Hill & Knowlton to merge with Public Strategies

PRWeek can exclusively reveal that Hill & Knowlton is merging with sister WPP agency Public Strategies, with former George W. Bush adviser Dan Bartlett becoming president and CEO of H&K USA.

PRWeek can exclusively reveal that Hill & Knowlton is merging with sister WPP agency Public Strategies, with former George W. Bush adviser Dan Bartlett becoming president and CEO of H&K USA.

Jack Martin, founder and chairman of Public Strategies, will become global executive chairman of H&K. Paul Taaffe will remain as H&K's global CEO. And Bartlett (pictured, right) will expand his role to become president and CEO of H&K USA and chairman and CEO of Public Strategies - reporting to Taaffe.

Bartlett joined Public Strategies in November 2007 and became president and CEO in March last year. He is a former White House counselor to George W. Bush, for whom he oversaw strategic communications planning and policy.

The merger will formally take effect on January 1, 2011 and each company will retain its brand for the foreseeable future.

Taaffe told PRWeek: “It has long been observed that H&K is underserved in the US. This will give us critical mass in the US and we will gain new clients that may want to go global – as well as a number of new senior colleagues.”

MaryLee Sachs, currently US chairman and worldwide director of marcomms at H&K, becomes global practice leader of consumer marketing - an area of responsibility she already holds. Michael Kehs will remain US director of public affairs at H&K.

Taaffe added that the majority of Public Strategies' principal clients hold executive functions such as CEO, chairman, and CFO. He said the deal was “potentially game-changing in terms of building bulk in the US” and bulks up H&K's expertise in public affairs, research, and the financial sector.

H&K claims to be the largest agency outside the US and says this deal will give it parity with the rest of the US agency leaders. The combined entity will have over 2,300 employees and 83 offices in 44 countries. Public Strategies has 175 employees.

In WPP's Q3 financial results for 2010, the marketing services group singled out Public Strategies and Burson Marsteller for leading PR and public affairs growth in the US.

WPP acquired Austin, TX-based Public Strategies in 2006. The deal was reported to be worth $90 million and the agency's annual gross revenue was about $50 million.

WPP's other PR firms include Burson-Marsteller, Ogilvy PR Worldwide, Cohn & Wolfe, Blanc & Otus, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, Dewey Square Group, and Robinson Lerer & Montgomery.

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