RLM Finsbury hires former Visa CCO Michelman for West Coast expansion

Michelman will lead RLM Finsbury's San Francisco office, which is expected to launch in a few weeks.

Doug Michelman
Doug Michelman

SAN FRANCISCO: RLM Finsbury has brought on former Visa CCO Doug Michelman as partner and head of its soon-to-be launched San Francisco office.

Michelman, who reports to RLM Finsbury CEO Michael Gross, started the role on Wednesday after serving as a senior advisor at the firm since the beginning of the year, he said.

While RLM Finsbury has not yet opened a physical location in San Francisco, Michelman is focused on introducing the agency to the marketplace and hiring staffers. He is recruiting people locally and might transfer an employee from the New York office, he said.

The San Francisco office is expected to launch in a few weeks.  RLM Finsbury decided to open an outpost there because it is a major business market with a mix of established companies and startups, Gross said. The agency’s goal is to build a client base in the area and establish the San Francisco location as more than a "satellite office," he said.

RLM Finsbury is working with a few clients in the Bay Area, but Gross declined to disclose them. The firm has experience helping startups position themselves in the market for the first time, build brand awareness, and transition from private to public companies, he added.

Michelman, who worked at Visa from 2003 to 2014, most recently as global head of corporate relations, said RLM Finsbury’s new office is "in many ways a startup" in the area.

"One of the things they want me to focus on is using my knowledge of the market and people in communications leadership roles at many companies in the Bay Area to see if we can demonstrate what we can bring to them in terms of value and grow the business from there," he explained.

Gross said Michelman was the right fit for the role because of his experience at Visa and on the agency side, as well as his knowledge of local press.

Michelman stepped down from his post at Visa last year amidst a restructuring of the company’s communications and marketing departments. Visa's global corporate relations department was shifted under marketing at the time, while former CMO Antonio Lucio became chief brand officer. Michelman had previously reported to CEO Joseph Saunders.

During his time at Visa, Michelman served under four different CEOs and helped the company during the 2007 merger of its US, Canada, and international units. In 2008, Visa had the largest IPO in US history, raising $17.9 billion.

Michelman’s responsibilities at Visa included overseeing global media and analyst relations, issues and crisis management, communications programs, and digital communications strategies.

Prior to Visa, Michelman served as the West Coast regional president for FleishmanHillard from 2000 to 2002. He also worked at Fleishman from 1988 to 1996, serving as SVP and GM for the Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Hong Kong offices, and as a VP in New York.

From 1997 to 2000, Michelman was VP of corporate communications at Pacific Bell. He also previously worked as a VP at Edelman. 

Earlier this year, RLM Finsbury appointed former senior New York Times writer Stephen Labaton as US president, and former president Gross stepped into the CEO role. The agency opened a Singapore office last year to support clients in Southeast Asia.

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