Don Baer to exit BCW at year's end

The former top White House adviser worked at the agency and predecessor Burson-Marsteller for 12 years.

WASHINGTON: BCW chairman Don Baer is set to step down at the end of 2019 after a dozen years at the agency and its predecessor Burson-Marsteller. 

"Don shared with me that this was a very difficult decision because of his sense of commitment to all of us as colleagues and the clients he has served," BCW CEO Donna Imperato said in a staff memo viewed by PRWeek. "At the same time, he is excited about exploring what is next in his career."

Imperato thanked Baer for ensuring a "seamless transition" to BCW and said, "As a client counselor and strategic adviser, Don is truly one of the very best." She added that he will continue to be available to the firm and its clients. 

Baer has served as chairman of BCW since WPP merged Cohn & Wolfe and Burson-Marsteller, where he served as worldwide chair and CEO from 2012 to 2018, early last year. Previously, he was the firm’s worldwide vice chair.

Baer told PRWeek he only began considering the move recently. "I’ve been thinking, as I approached being at the firm for 12 years, that this is far and away the longest time I worked anywhere in my career," he added. "It was beginning to feel like the right time. I was really happy after the year-and-a-half partnership with Donna, that BCW is on such solid ground and moving forward in such a positive way."

He will continue in his roles as chairman of the board of directors of PBS and board director at Meredith Corporation. Baer is also a senior adviser to NewsGuard Technologies and a trustee of The Urban Institute, but said he does not have any specific plans for his post-BCW career.

"I hope to have the opportunity  to be involved in these areas I’ve been involved in my whole career, especially media, technology and communications, as well as other areas," he added. "There is so much exciting change going on. And I am thrilled to have opportunity to consider what stage my career is going to go next."

Baer said he will remain available to BCW clients after his departure but that he will miss some parts of agency life.

"I have loved working with clients and love my colleagues at BCW," he said. "So of course I will miss the people. But I will continue to be available to counsel and work with BCW clients and colleagues so in some ways it is the best of both words."

WPP instigated the historic merger in February 2018, with the two shops combining under the leadership of Imperato and the brand Burson Cohn & Wolfe, subsequently shortened to BCW. Burson CEO Baer moved into the chairman’s seat at the new firm.

Baer’s departure is the latest in a string of former senior Burson-Marsteller execs who left the newly combined firm, including worldwide president Kevin Bell, CFO Pat Przybyski, U.S. CEO Mike Fernandez, chief strategy officer Thomas Gensemer, U.K. CEO Stephen Day, Asia-Pacific CEO Margaret Key, U.S. consumer practice chair Kyle Farnham, and global technology chair Rowan Benecke.

Prior to joining Burson in 2007, Baer was senior EVP for strategy and development at Discovery Communications. Before moving to the private sector, he served as a top communications adviser to President Bill Clinton, a journalist at U.S. News & World Report and a lawyer. 

Imperato added in her note, "We are in a stronger place today thanks to Don's many contributions" and concluded that he "is, and will always be, a friend to BCW, to WPP and to me."

General Mills CCO Jano Cabrera, who worked with Baer at Burson-Marsteller prior to its merger with Cohn & Wolfe, said: "He would approach every client engagement thinking holistically. He had a way of thinking big picture and challenged not just the client but also the team at Burson to do the same. I do credit working closely with Don for where I’m at in my career."

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