H&K's Martin rejects Burson comparison

Hill & Knowlton's new global executive chairman and CEO Jack Martin has been setting out his priorities having got his feet under the table at the iconic WPP PR firm.

Hill & Knowlton's new global executive chairman and CEO Jack Martin has been setting out his priorities having got his feet under the table at the iconic WPP PR firm.

He told PRWeek this week he spent the first two months in his new extended global role travelling the world visiting the agency's regional office heads. He also held town hall meetings with staff in each area to explain the new vision for H&K under his leadership, reporting that these sessions were completely open and no-holds-barred, with employees encouraged to ask any question they wanted.

Former George W. Bush adviser Dan Bartlett, who is now president and CEO of H&K USA, and also chairman and CEO of Public Strategies, is taking a hard look at Hill & Knowlton's public affairs offering. But Martin rejected the often-punted suggestion that his brief from WPP CEO Martin Sorrell is to imitate what Mark Penn has done elsewhere in the network, saying: “We are not trying to replicate Burson-Marsteller.” He sees the newly merged Public Strategies and Hill & Knowlton operation as a “combination of two great entities that have produced a third,” with each bringing “wonderful strengths to the table.”

Martin believes H&K was missing a trick with digital and social media and also in not having a research function. He has immediately implemented a review of the agency's digital offer under Andrew Bleeker, the founder of Bully Pulpit Interactive hired in January to become H&K's global digital practice director. There is also a review underway of everything H&K does in the marketing communications arena, to more closely link this to the agency's aforementioned digital offer. Talent is also a top priority and Martin wants to cultivate 200 home-grown “stars” at H&K rather than participating in the hiring merry-go-round that sees the same people shifting from agency to agency.

On paper, the firm's New York office still looks light, with Martin, Bartlett, and newly appointed COO Ken Luce splitting their time between the east coast and Texas, where Public Strategies is based. Indeed, Martin said there are one or two open positions in New York, including a GM role, and emphasized the office is still important to H&K, especially regarding M&A, IR, and interacting with the financial press.

He also admitted it “needed some attention,” and is organizing New York in a different way to reflect a “new world” of PR, in which H&K aims to put the “public” back into public relations and claim the “fifth seat” at the corporate table.

As Martin says, he had to fight against the big boys for decades at Public Strategies, and he is bringing a little of that “scrapper” mentality to H&K, at home and abroad.

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