Editors' Choice 2008: Who to watch

PRWeek's staff looks to the future to pick the agencies, individuals, and companies that will be making news in the upcoming year

PRWeek's staff looks to the future to pick the agencies, individuals, and companies that will be making news in the upcoming year


In 2007, Burson-Marsteller seemed to be the go-to agency for high-profile crisis assignments - from the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings to Blackwater's troubles in Iraq to Countrywide Financial's collapse. It will be interesting to see how that momentum carries over into 2008. And with the election season in full swing, Mark Penn's ability to balance the duties of being Hillary Clinton's main strategist along with his role as firm CEO will continue to be under the microscope.

In the politically chaotic, but economically dynamic, environment of today's Russia, Moscow-based PBN holds an edge over public-affairs-agency rivals thanks to its relative longevity, having been in business there since 1990, just when the former Soviet Union was opening up to Western capitalism. With offices in DC, London, and Kiev, among other places, PBN represents clients in a number of sectors, including energy, financial services, healthcare, and IT. Now, with a recent investment from WPP Group, PBN looks well-positioned to continue its expansion in Eastern Europe, most recently opening an office in Sochi, Russia, home to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Levick Strategic Communications
In 2007, the US financial market might have been bad, but that was good news to Dubai. The Emirates' land grab of American institutions continued when Norse Dubai acquired a significant share of NASDAQ. While Dubai's acquisition of US ports was protracted and tortuously used for political theater, Levick Strategic Communications helped make this process seem effortless. Look for Dubai - and Richard Levick's firm -to remain active in 2008.

Bite Communications
Despite the tough loss of GM Burghardt Tenderich, Bite seems primed to make large moves in 2008, thanks to its heavy bet on clean technology and other green initiatives. Working with Sun Microsystems, AMD, Applied Materials, and more, the firm is teamed up on some of the most expansive campaigns that tech companies hope will bolster their green credibility to the public.

A&R Edelman
In the year and a half since Edelman acquired A&R Partners, the combined agency has been quiet, but the noise coming out of Silicon Valley hasn't been too spectacular. The firm lost client Mozilla, and a Valley source said that another long-term client is apparently testing the waters. An agency source tells PRWeek that while the firm has had its road bumps, it's finally hitting a good stride. No doubt that 2008 will be the year to pick up the pace.

Last year's picks:

Allison & Partners

The firm is growing and made some structural improvements, putting its first GM in the San Francisco office.

Lagrant Communications
The agency was dealt a major blow this year when it lost the Nissan account, for which it had opened a Nashville office.

The agency continues to see great success as an independent firm representing a wide variety of organizations.

It won the Sealy and USO business, but it - and Cramer-Krasselt - hasn't taken the lead on showing the benefits of an integrated agency.

It's been a relatively quiet year for the agency on new business announcements.

W2 group
The one-laptop-per-child campaign had some bumpy moments, but W2 was able
to keep the press focused on the potential of the product.


Christy Salcido, corporate comms VP, Starbucks Entertainment
Not satisfied with its monopoly on the coffee market, Starbucks is working to be a real player in Hollywood, too. Last year was significant, as the division signed Paul McCartney as the first artist on the newly launched Hear Music. Other initiatives included a deal with iTunes, a book program that inspires sales, and a growing movie distribution platform. As head of communications for this growing unit of Starbucks, Salcido will play a pivotal role in the company's placement in the entertainment industry.

Robert French, PR instructor, Auburn Univ.
New and social media are certainly the buzzwords in the PR industry, but getting them into the curriculum at universities has been a little slow-going. For eight years, French has been at the forefront of the educational revolution, integrating new media tactics like blogs and Twitter into traditional PR courses. Such strategy has undoubtedly helped his students as they prepare to enter the workforce. Here's hoping that more PR educators will follow French's example.

Annie Howell, SVP of comms, Discovery Communications
Here's one person who hopes that green fatigue won't set in. Discovery Communications is making a serious commitment to the public's interest in green, from the acquisition of TreeHugger.com to the 2008 launch of Planet Green, its 24-hour environmental channel. Even if the public is still interested in ecological living, it will take a masterful communicator to get the public, so keen on reality television, to devote their couch time to learning.

Julie Hamp, SVP of comms, PepsiCo
This will be a year of change for one of the world's largest beverage makers. Not only is Julie Hamp replacing seven-year veteran Tod MacKenzie as Pepsi's top communicator, but the company recently underwent a major restructuring. Pepsi, like Coke, has also seen its share of the North America soda market fall for two straight years. Hamp and the company will surely have their hands full in 2008.

Jeff Hunt, CEO, GCI Group
The eight-year GCI veteran has long been a vital part of the Dell marketing machine, so many are curious what role, if any, Hunt will have in the new Da Vinci agency (see Editor's Choice, p. 8). Hunt declined to comment when asked for his thoughts about his future, but one has to think that this year he will have to decide between his agency and his most well-known client.

Rich Levin, SVP of PR, Major League Baseball
The good news is that the long-awaited Mitchell Report neither contained many surprises (no previously unexamined major rising stars or existing celestial bodies found their names in the report) nor had much teeth to it. But the bad news for Levin is that its very existence is going to loom over the game for the next couple of years. Whether he plays or not in 2008, Roger Clemens appears insistent to clear his name. And for Levin, a man who will clearly want the sports scribes to focus on the game, that will be a nuisance that does not go away.

Last year's picks:

Lisa Sepulveda

Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America has still been relatively quiet about new business.

Tricia Primrose Wallace
She used the massive layoffs at AOL as a jumping-off point to explain the company's new business model.

Mark Penn
A prominent figure in Hillary Clinton's campaign, Penn has also helped usher in a new digital strategy for his firm.

Dave Senay
Senay took Fleishman-Hillard in new directions, establishing global sports, animal-care, and worldwide sustainability practices.

Maril MacDonald
The CEO of Gagen MacDonald was not an active force in the mainstream media or leading discussions of organizational change as we predicted.

The Client
No further evidence is needed than Dell's ability to compel all holding companies to assemble a discipline-agnostic, one- agency-solution pitch.

Media and services

Condé Nast
The much-anticipated launch of Portfolio may not have met industry expectations as far as editorial content, but the number of advertising pages in the magazine keeps on climbing. The company also continues to expand its digital offerings, introducing Flip, a social networking site for teen girls at the beginning of last year. That investment in digital will go on, as the company continues to shift its approach to the Web- moving away from theme portals to Web sites for individual titles.

Dow Jones
Rupert Murdoch's purchase of the company dominated media headlines last year, and with the acquisition complete, his effect on Dow Jones will be closely scrutinized by media pundits in 2008. The Wall Street Journal has already seen some shift in top editorial management, but the results of the moves remain to be seen. Murdoch's true impact will likely be felt at WSJ. com, where he proposes lifting the pay wall, relying on ad revenue rather than subscriptions to make money.

Known for years simply as the video-tape company, VMS has been working hard to break out of that mold and offer more complete monitoring and measurement services to clients. Perhaps spurred on by smaller but formidable competitors like Critical Mention, in 2007 the company unveiled a real-time monitoring product that covers all 210 DMAs. Serving the ad and PR industries equally gives the company a unique perspective and could even result in a major product launch in 2008.

NBC Universal
At last year's IPR dinner, keynote speaker Beth Comstock exuberantly discussed the various upcoming opportunities for the 80-plus-year-old company. In addition to its adventurous green programming launched last year, the company will be bringing Hulu.com, the YouTube.com for News Corp. and NBC Universal content, out of beta mode sometime in the new year.

Nielsen Online
To be successful in a fragmenting marketplace, sometimes you have to turn to fragmentation. All-things-media conglomerate the Nielsen Company realized this when it restructured its measurement services, putting its Nielsen/NetRatings and BuzzMetrics services under the aegis of Nielsen Online. With more than 2,000 clients, Nielsen Online is poised to continue its leadership position in the online measurement space.

Last year's picks:

The NewsMarket

The video provider expanded its product offerings and also launched a Mandarin edition.

Critical Mention
The company expanded its coverage area and introduced a new product that monitors CGM.

The monitoring company was acquired by TNS Media Intelligence in February.

The media organization continued its movement to full-fledged information company.

PR Newswire
While the company was not acquired, it did continue to diversify its offerings.

WSJ Online
The site continues its success, though if Rupert Murdoch has his way, the paid-for model will be a thing of the past.


SABMiller and Coors
After years of not being able to dethrone "the King" individually, SABMiller and Molson Coors plan to join forces this year in an attempt to knock Anheuser-Busch out of the top spot in the beer industry. The two have agreed to join their brewing operations in the US and Puerto Rico in a venture called MillerCoors, which will focus on touting brands like Miller Lite and Coors Light. The companies expect the deal to close by the middle of 2008.

The social networking site is riding a wave of popularity that seemingly has no end. In its first full year of allowing non-students to be members, the site became a must-join for the business community. The company has even managed to dodge privacy issues by addressing user concerns swiftly. With a significant investment from Microsoft under its belt already, the company could be poised for an even bigger 2008. In the fickle world of Web 2.0, however, anything is possible.

Signing on with Blanc & Otus last year after several years with Zeno Group, the enterprise software company could have some big plans in the works. While many are predicting that both consumer-focused and enterprise-focused tech companies are going to be hurt by a probable recession in 2008, Oracle, as one of the strongest companies in the enterprise market, is well-positioned to weather the storm. If the company is successful, acquisitions might follow.

It's hard to believe 2008 can be as active as 2007 was for Chrysler, but it must be if it wants to turn things around. Last year, the carmaker was sold to a private equity group, re-launched as a private company, named a new CEO, cut some 12,000 jobs, lost its top communicator, and realigned its communications department. It will be interesting to see what each of the big four automakers and the entire industry do this year. With so much unsettling change taking place, Chrysler is going to have to start showing there is some truth to the "turnaround story" messaging that it created.

While it made great waves in the marketing trades for its co-creation of Da Vinci (see Editors' Choice, p. 8), consumers are quite excited about the pioneering things the company is doing online. Dell is moving more PR personnel into online engagement, and the company's IdeaStorm wiki and Direct2Dell blog continue to impress.

Last year's picks:


Comms remains a priority for Merck as it works on new obesity and cholesterol drugs.

Tom Mattia's plans indeed took effect last year, including a global internal comms effort to help employees realize their impact on the business.

Publicis Groupe
While the company was silent for the most part on the acquisition front, it did create a new agency structure to service new client Oral-B.

The Home Depot
Eco Options has been a success, but the company came under scrutiny for including too many questionable products.

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