Pfizer's Kirsty Graham named CEO of Edelman Public Affairs

The practice will operate like a boutique public affairs firm, taking on shops like H+K and APCO.

Kirsty Graham joins Edelman in February.
Kirsty Graham joins Edelman in February.

NEW YORK: Edelman has named Pfizer’s Kirsty Graham as CEO of its global public affairs practice, a newly created role leading what Richard Edelman called "a stand-alone firm."

The offering will be branded separately as Edelman Public Affairs, similar to how the agency has branded Edelman Financial. Graham starts in the position on February 25 and will be based in New York.

She will report to Katie Burke, chief strategy officer and global head of practices and sectors, and will also sit on the firm’s operating committee. Edelman currently has more than 200 public affairs professionals globally. 

CEO Richard Edelman said Graham’s hire is part of a plan to create a separate Edelman public affairs group in order to better compete in the space.

"This is going to be a stand-alone firm," he said. "We want to compete as a public affairs boutique inside Edelman." 

The new structure is why Graham was given the title of CEO, an honor usually reserved for regional agency leaders such as Lisa Kimmel, Edelman’s chair and CEO of Canada and Latin America, and Stephen Kehoe, president and CEO of Edelman Asia Pacific.

"Public affairs people will not report to the local [geographies], but to [Graham]," Edelman said. "That’s the only way it can work. It’s like the Green Berets."

Nobody has led public affairs globally at the agency since March 2017, when the agency eliminated the role of global public affairs chair, a job Stephanie Lvovich had held since September 2014.

"[Edelman] has outlined a public affairs opportunity that is super ahead of what a lot of people are thinking," said Graham.

Edelman said the politicization of brands was the impetus behind Graham’s hire and the new structure.

"Brands started to get politicized and it wasn't just Skittles being found in the pocket of an unfortunate African-American being shot," he said. "It was brands choosing to be political or companies being caught between the U.S. and China. Our core business was really being affected by what was happening in government and I made the determination over the summer that it was vital to build this." 

Edelman explained that his firm has a long heritage in public affairs, but that firms such as Hill+Knowlton Strategies, BCW and APCO Worldwide have been "piling" into the area, making it "crowded."

"But then the cycle turned to where public affairs and brands were overlapping," he said. "So now it’s our time and we’re going straight at the aforementioned firms and also the consultancies."

Edelman emphasized that Graham is tasked with growing the offering globally.

Graham was most recently SVP of corporate affairs for Pfizer’s biopharmaceuticals group.

"[Graham] has led Pfizer’s corporate affairs to new heights," said Sally Susman, chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer. "It’s been a pleasure to work with her this past decade and she has been a key contributor. We wish her continued success in her exciting new role." 

Earlier in her career, Graham worked for New Zealand’s Foreign Service and served as that country’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

Graham’s hire is the latest in a series of significant moves at Edelman.

In late December, the firm named Kevin Cook as president of its Chicago office. Cook was previously Edelman’s Chicago COO and took over from Rachel Winer. Also, in December, the agency hired Susan Redden Makatoa as group managing director of Edelman Australia. She will be based in Sydney and report to Australia CEO Michelle Hutton.

Around the same time, Edelman signed a partnership with U.S.-based strategic consulting company Basilinna to provide multinational China- and Middle East-based clients of both firms with expanded communications and government relations services in China, the Middle East and the U.S. 

Revenue for Edelman dropped 1% in 2018 to $888.4 million, according to the PRWeek Agency Business Report 2019.

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