PROFILE: Edna Kissman, Burson-Marsteller; A home run for health PR

Baseball loving Edna Kissman knows what’s good for her health division

Baseball loving Edna Kissman knows what’s good for her health division

When Edna Kissman arrived at Burson-Marsteller’s New York offices in

1978 her first assignment was to take a crash course in the all-American

game of baseball as part of a campaign for client Gillette.

A baseball card of her favourite player the St Louis Cardinal’s Enos

Slaughter is among the memorabilia which fight for space in her office.

‘Slaughter had this reputation,’ explains Kissman, ‘that no matter what

obstacle was in his way he would keep running.’

Kissman is still running. The 46-year-old Israeli who cheerfully

acknowledges her trouble-shooting reputation as a ‘marine corps of one’

has stormed though the ranks of the world’s largest PR company.

But her PR career began in Israel heading the agency Ruder Finn. There

Kissman was seconded as assistant press secretary to the late Prime

Minister Rabin during the Kissinger Middle East shuttle in 1975. She

established the government’s first news monitoring service and

translated the Hebrew press for Kissinger’s select entourage of

journalists, dubbed ‘the mighty 14’.

‘I can’t say we influenced the way they wrote but we certainly

influenced the way they thought about issues,’ she said.

Kissinger left, Kissman became ‘bored’ and the US beckoned. It was at B-

M, New York, that she began to work with pharmaceutical companies.

Kissman had no knowledge of medicine and remembers telling her client

that the patient, not the nurse should be the target of his drug

‘because on the TV programme St Elsewhere the surgeon never listens to

the nurse’.

Luckily her client agreed and his inability to communicate directly to

patients opened up a world of new business healthcare PR opportunities

for B-M. ‘It was like the road to Damascus for St Paul,’ said Kissman.

‘I knew enough to sound intelligent but didn’t need to go to medical

school to reach the outside world for clients. We tripled the healthcare

business in one year.’

But B-M grew too fast and when recession hit in the 80s cracks began to


Kissman spent the next ten years hopping from New York to Burson-

Marsteller’s UK and German offices ‘to start the healing process’. And

the healing process is well underway. Today the agency has over 2,000

clients in 62 countries. Healthcare business in the UK accounts for 32.5

per cent of total fee income and is growing by 22 per cent each year.

But Kissman felt this global aspect of B-M was not being effectively

communicated to the client or its staff and in 1993 ditched line

management to take on a role she describes as ‘a strategic change


‘All we could talk was dots on the map,’ she said. ‘We had very little

capacity to demonstrate the power of Burson-Marsteller as a visible

global organisation to clients. It’s size had become a detriment.’

B-M’s answer is to transform itself from a PR to a ‘perception

management’ firm. Accounts will have ‘client leaders’ as the point of

contact for account staff worldwide and clients will be assigned to one

of ten ‘practices’ including healthcare, headed by Kissman. ‘We are

aiming for long term and much closer relationships,’ she said.

But according to colleagues the woman who cites her hobby as ‘collecting

people’ has never had problems striking up good business relationships.

‘She can have the client eating out of her hand in five minutes,’ said

one colleague.

Kissman seems to command the respect of her staff too. ‘She made me what

I am today,’ said a colleague laughing at the cliche. Nick May,

managing director of Burson-Marsteller healthcare in London describes

her as ‘one of the most professional, dedicated people I have ever

worked with’.

But the woman who rises at 5.30am insists she is not a workaholic. ‘I

enjoy opera, theatre, oh and I’m a good rambler as you can tell,’ she



1976 - 1977 MD, Ruder Finn, Israel

1982 Director, B-M, New York

1988 - 1992 Joint md, B-M, London

1992 - 1993 CEO, B-M, Germany

1993 - 1995 Vice-chairman, Worldwide Strategy

1996 Chairman, B-M Healthcare Practice, WWD

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