H+K raids Citizen Relations for new US CEO

Beth Balsam comes on board at the WPP agency in the fall to fill a gap that has been vacant since Andy Weitz left in July 2014.

Incoming H+K Strategies US CEO Beth Balsam
Incoming H+K Strategies US CEO Beth Balsam

NEW YORK: Hill+Knowlton Strategies has hired Beth Balsam from Citizen Relations to become the WPP agency’s US president and CEO.

Balsam's last day at Citizen Relations was Friday and she will join H+K sometime in the fall. She had been at Citizen for 11 years, most recently as MD of its New York office and global lead on the firm’s Procter & Gamble relationship.

Prior to joining Citizen Relations, Balsam was SVP at FleishmanHillard, where she spent eight years, also working on P&G. Before that, she was a PR manager at cosmetics company Revlon and also spent time at another P&G agency, Marina Maher Communications.

"I wasn't out there specifically looking for another opportunity and it was going to take something very special to pry me away from Citizen Relations, where I had a wonderful time," Balsam told PRWeek. "I am beyond proud to become another woman in a senior PR agency leadership role."

Beijing-based agency group BlueFocus acquired a majority stake in Citizen Relations’ parent company Vision7 last December.

Balsam takes over from Mike Coates, who joined H+K in July last year as president and CEO of the Americas region and has also been covering US CEO duties for the past 13 months. Balsam will report to Coates and continue to be based in New York City.

"Hiring Beth is putting a stake in the ground and developing with the very best consumer people," said Coates. "H+K in New York has suffered from not having enough people with roots in the city; we brought on Chris Winans to run the office. He is anchored in the financial communications space; [Balsam] will help run the company and diversify our offering. We have to grow New York – it is still the largest market in the US."

Coates arrived in NYC after 20 years as CEO of H+K Canada, replacing US president and CEO Andy Weitz, who lasted a year in that role and subsequently re-emerged as SVP of global marketing and communications at H+K client Aon.

"We spent the first half of this year focused on people, clients, new business, implementing our new go-to market strategy, and integrating content in everything we do," said Coates.

Hill+Knowlton has also added two SVPs to its marcomms practice: Jennifer Weldon in NYC and Ted Donath in Los Angeles. Weldon joins H+K from Edelman and starts work August 25; Donath came over from DeVries Global, starting this week.

They report to H+K’s US marcomms practice leader Molly O’Neill, who joined from RF|Binder at the end of May.

"We have been fishing from one pool, corporate and crisis, but a lot of agency growth is taking place on the consumer side and firms with a strong [consumer] offering have been able to leverage content capabilities," said Coates.

H+K has been staffing up after a tumultuous period in which it lost several high-profile clients and many senior executives, scrambling to stay flat revenue-wise in calendar year 2014.

"Given my consumer background, there's a clear reason I was brought in to this role," said Balsam. "I always say I got my 'MBA' working with P&G, which I call the 'land of the nice and smart people.' I have also spent my entire life and career in New York City."

New business wins in 2015 have included AOR accounts for All Nippon Airways, G2 Crowd, Pluribus Networks, Accurate Background, and Keynote Systems, as well as work for AIG, the Dana Farber Cancer Center, Seminole Gaming, and the Seibel Foundation in the first quarter. H+K also recently won new business from clients including Motorola, Puerto Rico Tourism, Hess Corporation, and GE Oil & Gas.

"I'm not going into this blindly," said Balsam, "but I have no doubt that, with Mike Coates at the helm, there is a bright future ahead."

The WPP firm recently signed two high-profile content deals through its Group SJR subsidiary, helmed by Alex Jutkowitz, who is also H+K’s chief global strategist.

J. Walter Thompson and Hill+Knowlton joined up in June to launch Colloquial, a content marketing unit that will produce videos, articles, and other media for clients. The partnership is headquartered in JWT’s New York office and will have a presence in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and the UK. Jutkowitz serves as Colloquial’s CEO in addition to his role at Group SJR.

"It’s a 50/50 content partnership to help JWT’s clients," said Coates. "JWT ladders up to CMOs, which is the Holy Grail of PR: How do we get to that side of the business? And what we do is very different to what the ad guys do, which has value for them and their clients."

At Cannes this year, WPP launched a digital content agency called Truffle Pig in partnership with UK newspaper The Daily Mail and photo-sharing app SnapChat, situated within Group SJR in New York.

The digital content offering will specialize in content planning, development and creation, as well as amplification, and launches first in the US with plans for an international roll-out to follow.

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