PRWeek's staff looks into its crystal ball to pick the individuals and companies who will be making headlines over the coming year
There's the firm, and there's the foundation - that is, the Lagrant Foundation, which is committed to encouraging diversity candidates to pursue PR/marketing careers. At times, the foundation has dominated the view of the firm, even as the latter has worked with clients like Nissan, American Airlines, and Hilton Hotels.
Recently, though, under the lead of president/CEO Kim Hunter, the focus is once again on the firm, as it won major tasks from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, and is part of the team working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The next 12 months will be critical as the firm opens its first office outside LA, to service Nissan in its new Nashville headquarters.
Allison & Partners
The firm is gaining momentum with its cause/social marketing work, as well as its entertainment-oriented assignments.
The relationships cofounder Scott Pansky has built with corporations like The Home Depot and Hasbro look to only be expanding in 2007 - in part because he relies on grassroots efforts like bringing together groups of small and midsize nonprofit leaders via classes at UCLA, and teaching them how to create CRM and social marketing programs.
New LA office clients include AlternaTV, music venue The Gig, and YouTube. With this start and the addition of Tom Freydl in New York, the firm is poised to be a real player in branded entertainment.
The future of DC-based Qorvis, led by partner Mike Petruzzello, looks bright if based only on recent hires, such as NASA's former press secretary; an ex-CBS anchor and reporter; and the cofounder of local ad agency Sparky's Garage, which Qorvis acquired in 2006. It has also been signing a range of new clients, the most prominent being lobbying giant PhRMA.
Though notorious in some circles for its representation of Saudi Arabia, Qorvis may be an agency to watch simply for its knack for self-promotion. A Washington Post business column this fall praised the firm for its retainer-only model.
In a marketing world where there are more techniques and ideas than there are disciplines to shoehorn them into, CKPR with its parent ad agency Cramer-Krasselt (C-K) has created an environment that positions it well for marketers who want the whole enchilada from one body.
While PR is being recognized as a great discipline for leading brand integration, not all PR firms have the backup to translate that into a great marketing framework, fully supported by the other disciplines. Not so with CKPR, which clearly has the respect of C-K - an agency that is finally gaining a great creative reputation that belies its 109-year-old ad firm label.
CKPR is leveraging all aspects of its family to come up with some genuinely media-neutral approaches for clients, and the irony is that given the single bottom line that it shares across the group, its business success will be harder to measure than some of its competitors'. Fortunately, the work will speak for itself.
Many in the industry respect this firm for its iconoclastic view and president Steve Cody's blunt out- look on the industry.
Recently winning Whirlpool's business, the midsize firm will hope to build upon 2006 strides. Peppercom provided much of the motivation behind the formation of the Lumin Group network, which will be challenged in its concept by M Booth-inspired Converge network.
This staunch advocate of the power of smaller firms will continue to surprise with its new ideas for the agency business.
Larry Weber is back, though at a much smaller size. The mini holding company that he's carefully building is a stark contrast to the landgrab he engineered in his former incarnation, but the principles - aiming to be a step ahead of the digital marketing curve - are similar.
With small-scale but smart acquisitions, and a gradual ramp-up in publicizing itself, 2007 looks to be the year that Weber struts into the spotlight again.
The work by W2 firms Racepoint and Digital Influence on the $100 laptop will bring it massive exposure and plenty of plaudits, should the computer receive universal endorsement. But given the naysayers criticizing the project, W2 has its work cut out for it.
Last year's picks
Hill & Knowlton
The newly consistent leadership we praised was upset by several senior departures.
While Voce made little noise for itself, major client Yahoo continued its dogged push to leverage the new media with an agency partner that was ahead of the curve.
CEO Declan Kelly had built an enticing offer, and in 2006 sold the firm to management group FTI.
The Jeffrey Group and multicultural firms
Jeffrey opened its first New York office last year and the firm has seen double-digit growth.
Lisa Sepulveda, CEO, Euro RSCG Magnet
Sepulveda's first year in the role is not yet finished, and she has been spending all her time with chairman John Margaritis, reorienting the troubled firm and tapping her deep connections in consumer and healthcare.
The coming year will be a testing time for the firm, which badly needs to shore up its client base, strengthen its thin network, and support its future.
Tricia Primrose Wallace, corporate comms VP, AOL
CEO Jonathan Miller's ousting put a rusty nail in a rotting coffin. No company that needed a good run had a worse year than AOL- Sony included.
AOL must get a clear vision out to the public, all the while contending with potentially conflicting goals from Time Warner. All this falls under the remit now of former VP of corporate communications Tricia Primrose Wallace, who became EVP when John Buckley quit in December.
With new CEO Randy Falco, Wallace can help build on the new era of leadership.
Dave Senay, CEO, Fleishman-Hillard
Though he has been CEO since July, Senay has not yet discussed Fleishman's ongoing strategy publicly. He has, according to those close to him, been focusing on connecting with staff and clients around the world.
Senay's reputation is impeccable. He has worked at the firm for 22 years, most recently as partner and regional president. He spent vast time working in its international operations and has experience across nearly every practice.
Only the third CEO in Fleishman's history, Senay won't be able to stay quiet for much longer.
Corporate communications and marketing are the traditional consumers of PR services. But as companies look to communicate both internally and externally in different ways, the imperative to understand and influence the public dialogue in all parts of the corporation has led to the effect that the "client" could be anyone from the CFO to a regional head to the union shop steward.
PR firms must be ready to penetrate organizations from many different points, and to educate a whole new breed of client on the power of communications.
Mark Penn, CEO, Burson-Marsteller
A recent New York Daily News article touted Mark Penn's profile as Hillary Clinton's pollster, but misspelled the name of Burson-Marsteller, the firm at which Penn serves as CEO.
His leadership of the firm has been, thus far, something of a stealth operation. Penn largely leaves the interaction with industry associations to his leadership team, including Ame Wadler and Pat Ford. High-level counsel with key clients notwithstanding, Penn will remain an object of speculation as Clinton gets more serious about campaigning.
Maril MacDonald, founder, Gagen MacDonald
MacDonald's specialty is strategic employee communications, a sector that is more than ever a critical function across disciplines, not merely a function of HR.
She has long been one of the leaders in the area of organizational change. Now that she has brought former Rockwell Automation VP Matt Gonring into the agency's fold, the firm's profile is set to grow more prominent. MacDonald is also a high-profile figure in Chicago and among the industry bodies, such as the Arthur W. Page Society.
Last year's picks
Leadership in the technology space continued, as did the smart acquisitions.
He and his agency are quiet, though it boasts of a "five-fold increase in corporate clients."
A strong leader for the Council of PR Firms, she also oversaw a great year for Porter Novelli.
He was out at GM by June, replaced by old boss Steve Harris.
Media and services
The company has brought real-time TV search to the forefront of the monitoring industry, drawing the attention of business titles.
In the 24/7 information age, PR pros know that response time is the key to dealing with potential or actual crises. Instantly knowing what is said about a client is vital. And companies like Critical Mention that provide that service will give longtime category leader VMS a run for its money in 2007.
The News Market
A few years ago, the notion of broadcast quality video transmitted via the Internet seemed like a novel, but ultimately flawed, idea. Led by president/CEO Shoba Purushothaman (pictured above), The News Market, however, has thrived and some of its competitors have subsequently started the same method of distribution.
Now, with online video becoming more and more utilized by both consumer sites and traditional news organizations like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, the company is well positioned to take advantage.
The measurement company was one of the first to recognize the importance of including consumer-generated media (CGM) in the measurement mix. Now, as CGM grows in importance and ubiquity, Cymfony has emerged as a leader in the space. Bringing former analyst Jim Nail on as CMO has only raised its profile.
With acquisitions heating up in the services arena, Cymfony's positioning could make it a prime target for a company looking to establish or expand its presence in the measurement space.
The WSJ online
Video, video, video. When the Journal relaunched its print edition January 2, much of its editorial focus fixated on how to link all its channels more closely. And the opportunities of video are top of mind for the media brand.
Editors who addressed the PR community at a recent PRWeek event asked the communicators to help them identify opportunities for capturing content via video that will extend the reach of print stories. The Online Journal has stuck to its paid-for model even as others have ungated, and its quest for added value will prove edifying to all.
Business Wire sold to Berkshire Hathaway, and now the rumor mill is focused once again on the future of its primary competitor, PR Newswire. Recent reports had the company, which is owned by United Business Media, fielding offers from such outfits as Apax and private equity firms, though no one would comment.
PRN itself acquired US Newswire in 2006, and consolidated editorial and customer service operations in Cleveland and Albuquerque, NM. Last December's layoffs were characterized as "strategic alignment," but this year's activity across newswire companies speaks to an ongoing dynamism in this sector, in spite of new-media competition.
The first news organization to open a presence in Second Life, including a flesh-and-blood bureau chief, Reuters is clearly trying to stay ahead of the new-media curve. An extreme example, perhaps, but it's all about bringing the news and content to where people live today.
But the company isn't just following the virtual trend, it's also tapping into CGM opportunities, partnering with Yahoo to present video shot by amateurs of newsworthy events and people. CNN and the BBC have announced similar schemes, but Reuters has an opportunity in the US to build its brand in step with the changing media environment.
Last year's picks
Yahoo is at a crossroads as it struggles to compete in the social space. Will it succeed?
The New York Times
Financial woes, shaky stock, and an attack on the corporate structure from Morgan Stanley. But Times Select was a success.
Digital is indeed the focus - but "old media" divisions like news are suffering budget cuts.
It's clear that communications is at the forefront of this company, with an unusually keen sense (for pharma) of the media, and the fingerprints of last January's hire of Ray Kerins are quite apparent.
Merck isn't just flogging treatments; it's promoting wellness. Programs such as the Gardasil HPV awareness effort go above and beyond the usual. With the Vioxx recall increasingly a memory, Merck will surely benefit from Pfizer's torcetrapib failure.
Look for 2007 to be the year that many of Tom Mattia's plans take place. Named the new SVP and director of worldwide public affairs and communications in 2006, Mattia told PRWeek last year he wanted Coke's communications teams to be more proactive with the media, improve upon the company's internal communications infrastructure, and, most of all, focus on corporate social responsibility.
On many occasions, Coke found itself in the middle of the obesity and health and wellness debate. In 2007, it will launch a significant wellness effort led by MS&L and Chandler Chicco Agency.
CEO Maurice Levy has been relatively quiet (though most people are compared to WPP's Martin Sorrell) on the holding-company front, but he has recently blazed onto the acquisition trail. Snapping up direct/digital marketing giant Digitas is a clear sign that he is anxious to up the proportion of group revenue generated by marketing services, and indeed, it is relatively thin in those areas.
While Manning Selvage & Lee is undeniably an asset, Publicis Groupe is unusual for its size in not having a sister network even approaching similar stature. Rumors that Interpublic (or parts of it) are in Levy's sights were met not with howls of derision, but with chin-scratching interest.
The Home Depot
A continued re-investment in stores and customer service are things to watch for in 2007. In particular, there will be a continued push in CSR, starting with January's soft launch of a program called Eco Options, around its environmentally friendly products, followed by a big push in April around Earth Day.
Share prices in 2006 declined about 4%, partly due to the sluggish housing market last year. Some analysts expect the housing market to stabilize during 2007, which would mean a better year for The Home Depot.
The abrupt resignation of CEO Bob Nardelli last week may help the company put its compensation issues in the past. The company plans to hire 1,000 new employees across the US as part of a $350 million investment plan.
Last year's picks
No high-profile bids for US companies in '06, but domestic growth make it the elephant in the world economic room.
NY Stock Exchange
As Grasso's case wound down and Eliot Spitzer went to Albany, the NYSE still faces challenges, but the strong economy bodes well.
In-house capabilities were strengthened with the addition of Leslie Dach, and a more liberal audience was courted. The critics, however, gain strength.