Cohn & Wolfe: Agency Business Report 2010

In 2009, Cohn & Wolfe, still sorting through its merger with GCI, continued to adjust its staff to correct for overlap between the agencies.

Principal: Donna Imperato, CEO
Ownership: WPP  
Subsidiary agencies: AxiCom, GCI Health
Offices: 47 wholly/majority-owned globally; 6 in US
Revenues: Global: between $100 million-$200 million; US: between $50 million-$100 million
Headcount: More than 1,000 globally; about 400 in US

In 2009, Cohn & Wolfe, still sorting through its merger with GCI, continued to adjust its staff to correct for overlap between the agencies. Headcount decreased 9% globally, mostly due to layoffs and senior-level departures, notably in the UK. This became a part of the agency's culture, even resulting in a legal battle with two dismissed healthcare directors. Major US exits included Michael O'Brien, global consumer practice leader, and Bill Martin, global healthcare practice leader.
 
"There is now a sense of energy that wasn't there before," says CEO Donna Imperato. "It's all a good thing. But it was a very disturbing time for us."
 
Imperato says the agency's revenues were down "in line with WPP figures." The WPP Group has reported that like-for-like revenues for PR and public affairs fell 7% last year.
 
Digital success
Cohn & Wolfe's primary growth driver in 2009 was digital, with ExxonMobil tapping the firm for its online monitoring and response effort. MasterCard, Nokia, and Hampton Hotels also enlisted the agency for digital work. Other notable US wins included Wal-Mart, McKesson, Tom's of Maine, Folgers, Valvoline, and Ubisoft. US losses included Playtex, SanDisk, and HP.
 
In 2010, Cohn & Wolfe plans to leverage its branding expertise and "make a play for the CMO, [incorporating] branding into all practice areas," Imperato says. She acknowledges that being a part of a global holding company can make attempting costly investments difficult.
 
"But we also get a lot from WPP," she says. "If you give [CEO Martin Sorrell] a good rationale, he will let you [invest]."
 
Hiring again

Cohn & Wolfe has made a string of senior-level hires that Imperato says "don't automatically turn into revenue," but are right for the agency's 2010 goals. They include Chad Latz, president of the global digital practice, and John Hollywood, EVP and US consumer practice leader.
 
The agency is now actively recruiting mid- to senior-level professionals. However, Imperato expects to exceed forecasts for the year. "I'm going for a flat budget for this year," she says. "I'm probably going to exceed it. I am anticipating 5% growth."

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