice won a big new account with Comcast. Burson says more than 35% of its business involves multiple practices.
Though it kept many client wins confidential, Burson "highlights" 2007 wins Comcast, Century 21 Real Estate, Sony Ericsson, Hormel (as digital AOR), Virginia Tech, the New York Board of Elections, Countrywide Financial, Costa Rica Tourism Board, and Telefonica. Other wins included the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Microsoft. The firm declined to discuss accounts lost. From 12% to 15% of clients were on retainer in 2007, the same as 2006.
Burson noted that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act prevents it from discussing financial results, but it did say that global revenue was between $300 million and $400 million and US revenue was between $100 million and $200 million. Burson adds that it recorded both top- and bottom-line growth in 2007.
Principals: Mark Penn, worldwide president and CEO (pictured); Patrick Ford, US CEO
Ownership: WPP (as part of Young & Rubicam Brands)
Offices: 16 US; 58 wholly owned globally, plus 45 global affiliates
Revenue: Global, between $300 million and $400 million; US, between $100 million and $200 million