Power List 2019: Big tech, media, purpose and burgers

PRWeek's definitive guide to the top 50 power players in the communications industry reflects a year of complex global geopolitical machinations and a rapidly changing media and business environment in the U.S.

This year’s Power List is defined by the tectonic shifts taking place in big tech and the changing media and content landscape, while reflecting the trend toward purpose-led communications and, at the other end of the spectrum, burger wars on social media.

The jury may still be out on whether a former senior U.K. politician transplanted to Silicon Valley is the right person to lead Facebook out of its reputational mess. But there’s no doubt Nick Clegg will be squarely in the spotlight as the Mark Zuckerberg-led social network attempts to restore its former luster – hence, his rocketing to the No. 1 position on the 2019 Power List.

Other tech players who will be watched closely by regulators and politicians are Jay Carney at Amazon (No. 4 on this year’s list) and Corey duBrowa at Google (No. 9), while Frank Shaw at Microsoft (No. 5) and Steve Dowling at Apple (No. 7) have been through all this before, having helped navigate their brands out of choppy waters.

In media and entertainment, Disney finally sealed the acquisition of parts of 21st Century Fox in March this year, to supplement its existing TV assets, ABC and ESPN. That move added even more scope to PRWeek Hall of Famer Zenia Mucha’s role leading the iconic company’s communications (No. 3).

The changing entertainment landscape also propelled Netflix’s Rachel Whetstone (No. 6), MTV’s Liza Fefferman (No. 8) and Fox Corporation’s Hope Hicks (No. 10) into the Power List top 10. Larry Solomon at AT&T (No. 18) returns to the Power List on the back of the media behemoth’s acquisition of Time Warner last July.

Purpose is a ubiquitous discussion topic in modern communications and marketing, and nowhere is that more evident than at Nike, a long-term advocate of cause-related activations. 

The iconic sportswear giant rolled out its bold Colin Kaepernick-led Dream Crazy campaign in September last year to a predicted initial backlash. But the brand’s loyal supporters turned the narrative around, and the work ultimately resulted in Nike’s stock hitting a then all-time high of $85. 

Nike’s VP of global communications Nigel Powell oversaw the seesaw ride with typical aplomb and rose to No. 2 on the Power List as a result.

Over at Levi Strauss & Co., Kelly McGinnis (No. 25) was overseeing some similarly bold work at the iconic jeans brand, including a partnership initiative with gun violence prevention groups that CEO Chip Bergh justified by saying, "While taking a stand can be unpopular with some, doing nothing is no longer an option." 

And Procter & Gamble’s Gillette The Best Men Can Be activation also came under initial fire in the social media cauldron before following a familiar pattern and rebounding more forcefully. When all was said and done, P&G was in a net positive position, with Craig Buchholz blocking for the brand (No. 14).

The burger wars that fueled a lot of PRWeek’s most popular stories in the past 12 months saw Robert Gibbs of McDonald’s return to the list at No. 26, while new entrants from that world were IHOP’s Brad Haley (No. 35), Denny’s John Dillon (No. 37), Burger King’s Fernando Machado (No. 39) and Wendy’s Kurt Kane (No. 41).

In agency-land, it was a quieter year, as the big firms attempted to continue their redefinition process on the road to becoming integrated marcomms players. Meanwhile, small and midsize firms capitalized on their ability to provide nimble and smart counsel, as well as the face time with the most senior executives that clients crave.

One re-entrant to the Power List was Mark Penn (No. 13). The former Burson-Marsteller CEO has been quietly building up his Stagwell mini-holding company since 2015 but was really thrust back into the limelight in March when he was appointed CEO of MDC Partners on the back of a $100 million investment in the embattled advertising conglomerate.

So… big tech, media and entertainment, purpose and burgers – that’s the top and bottom of the 2019 PRWeek Power List. 

I’m sure that, as usual, it will delight and annoy people in equal measure – let me know what you think of our choices.

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