Ownership: WPP (part of Young & Rubicam Group)
Subsidiary agencies: BWR, Direct Impact, Penn Schoen Berland, Prime Policy Group, Proof Integrated Communications
Offices: Global: 73 wholly owned; US: 14
Revenue: Global: $400 million to $450 million; US: $200 million to $250 million
Headcount: Global: 2,288; US: undisclosed
Growth in emerging markets helped Burson-Marsteller achieve global revenues of between $400 million and $450 million, including double-digit growth in Asia and Latin America. The firm opened its fifth office in China this past year, a third office in Brazil, and it acquired South African firm Arcay Communications Africa.
Roughly half its revenues are generated overseas. Growth in the US and Europe was more limited due to the uncertain economy in 2011, but global CEO Mark Penn says the WPP firm entered 2012 “with a very strong wind at our back,” including more than $100 million in new business. It made up for two major projects that came to an end during the year by Q4, he adds.
Burson grew its largest account, Ford, with tasks in Asia, EMEA, Latin America, and for its Lincoln brand. It expanded its HP relationship with global corporate work. In the US, it added UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, Saban Brands, San Francisco International Airport, and the launch of Met-Life's sponsorship of the Meadowlands, the New Jersey sports complex. It also added Netflix and Equifax in Latin America, Microsoft in China, and Bridgestone Tires in EMEA.
Penn wants to solidify the firm's reputation in crisis and issues, as well as continue expansion into areas such as consumer marketing and healthcare. Burson is often called upon by organizations facing crises, such as Carnival Cruise's Costa Crociere, whose cruise ship ran aground in Italy earlier this year, killing 30-plus people, or Foxconn, the troubled iPhone manufacturer, but it hopes recent new accounts will build its reputation in consumer and healthcare as well.
The higher margins of crisis work compared to consumer briefs have been good to the agency's bottom line, coupled with its work in the tech sector. “Burson is brought into a lot of the most difficult crises,” Penn notes. “Those tend to be premium services.”
The agency spent significant time last year developing new specialties, such as the Fan Experience for sports partnerships and a US-China specialty group; producing new research, such as the Global Corporate Reputation Index; and bolstering senior talent.
Global headcount rose 4% to 2,288. Penn says hires in the last two years have paid off, including Helene Ellison, global healthcare practice chair; chief global digital strategist Dallas Lawrence; and Lisa Travatello, global brand and consumer marketing practice chair.
Dave DenHerder, former CEO of Direct Impact, the firm's grassroots subsidiary, was named US CEO, while former president Pat Ford moved into a global vice chairman role, tasked with working on some of its largest clients. Penn credits DenHerder with growing the Ford account to where it is now.
The firm plucked Johanna Schneider from the Business Roundtable to run the Washington, DC, office and named Nate Tibbits chair of US public affairs.
It is the global strategy team, though, that Penn credits with bringing in “millions, if not tens of millions of new work.” The group is staffed by the likes of Matt Miller and Karen Hughes, both ex-politicos – the “kind of people that get called when things happen,” says Penn.