Editors' Choice 2010: Who to watch

From individuals to agencies, corporations to media organizations, PRWeek's staff looks into the future to predict the entities that will make headlines in 2010.

From individuals to agencies, corporations to media organizations, PRWeek's staff looks into the future to predict the entities that will make headlines in 2010


Frank Shaw
VP of corporate comms, Microsoft
In July, when Simon Sproule resigned as head of corporate communications at Microsoft after just five months on the job, Frank Shaw was an obvious choice to take over. In many ways, Shaw had been perfectly groomed for the role after spending more than 14 years working on the Microsoft business while at Waggener Edstrom.

He now has the formidable task of using Microsoft's recent successes – Xbox, Bing, and Windows 7 – to buoy the entire brand from the marketing doldrums. He's also trying to build a consistent message for a company that has nearly universal name recognition – for better or worse – as well as being associated with everything from the lackluster Zune to the popular Xbox to ubiquitous PC software. On top of this, Shaw is under pressure not to show favoritism to WE, while also relying on the firm's strengths, of which he is deeply familiar.

Next year is already looking good for Microsoft. It starts 2010 without Vista baggage weighing it down and a well-received new product launch completed. It will be interesting to see what Shaw does with this newfound goodwill for the tech giant.

Teri Everett
SVP of corporate affairs, comms and CSR, News Corp
With Gary Ginsberg stepping out of the top communications spot at the news conglomerate at the end of last year, Everett is taking the reins at an interesting time for the company. Not only is News Corp's CEO Rupert Murdoch making his own headlines every day, whether about cross ownership rules or his fight against Google, but the company itself is heavily invested in the media industry's future. It is part of a consortium, which includes Time and Condé Nast, that is working on a digital project that has been called the “Hulu of magazines.”

As News Corp becomes the loudest voice on how traditional media can survive – and thrive – amid changes in consumption of news and technology, Everett has an opportunity to carefully craft a message that can satisfy readers, industry analysts, other media, and advertisers. Solidifying News Corp's leadership position in the industry will be at the top of her agenda.

Allison Gollust
EVP, corporate comms, NBC Universal
Gollust's place in the PR industry was already on the upswing when she was promoted to lead NBC Universal's communications in July 2009. She has oversight for communications at all of the 5-year-old company's properties, including not just its broadcast TV station and cable outlets, but also the theme parks, film studios, and digital entities, such as iVillage.

But in the coming year, her job will be complicated – and likely dominated – by news of Comcast's more than $30-billion deal for NBCU that was announced in early December. Comcast is expected to face intense scrutiny from regulators for the next year, as well as backlash from consumer protection groups. Though much of the burden of proof will lie with Comcast, Gollust no doubt will be counseling her team and executives in a similar manner. If the deal succeeds, she stands to be in charge of communications for one of the largest entertainment companies.

Fortunately for Gollust, her boss, for whom she's also a spokesperson, Jeff Zucker is remaining as CEO of NBCU. He previously told PRWeek, “I have complete and total trust in her.”

Margery Kraus
CEO/president, APCO
Kraus has successfully steered her agency for 25 years, but she isn't slowing down. As the CEO of a top public affairs firm, Kraus is constantly circling the globe, while also hewing to the agency's Washington strengths.

In the past year, the firm picked up several substantial clients, including MasterCard, Western Union, GlaxoSmithKline, and Dow Corning Solar. Kraus also opened a Malaysia office to provide communications for the government there. The firm reported 8% growth in 2008, and said that November 2009 was one of the strongest months in its history. APCO was named to Inc.'s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private US companies.

Kraus remains a prominent figure in an industry where men are more likely to retain the executive seat. In 2010, she will chair The Council of PR Firms. Kraus was also inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame this past year, as well as the Enterprising Women Hall of Fame. In addition, she participated in this past summer's World Economic Forum in Davos as a charter member.

Dan Pfeiffer
White House comms director

Pfeiffer was the third person to fill the post of White House communications director in 2009, but he's not a newcomer to President Barack Obama's administration. Prior to his promotion in November, Pfeiffer was deputy communications director, and during Obama's presidential campaign, he oversaw communications.

In his first year in office, Obama set out an ambitious communications plan to open up the government and White House – literally – to the public. It made use of the full range of communications tactics, including traditional means like broadcast interviews and town halls to social media, such as a Twitter feed and publishing talking points to the White House blog.

At 33, Pfeiffer is on the younger side of previous communications directors, but he has – as many before him – an ambitious and eager boss. He has already indicated a willingness to en-gage aggressively with declared media enemy No. 1: Fox News. But as the administration enters its second year, we'll be watching what unique attributes Pfeiffer brings – or doesn't bring – to the job. Most likely, he'll draw on past communications experience learned while working for other prominent Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Tom Daschle.

Last year's picks:

Robert Gibbs
Reason: New press secretary had chance to usher in a new era of transparency and revamp press briefing.
What happened: Faced his share of critics, yet has adeptly handled the position thus far.

Donna Imperato
Reason: Cohn & Wolfe's merger with GCI Group presented an opportunity to create a stronger brand.
What happened: C&W won a number of key accounts throughout the year, including part of the highly coveted Wal-Mart business.

Peter Mckillop
Reason: Possibility of KKR hedge fund going public.
What happened: Though the company was involved in a number of IPOs, it remains private and communications from the company have been relatively quiet.

George Sard
Reason: His firm's experience in governance and financial communications amid the crisis.
What happened: Still a trusted adviser to many corporations on financial communications issues.

Sally Susman
Reason: Her new position as CCO at Pfizer and the company's commitment to improving its corporate communications and media relations function.
What happened: Susman has led the integration following the acquisition of Wyeth and has championed Pfizer's transparent communications style and use of social media.


Weisscomm Group
WeissComm, once a traditional healthcare PR shop, used 2009 to expand its offerings further into social media and creative services through a number of acquisitions and hires. It says it expects revenues for 2009 to increase 40% year-over-year.

The acquisitions set a tone for the San Francisco-based agency, especially during a year where many firms were cutting budgets and staff. Going into 2010, it is well positioned for more growth.

With its integrated offerings, the firm is more than poised to take the lead as a counselor and strategist on issues relating to the FDA's policy on online communications, healthcare reform, new technology, and the growing consumer health sector.

If the FDA develops guidance for social media and online communications, the firm, which has been a key partner in developing social media strategies for some of the largest pharma companies, can guide its clients through changes as a true adviser.

WeissComm's acquisitions will also help it develop client relationships outside the traditional pharma and biotech sphere. Yet, many firms are remaining cautious about 2010. If budgets don't increase and revenues stay flat, the agency could face challenges in maintaining its success.

In the past year, Publicis Groupe dismantled the SAMS division that housed PR and then rebuilt under the MS&L name. The Paris-based holding company created the MS&L Group, placing a number of its PR properties under the MS&L banner in a bid to boost its footprint and client offerings. A non-PR executive, Olivier Fleurot, was put in charge of the PR agencies, but he reports directly into Publicis CEO Maurice Levy, giving the PR division a greater voice in a massive company that includes advertising, media buying, and digital firms. So as a number of firms underwent restructuring this past year, MS&L increased its standing.

Both Fleurot and Jim Tsokanos, who remains president of the Americas for the new group, are looking for acquisitions to further grow the group, so expect some movement in Asia and possibly in digital or public affairs.

We'll be watching to see if MS&L is able to effectively merge these varied pieces, and whether it translates into the multinational accounts it covets.

Waggener Edstrom
Last year, Waggener Edstrom took its place as a digital frontrunner. It went beyond masterminding social media campaigns to actually building products intended to help clients monitor and make use of social media. In March, WE launched Twendz, a Twitter data-mining tool. This fall, it followed that with a professional paid version of the tool that filters tweets by a variety of characteristics. With this iteration, WE is smartly diversifying its revenue stream to Web tools – a savvy move at a time when the media environment is shrinking at an alarming rate. But perhaps more importantly for the short run, Twendz has positioned WE as a genuine thought leader in the digital space. WE also got more serious about digital with high-profile hires like David Patton and Tac Anderson.

In essence, WE has shown what PR firms should do with digital. Since then, several other agencies have come forth saying that they, too, are developing Web tools. As the digital evolution continues in 2010, it will be interesting to see how WE applies its digital knowhow to client work.

Next Fifteen
Next Fifteen flexed its muscles in 2009 to show it was willing to take new risks and diversify. Last summer, the UK-based holding company bought M Booth & Associates, strengthening its lagging traditional consumer expertise. Later in the year, it launched Project Metal, an unnamed digital firm that will likely get its teeth through acquisitions.

Along with these new avenues, Next Fifteen's core business of tech firms is still strong. Though Text 100 had layoffs earlier in the year and has been quiet about new business, Bite Communications shifted away from its reputation as an enterprise firm to take on more corporate business, most notably HP. OutCast Communications won VMware again and grew its Yahoo business.

No longer just a tech player, Next Fifteen has promised more acquisitions to bolster its technical expertise, but also its consumer reach over the next fiscal year. CEO Tim Dyson has also left the door open for the holding company itself to be bought after talks earlier this year to sell to Chime or Huntsworth concluded without a sale. Whether Next Fifteen is acquired or acquires, it is well positioned to make a mark in 2010.

Ogilvy PR Worldwide
The firm ended 2009 in good standing, with revenues expected to be similar, if slightly off, from the record year of 2008.

With new CEO Christopher Graves in place, it can improve on its long history and develop through growth areas like Islamic branding, healthcare, and digital.

Graves' focus on global issues and business acumen, as well as his relationship with Ogilvy & Mather CEO Miles Young, will lead the firm into a new era that can provide integrated programs for global clients that need them.

Ogilvy solidified its digital reputation last year with John Bell's WOMMA leadership and its online work with the American Peanut Council during the salmonella outreach at year's start.

The year proved to be a fitting way to send off Marcia Silverman, who stepped into her role as chair January 1. But it remains to be seen how staff and clients react to a new leader.

Last year's picks:

Porter Novelli
Reason: After a number of senior-level departures, the agency had to refocus to win clients and talent back.
What happened: Although CMO Marian Salzman left the agency to become president of Euro RSCG Worldwide, the firm made several other senior hires, including chief medical officer Barbara DeBuono. In addition, it won key accounts, such as Monster, Woolite, and a portion of Wal-Mart's business that was part of a multimillion-dollar review in the spring.

Glover Park Group
Reason: The Democratic-leaning agency would be well served by a new administration.
What happened: Picked up new business, including the Alliance for Climate Protection.

The Jeffrey Group
Reason: Key wins in Latin America in 2008 and possible expansion in the US.
What happened: The agency has been quiet about recent activity.

PCG Campbell
Reason: Its concentration on the automotive industry left it vulnerable.
What happened: Ford reduced its work with the agency as it opted for more work with WPP Group, but the firm still works on its racing business.

Reason: Ingenuity to add a licensing division as a way to diversify its offerings.
What happened: Peppercom partner Ed Moed says the division has been able to double its revenue with clients such as Yogi Berra, Delorean, and the Jane Goodall Institute.


The global soft-drink giant took major social media and digital marketing steps last year. In April, it formed an office of digital communications and social media within its public affairs and communications department. Last fall, it launched Expedition 206, which invites “happiness ambassadors” to travel around the world and blog and share their experiences for the year.

Always a proponent of multicultural marketing, Coca-Cola has pledged to boost its work in this area. At an investor meeting last fall, North American CMO Katie Bayne said that targeting “multicultural” Americans will be a focus over the next decade. Marrying these two objectives to reach a broader set of consumers and ultimately influence purchase decisions will be the true coup for Coca-Cola.

GE's previous “Ecomagination” campaign won PRWeek's 2006 Corporate Branding Campaign of the Year, so we're carefully watching its “Healthymagination” initiative, launched in 2009, a year heady with healthcare debate.

Healthymagination promises to invest $6 billion in innovation and technology to address issues in healthcare. Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE, called the multi-pronged business and marketing initiative a “systems approach to solving global issues,” and its communications team has been working to get that message out to stakeholders.

At an October 21 event, GE Healthcare announced the launch of a research and development partnership with Eli Lilly; a $250 million equity fund for diagnostic, IT, and life sciences technologies; and a CSR program called “Developing Health,” a $35 million investment that will provide grants and send employees as volunteers to clinics that treat underserved populations.

So far, the effort has focused on the business community, but Linda Boff, global marcomms director at GE, told PRWeek that the company is preparing for a consumer push in 2010.

Pfizer's communications team has made noticeable progress in redefining how a global pharma company can communicate. As it continues to integrate Wyeth, which it acquired in early 2009 for $68 billion, into the business, Pfizer, along with the pharma industry as a whole, will also undergo its own changes.

Issues relating to healthcare reform will be a communications mainstay, legislation or not. Though Pfizer used reform as a platform to position CEO Jeff Kindler as a thought leader, its reputation could be affected by the debate's outcome and the industry's perceived relationship with the White House.

If the FDA implements regulations for online communications, Pfizer is in a similar position as reform. New regulations may ease legal concerns about communicating on the Web, but could also limit the communications that the company is doing now.

Pfizer's willingness to engage in the public domain through communications leaders like Sally Susman and Ray Kerins will be a key factor in its future success.

US Chamber of Commerce
Business was a major issue in Washington last year and the Chamber faces many of the same PR challenges in 2010. Questions about job growth and small business will be top of mind this year as the White House seeks to work with the private sector, including the Chamber.

The organization also has to look at its own reputation, tarnished by the resignations from companies like Apple and Nike, which publicly denounced the group's opposition to the current climate change legislation and the ensuing media attention.

Yet the Chamber retains one of the savviest communications teams in DC, led by Thomas Collamore, the executive who directed the rebranding of the Altria Group. This year will also mark the first full year of the “Campaign for Free Enterprise,” a multimillion-dollar integrated effort that launched in October.

The Chamber has identified the initiative as a major part of its overall communications strategy, but it will also illustrate whether the organization is still in touch with the needs of the business community it serves.

In 2009, the struggling search engine nearly rebuilt its entire communications team from the ground up. CMO Elisa Steele chose Eric Brown to lead communications and make Yahoo relevant again for consumers, even though both are from NetApp and have enterprise backgrounds. And with several agency reviews under way, Yahoo's transformation will continue in 2010.

While the first phase of its re-branding push was not largely popular, the effort will probably get more interesting as it shifts from a mass brand campaign to a product-driven initiative in 2010. New partnerships with Microsoft and Facebook also proved that Yahoo is aiming to regain its cachet as a brand and company.

Of course, challenges abound. Google's hold on the market is intimidating for any rival, but opportunities exist for Yahoo, especially now with its internal transition largely sorted. Over the next year, look for the company to take new risks and get even more creative with marketing.

Last year's picks:

The Big Three US automakers
Reason: All were on the brink of bankruptcy and had asked for a taxpayer bailout.
What happened: General Motors and Chrysler accepted bailout money, while Ford declined. GM restructured under bankruptcy and emerged with the Reinvention campaign; Ford sales and favorability increased.

Reason: Purchase by InBev could have affected the all-American image of the brand.
What happened: The company has maintained its traditional identity, especially in its advertising.

Reason: As a government bailout recipient, the company had to work to regain consumer trust.
What happened: Has been taking steps to repay bailout, yet has not launched significant initiatives to rebuild its reputation.

Reason: Its battered reputation given food recalls and complaints about transparency.
What happened: The widespread peanut recall at the beginning of the year was handled quickly; the government agency is getting kudos for finally addressing social media with its recent hearings.

Reason: The recession tested consumers' appetite for overpriced caffeinated drinks.
What happened: Starbucks continued to experiment; it launched its first instant coffee product.


Bloomberg, a trusted source of information for the financial community, hopes to expand beyond the Wall Street set with its October purchase of BusinessWeek. More importantly, the acquisition falls in line with its plan to become “the world's most influential news organization,” as executive Andrew Lack told The New York Times.

At a time when other traditional news organizations are floundering, Bloomberg, which has avoided financial woes, has the opportunity to grow its influence, as more purchases could be on horizon in the coming year.

The AOL/Time Warner merger of the early 2000s was heralded, then questioned by media critics and business people alike. Now that AOL has spun off, it faces several challenges to establish its relevance in a world that has changed greatly over the past 10 years. Cutting thousands of jobs while hiring elsewhere, AOL will have to work with limited resources to find its place in the changing online media world.

The company will also learn to adjust to its new role as content creator. Part of CEO Tim Arm-strong's strategy is to make AOL the leading source of digital content – for both advertisers and consumers. Hiring a stable of journalists was the first step. The second was creating a digital newsroom system that can predict the types of stories, videos, and photos that will be most popular with consumers and marketers.

The next year will be critical for AOL as it tries to successfully connect with both audiences amid continued competition from Yahoo and Google.

The Newsmarket
When it opened in 2001, The NewsMarket was ahead of its time, offering broadcast quality video to journalists via the Internet. As companies in the broadcast PR industry faced increased VNR scrutiny and a struggling economy, many firms started to think outside of their role as content creator and focused on improving the distribution of materials by emphasizing Internet distribution as well.

The NewsMarket's July purchase of former broadcast PR giant Medialink gave it an opportunity to marry its capabilities in distribution with content creation for online and traditional media.

The goal is to be a one-stop shop for clients. How it communicates its evolution, including perhaps a name change, will ultimately determine its success going forward.

With its planned purchase of NBC Universal, Comcast is set to become a media behemoth. The deal would place it at the helm of cable and network TV, film, theme parks, and digital platforms. The entire business world will be watching to see if the deal happens – and how the two companies will be integrated.

Both Comcast and NBCU have been immersed in digital –in their products and communication. Comcast has avidly used Twitter on customer service issues. Will this communications strategy translate to a broader entity? We're interested to see.

Thomson Reuters
In late 2009, Thomson Reuters began its foray into the PR services market with the acquisition of European news distribution service Hugin and a partnership that would bring dna13's monitoring and analytic PR software platform to its clients.

And on January 1, 2010, it planned a huge leap into the PR industry by rolling all of these services into a full PR workflow solution in the form of Thomson One PR. The offering includes press release distribution and a Web-based desktop platform of message analytics and media monitoring, creating direct competition with a number of other PR services companies, including BusinessWire, PRNewswire, Vocus, and Cision.

The company will be able to leverage its relationship with the 6,000 corporate clients it already services via its IR and corporate programs to gain customers for the new service that will roll out globally over the next year.

Last year's picks:

Associated Press
Reason: Many newspapers pulled out of their agreements with the news agency, notably reducing its customer base.
What happened: Several media outlets continued the AP-less experiment, most notably the Tribune Company, which gave up using AP content for a week this past November.

Reason: The network's position as a middle-of-the-road alternative to Fox News and MSNBC.
What happened: Ratings went down significantly and the network's most opinionated personality, Lou Dobbs, left.

Reason: A falling stock price and a pledge to re-focus on its core business of video creation.
What happened: Stock price continued to fall and The NewsMarket purchased it in July in part because that core business complemented its distribution services.

Reason: Signing deals with major PR agencies and a partnership with Cision, as well as the growing importance of social media monitoring.
What happened: Has continued to grow and receive positive attention from the broader business community, including Forbes.

The New York Times
Reason: Declining stock price and layoffs made for an uncertain business story.
What happened: The paper continues to struggle from a business standpoint, most recently cutting 100 newsroom jobs.

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