Unlike other industries, there is no generally accepted definition for what constitutes power in PR. Some individuals are powerful because of the profile of their company or clients. Others yield great influence in media or political circles. And there are those who are powerful because they have mentored leaders who carry on their philosophy. As communicators continue to assert a larger profile in companies and campaigns, PRWeek's editorial team looks across a range of criteria and individuals to devise this ranking of 25 industry leaders who wield power in ways that are critical for the profession's growth and development.
1. Richard Edelman, CEO, Edelman
Richard Edelman has gone to great lengths to become the most visible CEO of any PR agency in the world. Making a concerted effort to speak publicly about issues facing the industry, he has established himself and his eponymous firm as thought leaders. By being one of the few agency CEOs to pursue blogging with dedication and honest enthusiasm, rather than mere rote recitation of marketing phrases, he has helped demonstrate a belief in the transformative power of the Internet as a communications tool. While Edelman has run into controversies – primarily as a result of his firm's work with high-profile client Wal-Mart – his reaction to these episodes, while not satisfying to everyone across the political spectrum, did meet the mark for openness not always employed by PR executives. Edelman's stewardship of his agency, the largest independent firm in the industry, is itself enough to establish him as one of the most influential people in PR. Last year, the company boasted a global revenue of $337 million, a more than 25% increase from the previous year. Having had the foresight to remain independent throughout the frenzy of holding-company acquisitions, Edelman's continued success may provide a blueprint for others to follow.
2. Mark Penn, worldwide CEO, Burson-Marsteller
As the man who identified the "soccer mom" while President Clinton's pollster, Mark Penn has long been at the right hand of significant national power and hard-data insight into key political and socioeconomic trends. Now a chief adviser to presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) – not to mention CEO of Burson – his influence on political messaging is greater than ever. His book, Microtrends, identifies marketable segments of society uncovered by the kind of polling done by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, which Penn cofounded. So clearly perceived is his power, that Penn faces questions about the propriety of serving Clinton and Burson. Penn says he has recused himself from Burson work that conflicts with his Clinton efforts, but reportedly retains personal oversight of Microsoft.
3. Charlotte Otto, global external relations officer, Procter & Gamble
Charlotte Otto's power is probably greater than any other corporate communications executive for the simple fact that she oversees PR for 22 billion-dollar brands. She is a thought leader who helped give every PR pro the ammunition needed to walk into the C-suite and say, "PR is as effective as advertising, and I can prove it." She was the driving force behind P&G's landmark research effort that showed that not only could PR's effectiveness be measured, but also that within the marketing mix it was equally, if not more, effective than advertising. Otto is also very visible in Cincinnati, home to P&G's corporate headquarters. She serves on the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. Otto has also held past posts at more than a dozen other local organizations.
4. Leslie Dach, EVP of corporate affairs and government relations, Wal-Mart
When Leslie Dach left Edelman to join Wal-Mart in 2006, he parlayed a post as a premier agency public affairs guru into a role as one of the US' highest-profile in-house communicators. Since he arrived, Wal-Mart has improved its employee health plan, offered cheap prescription drugs, and instituted one of corporate America's strongest environmental programs to reduce waste and promote sustainability. That program has become a model for the rest of big industry, and it's Dach who is in control, which speaks to the power he has to influence the rest of corporate America. While he remains a controversial and closely watched figure, if he succeeds in making Wal-Mart universally palatable, he will cement his reputation as a man who can accomplish anything.
5. Jon Iwata, SVP of communications, IBM
The traditional lament of corporate communicators is that it can be challenging to play a meaningful role in the management of the company. But IBM's Jon Iwata, who reports to CEO Sam Palmisano, has posed a leadership model for navigating the corporate terrain by taking on responsibilities not traditionally doled out to a PR team. As a result, he has positioned both himself and his group5firmly at the center of the action. One of the entry points for communications leadership was Iwata's taking control of the corporate intranet, which had languished in the IT function previously. The intranet was the forerunner to what is seen as one of the most sophisticated blogging programs of any corporation, also under Iwata's purview, and the IBM "innovation jams," which bring together employees, clients, and other stakeholders around the world in an interactive forum to assess what is next for the company. Iwata has been slowly taking a more public role recently, where normally he prefers a lower profile. There are many keen to hear what he has to say.
6. Harris Diamond, CEO, Weber Shandwick Worldwide CEO of Constituency Management Group
A long-time agency leader, former political consultant, and corporate ear-whisperer, Harris Diamond expertly straddles the line between business and PR. Being the CEO of arguably the business' biggest PR firm isn't easy. But as the Interpublic Group has been weathering turbulence in the past few years, its CMG division, headed by Diamond, has been a constant bright spot. Weber Shandwick, along with fellow IPG firms GolinHarris, DeVries, and MWW Group, provides a steady positive counterpoint to the ups and downs of the holding company's more unstable properties. WS remains a PR juggernaut, and Diamond's talents will surely be in ever greater demand at higher levels in the holding-company structure. Sarbanes-Oxley prevents him from touting WS as "the world's largest PR firm," but its leadership is assumed. Diamond's drive has been at the forefront of establishing it.
7. Ken Cohen, VP for public affairs, ExxonMobil
A major point of contention for consumers during the past year and a half has been the rising price of gas and the negative effect that it's had on their wallets. And it's Ken Cohen's responsibility to explain to consumers and the media that despite the company's repeated record-setting quarters of $10 billion in earnings, it's not the gas companies that set the prices. Cohen and his team got CEO Rex Tillerson on NBC's Today, the first energy company CEO to appear on the show to discuss the rising gas prices. Educating the public on how the energy industry works is a top priority for Cohen and his 400 staffers worldwide. The crux of this effort, he told PRWeek back in February 2006, was face-to-face discussions with policymakers, citizen groups, and members of the media to go over "Exxon's basic communication tool," called the Energy Outlook presentation. Cohen is also responsible for handling government relations, PR, and corporate communications. In addition, he helped guide the company's entry into the realm of new media; Cohen led ExxonMobil's first briefing with bloggers to explain its position on climate change. While it's a strategy that other companies have certainly taken, Cohen's use of such a tactic speaks to his dedication to demystifying ExxonMobil and relating to consumers on another level.
8. Gershon Kekst, founder and president, Kekst and Company
You won't see him attending PR industry functions, yet everyone knows his name. Kekst & Co., which he founded more than 35 years ago, is the premier name in the rarefied field of high-level corporate communications. The firms that cater to this niche – corporate crises, financial communications, M&As, bankruptcies, and other pressing issues – are quite competitive because their number is small, and they often go after the same clients. By and large, all are capable. But Kekst stands out for its longevity, exclusivity, and constancy of performance. It consistently ranks at or near the top for M&A volume and value in North America. Gershon himself has earned his influence through the firm he created and for his reputation of being at the end of the phone of many a CEO at the crossroads of crisis or opportunity. Like many other agency founders, he may not be as hands-on with client work today, but his firm still performs at the highest level, proving that his power still percolates throughout all of US business.
9. Margery Kraus, founder, president, and CEO, APCO Worldwide
Leading more than 500 staff in offices in all the major world capitals, Margery Kraus has effectively identified and capitalized on the trend toward "business diplomacy," in which corporations seek to protect their commercial interests globally by currying favor with governments, media, NGOs, and other influencers. Bucking the trend of other PR firms that have been swallowed by larger entities, Kraus led a management buyout of the firm in 2004 from Grey Global Group that put APCO back in private hands. The results have been good, with revenue doubling since the buyout and new-client wins in 2006 including CVS, Kraft, and United Airlines. APCO is something of a family affair. Kraus' daughter Mara Hedgecoth serves as VP and marketing director, while son Evan is SVP and director of the APCO Online practice. Kraus also takes pride in her success in a traditionally male-dominated industry and town, and has been widely recognized for her business-building prowess.
10. Steve Harris, VP of global communications, GM
Steve Harris came back to General Motors in 2006 to help the company turn things around. Like the other two-thirds of Detroit's Big Three, GM has seen some hard times over the past few years, including being surpassed by Toyota as the world's top automaker. Part of Harris' plan has been his steadfast belief and efforts in knocking down the walls between PR, advertising, and all of the other marketing disciplines to create a more holistic marketing approach, which is what's needed to attract today's automotive consumer. The general media and auto trades have taken their shots at the company, but Harris has stood his ground and has been very transparent with the state of the company. Harris has also been a driving force behind GM's new-media efforts and looks to incorporate it into all of the department's planning. Harris is constantly pushing for the best way to communicate to various audiences.
11. Howard Rubenstein, president, Rubenstein Associates Chairman, Rubenstein Communications
In New York's social, political, and media spheres of influence, nobody forges connections between the big players better than Howard Rubenstein. He has so many clients among the town's movers and shakers that a good deal of his business now consists of his acting as a benevolent power broker. He is a longtime confidant of institutions ranging from the New York Yankees to the New York Post and is known for acting as a strategic adviser more than as a mouthpiece. Through his sons Richard and Steven, Rubenstein has built a family legacy in the industry that seeds his influence far and wide. The list of top-level pros who have passed through Rubenstein's agency during the course of their careers could staff, well, a pretty good New York PR agency. As long as he decides to continue working, Ruben-stein will always be the go-to guy for those wishing to plant their flag among the city's elite or to seek forgiveness from those who are able to bestow it. And even when he decides to finally take it easy, his legacy will live on for decades.
12. John Graham, chairman, Fleishman-Hillard
While Graham has ceded the CEO chair to longtime Fleishman executive Dave Senay, his presence still looms large in the industry and, no doubt, at the firm where he has spent more than 40 years, 30 as CEO. Graham's power demonstrates itself through the remarkable consistency of his executive team, as well as the agency's long-term relationships with key clients like AT&T (formerly SBC), which hinged in no small part on his leadership. The firm also elevates staff culture to a fine art, boasting one of the most results-driven, backslapping-averse communities in PR. Its endurance is linked directly to Graham's focus for the firm. Though no longer CEO, he still holds the spirit of Fleishman in a very particular way, but is secure enough in that power to give Senay room to make it his own. Retirement? Don't hold your breath. Rather, look for the next phase of Graham's industry leadership in the form of external opportunities.
13. Harold Burson, founder and chairman, Burson-Marsteller
Burson-Marsteller is unique among firms in its ability to cultivate and produce great leaders, even if some do move on. These include such luminaries as Ketchum's Rob Flaherty, GCI Group's Jeff Hunt, and retired Accenture PR and market-ing head Jim Murphy. While it might credit its training programs for these success stories, it's more accurate to point to the powerful and ongoing magnetism of PR's most famous octogenarian – Harold Burson. Burson is the chair-man who doesn't fade away and no one minds, because while his career history is highlighted with key events and leaders of the second half of the 20th century, he is no relic. It caused no little stir when Burson suggested, in remarks he made at the ICCO Summit in New Dehli in 2006, that licensing of the PR profession might be a good thing. When he talks, people do more than listen. Burson still takes interns to lunch, adds to his Rolodex, advises CEOs, travels the world for the firm, pitches, blogs, and makes public appearances and speeches where he is treated like a rock star.
14. Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, US State Department
With probably the most important public affairs job in the US, Karen Hughes has the tough task of trying to improve the image of the US around the world amid wide dislike of America's foreign policy. But given her close, long-running ties to President Bush, Hughes, if any-one, has the political muscle to make the State Department bureaucracy more efficient, open, and creative in its com-munications with the outside world. After somewhat of a false start – a 2005 "listening tour" of the Mideast was criticized in some quarters for being culturally insensitive – Hughes this year stepped forward with a public diplomacy plan that emphasizes personal ties between people in the US and the rest of the world, primarily through exchange programs. Now she will be calling upon the business community, NGOs, and other organizations in the private sector to help the US government follow through with the new plan to restore America's image as a place of freedom and opportunity.
15. Bill Margaritis, SVP, worldwide communications and IR, FedEx
Bill Margaritis oversees all reputation management, IR, PR, employee communications, and community relations for FedEx and its subsidiaries, which represent $36 billion in annual revenues and more than 280,000 employees and contractors worldwide. Since joining in 1997, he has been pivotal in helping FedEx transform its image of an air express carrier to a full-service transportation provider and has driven the restructuring of its global internal communications function. FedEx's communications program has been recently recognized in various books and industry titles as "best-of-class" for its leadership in reputation management. Margaritis also serves on a number of boards, including the Arthur Page Society and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Memphis.
16. Kathy Bloomgarden, Co-CEO, Ruder Finn
Kathy Bloomgarden's power stems from incredible C-suite access at many of today's leading companies, which translated into a book, Trust: The Secret Weapon of Effective Business Leaders. In her 25-plus years in PR, she has done significant work for Novartis, BP, Pfizer, and many others. She has the ear of many esteemed journalists, who take her calls, in part, because of her access. Internally, Bloomgarden has helped lead her firm to continual growth, evidenced by a 12% rise in US revenue and an 8% global revenue increase in 2006. A tireless traveler and networker, she is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations and the Women's Leadership Board of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
17. Ray Jordan, VP of public affairs and corporate communications, Johnson & Johnson
The more healthcare's marketing and PR efforts are scrutinized, the more the industry craves fresh thinking and a creative approach. Enter J&J's Ray Jordan, who is responsible for streamlining a team of some 300 global communications people. Leading a team of that size for a company of this profile is a huge task, but he has exhibited foresight and an ability to tackle tough challenges. Take J&J's awkward decision to sue the venerable American Red Cross; Jordan blogged openly about what was at stake at www.jnjbtw.com. That blog, launched in June, looks to "find a voice that often gets lost in formal communications," a refreshing attempt to engage with the public when conservative healthcare companies rarely do so.
18. Carol Cone, founder and CEO, Cone
Arguably the most powerful and visible figure in the world of cause branding, over the past 25 years Carol Cone has created signature cause programs for a number of Fortune 500 companies, including the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, ConAgra Foods Feeding Children Better, PNC Grow Up Great, Reebok's Human Rights Awards, and the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women. Those programs and others have raised more than $750 million for various social causes. Not only is Cone perceived as a thought leader in the world of cause branding – a term her agency has trademarked – but she also practices what she preaches: She was a founding member of Business for Social Responsibility, a national organization of businesses that considers both profit and social responsibility as its bottom lines. And she personally funded a Habitat for Humanity home to honor and recognize her agency's employees, who built the house in the summer of 2000.
19. Helen Ostrowski, CEO, Porter Novelli
As a board member of the Council of PR Firms and Arthur W. Page Society, as well as a member of the PRSA and Counselor's Academy, Ostrowski 19 is a leading force in the development of the PR profession and a mentor to up-and-coming executives. With clients including Dow Chemical, Wyeth, and British Airways, she leads a team that is increasingly global, as well as multidisciplinary, helping to coordinate PR, marketing, and ad outreach. During her stint as Council chair, she helped move its focus toward the marketing world, a key factor in its ongoing relevance.
20. Jason Wright, SVP, comms and public affairs, Merrill Lynch
Wright took the reigns at Merrill Lynch from the well-known Paul Critchlow and reports to CEO Stan O'Neal. The subprime mortgage crunch puts Merrill in the spotlight, as the firm announced it would post a big Q3 loss owing to the related writedowns. It is Wright who is responsible for maintaining Merrill's reputation amid such events. The New York Times recently reported that Wright is a Barack Obama fundraiser, with a seat on his national finance committee. He has also served as co-chairman of the board of the Museum for African Art, and is a trustee of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.
21. Andy Lark, VP, global marketing and communications, Dell
In assuming Dell's top communications role, Andy Lark returns to the Fortune 500 corporate environment where he made his name. Dell is in the midst of massive change from a messaging and environmental standpoint and is now reviewing its firms, putting Lark in the position to truly affect its direction. A new-media and traditional PR expert, Lark has shepherded Fortune 500s and startups. He previously served as VP of worldwide marketing and communications at Sun Microsystems, before becoming CMO at LogLogic. Known for his blunt opinions about PR, innovation, and social media's efficacy, Lark is a well-respected source for understanding the complex tech-marketing environment. His own personal innovation can be found at his consultancy, Group Lark, which has done work for Southwest Airlines, Entrust, and Palamida.
22. Ed Gillespie, counselor, White House
Don't let the generic title fool you; Ed Gillespie's position in the White House is that of senior adviser guiding all of President Bush's communications. Recently replacing Dan Bartlett, a close associate of Bush from his days as Texas governor, Gillespie is a longtime player in Republican politics, having served as a principle creator of the Republican Party's 1994 "Contract with America" political platform. He is also cofounder of the DC lobbying and public affairs firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates, and he was chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2004. The President may face low approval ratings with just a little over a year before his time in office ends, but Theodore Roosevelt's description of the White House as a "bully pulpit" remains as true now as ever. Who else in the country is able to command free air time on network TV at virtually a moment's notice? Gillespie, by association, holds considerable influence over US public affairs at the moment and in his own right will continue to do so long after W. has departed from Washington.
23. Leslee Dart, founder and CEO, 42West
Leslee Dart doesn't run the country's largest PR firm, but she does lead one of the most influential. When Dart was publicly dismissed after 23 years from PMK/HBH in November 2004, members of Hollywood's elite expressed outrage and surprise. By the end of the year, however, she had resurfaced at the helm of New York-based the Dart Group, with a staff including former PMK/HBH colleagues and seasoned studio publicists, as well as a loaded account roster, including longtime PMK clients Nicole Kidman, Scott Rudin, Tom Hanks, Woody Allen, and Martin Scorsese. By the end of 2006, Dart had expanded operations to Los Angeles and renamed the firm 42West to reflect its bicoastal growth. Known for getting results, Dart's strong will is as fabled as her media influence. But in three decades of industry work, she has maintained an outstanding reputation among clients, journalists, and even competitors: Dart is not only respected, but genuinely liked. And that rarity in the world of entertainment publicity is the ultimate testament to her PR power.
24. Joele Frank, Managing partner, Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher
Joele Frank doesn't run the largest financial PR firm, snag every high-profile corporate client, or advise on every huge M&A deal. But as one client told USA Today, "They do aggressive financial PR, and they are very good at it." Frank's firm, and she herself, are known for their adeptness in down and dirty situations. Waging bitter proxy battles, running interference on hostile takeovers, and fending off hungry creditors are her specialties – all the while feeding the media a constant stream of fast-paced chatter. If you need an advocate with a bulldog's attitude, there is no one better in the business. Frank is also the only woman to have led a firm into the top ranks of the financial communications world. It seems unlikely that in an industry with more women than men, the specialized corners of financial PR would lack gender balance, but the numbers don't lie. Then again, Frank's work speaks for itself. She remains a go-to source for the hardest cases.
25. Declan Kelly, CEO, FD
Some five years ago, Kelly was making a name for himself as the upstart US CEO of FD, a firm that had completed a successful management buyout from Cordiant, not least because of Kelly's determination to make it happen. Now FD, which was acquired by business consulting firm FTI in 2006, is again on the acquisition track, having announced its latest deal to purchase Ashton Partners. With Kelly directing operations, in a market where North American acquisitions are still relatively rare, more than a few smaller-agency CEOs will be taking his calls. Originally from Ireland, Kelly's roots are in journalism. His success in building FD has been based much less on his own individual work with clients than on his sheer determination to overhaul its reputation and flip it to a new, more appetizing parent. Kelly was brazen during the down market, plucking such luminaries as Hollis Rafkin-Sax, head of investor relations at Edelman, and Harlan Teller, former president of Hill & Knowlton's corporate practice.
Supporting Power Players
Jonathan Carson, CEO, Nielsen BuzzMetrics
A visible figure in the online-monitoring world, Carson proves the importance that Internet buzz has on brand reputation.
Kathy Cripps, president, Council of PR Firms
Cripps is driving the Council's move toward a deeper relationship with marketing executives, a critical shift of direction at a changing time for the industry.
Bill Heyman, president and CEO, Heyman Associates
In an industry where talent is everything, Heyman helps connect some of the most senior pros to jobs, making him an indispensable asset to all involved in executive searches.
Jim Nail, CMO, Cymfony
Nail's visibility extends outside of PR, partly because of his varied background in market research, brand advertising, and direct marketing, but also his aggressive push to get new ideas out there – via his blog, white papers, or speaking at industry conferences.
Shoba Purushothaman, CEO, The NewsMarket
Having the foresight to start an Internet distribution model for broadcast-quality video years ago, she has since developed that idea to build a successful business attracting not just high-level clients, but respected journalists, too.
Peter Wengryn, CEO, VMS
As VMS sheds its "video-tapecompany" image, Wengryn is ambitious in his plans for a company that can serve the ad and PR industries equally.
Emerging Power Players
Tony Cervone, VP of communications, GM North America
As Steve Harris' likely successor, Cervone is making a name for himself by helping the automaker through recent troubles and upping its new-media use.
Tim Dyson, CEO, NextFifteen
Dyson's leadership of NextFifteen gives him deep insight into the changing technology market from across clients and agencies, which he in turn applies to his blogging and other thought-leadership efforts.
Kim Hunter, president and CEO, Lagrant Communications
Hunter is the leading provocateur on the issue of increasing diversity in the communications profession. And his creation of the Lagrant Foundation which awards scholarships to minorities proves that he's doing more than just talking about it.
Bill Imada, chairman, IW Group
Imada is not only a thought leader on the subject of marketing to Asian Americans, but his agency boasts a roster of clients – including McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and AT&T – whose actions can inspire others to follow suit.
Mona Williams, VP of corporate communications, Wal-Mart
As the top media relations person for a company with a level of media interest and coverage that rivals none, Williams' influence is immeasurable.