Porter Novelli: Agency Business Report 2015

In the second year of a three-year plan, talent-focused Porter Novelli made a number of impressive additions to personnel in 2014.

Porter Novelli global CEO Karen van Bergen
Porter Novelli global CEO Karen van Bergen

Principal: Karen van Bergen, global CEO
Ownership: Omnicom Group, part of its Diversified Agency Services group
Subsidiaries: Voce Communications and Paradigm Communications
Offices: Global: 37 wholly owned; US: 14
Revenue: Global: $100 million to $200 million; US: $100 million to $150 million
Headcount: Global: 686*; US: 484*
*PRWeek estimates

In the second year of a three-year plan, talent-focused Porter Novelli made a number of impressive additions to personnel in 2014.

Former Unilever marcomms chief Christine Cea returned to the firm to lead its global consumer practice, based in New York. She previously worked in Porter’s London and New York offices from 1999 to 2005. Ted Sabarese joined as regional creative director for North America, focused on content strategy, development, and production, as well as advertising, experiential marketing, and design. He previously worked at Chobani.

In early 2015 the Omnicom Group firm brought on Adam Scholder, formerly of Olson Engage, as SVP, and in 2014 Doug Elwood joined as an SVP in the New York office. Phil Buehler joined as global director of strategic planning. Amy Nicole Nayar took up the newly created role of SVP of global health and wellness and lead for longtime client Johnson & Johnson. She previously ran a consultancy called Forefront Leadership.

Other promotions included Jesse Soleil to EVP and director of PNConnect, Erin Osher to EVP and deputy MD of the New York office, and Fred Shank to EVP and head of its West Coast consumer practice. The firm was named one of PRWeek’s Best Places to Work in the US in 2014. 

Departures included 28-year agency veteran and chief client officer Michael Ramah, UK tech leader Grant Currie, and EVP Tracy Stout, who moved in-house to Workday and PMMI, respectively. SVP Josh Hallett left for a role at Publix. Former partner and MD for Southern California Bill Kolberg retired.

"When we have the right talent in the right place, everything else will follow automatically," says global CEO Karen van Bergen.

Growth in North America
The North American region grew the fastest in 2014, with New York serving as the impetus after the office added work from Pfizer, Merck, and other blue chips in the healthcare space, expanding digital and analytics work, and a communications brief for The Shops at Columbus Circle. 

The firm’s Latin America growth was also strong in 2014, driven by tech-sector wins such as Red Hat and Eset, while EMEA offices were challenged by poor economic conditions there. After North America and Latin America, Asia-Pacific was the third-fastest-growing region.

The Omnicom Group agency did not disclose specific revenue or profit numbers, but did say it grew in line with other PR firms at the holding company. Omnicom’s PR revenue was up 4.1% on an organic basis for 2014.

"US growth is strong, as is Asia-Pacific," she says. "I am hopeful Europe will turn the corner this year. The UK is doing better, but with the continental countries, there is a lot of struggle in most markets."

The agency reported more growth from new business than in past years, despite 70% of billings coming from existing clients. One of the firm’s most notable new wins in 2014 was T-Mobile, which brought on the agency as part of a team with Shift Communications, Sard Verbinnen & Co., and Waggener Edstrom. Porter and Shift were the two new agencies on the roster, with the Omnicom firm handling consumer, retail, regional, and crisis PR.

Porter also took a large chunk of comms duties for HP last summer as part of an agency consolidation there. Citrix hired Porter subsidiary Voce Communications following an agency consolidation. Healthcare and pharma was one of Porter’s overall top performing sectors with wins including Roche, Bayer, and Lundbeck. The firm also won a tourism account targeting European consumers for the Canary Islands.

Losses include an AOR account for F5 Networks in early 2015 to Waggener Edstrom, and comms accounts for the Sustainable Forest Initiative in Washington, DC, and the John Theurer Cancer Center. Porter is seeing "more interaction with procurement than ever before," adds van Bergen, which is an ongoing challenge.

Although Porter did not add a practice area, it did launch two services: the AIM Sports Reputation Management group and PN AMP, an in-house paid media integration team. The firm also relaunched Jack’s Garage, its global creative offering.

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