B-M rocked by sudden exits of Elliott and Willis

Burson-Marsteller public affairs chairman Simon Elliott this week resigned from the agency, leaving a cloud of uncertainty over the WPP firm's lobbying practice.

Elliott is understood to be leaving of his own accord, having handed in his notice on Monday, and is thought to beconsidering up to three opportunities.

Charles Willis, a director in B-M's public affairs practice, is also leaving just three months after joining the agency from BT (PRWeek, 7 July). It is understood there is some likelyhood that Elliott and Willis will team up in their next roles. They worked together previously at hatch-group, which was rebranded subsequently by parent firm Huntsworth as Trimedia Communications.

The exits leave Rhoda Macdonald in charge of ­­B-M's PA practice as managing director, with B-M UK chairman Gavin Grant continuing to play an active role.

Macdonald was Elliott's most senior appointment, joining in September last year from Bell Pottinger Public Affairs.

The departures will leave B-M's public affairs team with around six full-time staff plus a couple of interns. The WPP agency has for a long time punched well below its weight in the public affairs arena.

Dismissing speculation that the agency was poised to wind up its PA function, interim UK chief executive Jonathan Jordan said: ‘Our intention is to retain strong credibility in public affairs.'

The agency is thought to want to strengthen its PA ­expertise at a senior level. WPP opened a London branch of its US-based ­opinion research consultancy, Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, at the start of this year within B-M's offices. The ­operation is led by the Labour Party's for-mer general-secretary Matt Carter as MD.

Elliott joined B-M from Trimedia early last year (PRWeek, 7 January 2005). He and Willis were unavailable for comment as PRWeek went to press.

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