Jack Martin spent much of 2011 on a plane getting to know the global empire he had assumed power over from previous incumbent Paul Taaffe in a coup that surprised everyone except perhaps those who had seen the no-nonsense Texan in action at close range.
Martin became part of the iconic H+K family when his Public Strategies firm – also owned by WPP – was merged with Taaffe's outfit in fall 2010. By January, Taaffe had gone. By the end of 2011, the operation had assumed the name Hill+Knowlton Strategies, further cementing the Martin influence.
Such change led to internal and external uncertainty as H+K staff and the wider market waited to see how Martin's vision would play out. But aided by the strong senior team of US president and CEO Dan Bartlett and new appointments, such as worldwide head of digital Andrew Bleeker, global CTO Josh Hendler, and New York GM Ian Bailey, the new H+K is finding its feet and gaining an identity.
Martin's mission is to put the "public" back into public relations and "defeat the mediocrity" he believes has crept into the profession. However, there was one hiccup during the year when H+K COO Ken Luce and US EVP Jody Venturoni became embroiled in a legal dispute with former employer Weber Shandwick over allegations of employee and client theft.
Coming from politics, where dirty deeds and hard compromise are part of the daily rough and tumble, Martin may have found the dispute mystifying. He probably also figured it wasn't his fight to fight, thus partly informing the agency's decision to settle rather than suffer a messy court battle where dirty laundry would be aired in public.
If Martin continues to build on the progress of the last 18 months, he will likely consider his decision to eschew comfy retirement in Texas for the globetrotting life of a worldwide agency CEO as one well made.