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Archives: December 2009

Year in Review: Top 5 Mergers & Acquisitions

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Downturns are a great time to shop if you have the money, and a lot of firms took advantage in 2009. The big got huge, the medium got big, and some got more social as firms merged and gobbled up other firms. We can’t remember a year when more M&A took place.

We pulled five deals for your consideration, ranked by “interesting-ness,” not revenue:

1) Next Fifteen + M Booth

With solid tech shops Text 100, Bite, and Outcast firmly in pocket, holding company Next Fifteen expanded in to the consumer, lifestyle, and travel PR market with M Booth in the U.S., and Lexis in the U.K.

2) Publicis Groupe + Razorfish

French giant Publicis bought Razorfish from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) for a cool $530 million. While not a PR deal per se, Publicis added a lot of size to its Vivaki suite (see VivaKi’s Superfriends of Social Media Get REAL)

3) CRT/tanaka + Livingston Communications

CRT Tanaka bought Geoff Livingston‘s firm in the Spring, along with his very popular Buzz Bin blog (now with multiple authors.) Look for the social big foot’s new firm sometime in 2010.

4) WPP Group + TNS

After a lot of chatter and speculation, global conglomerate WPP Group (Nasdaq: WPPGY) acquired Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), known for their Cymfony analytics tool. WPP has countless marketing brands in their stable, including huge PR shops such as Burson-Marsteller, Hill & Knowlton, and Ogilvy PR.

5) Middleberg + Dowd

The growth of Don Middleberg‘s firm is deja vu all over again. Ten years ago he sold the $18 million Middleberg & Associates to Euro RSCG. Now his Middleberg Communications reaches mid-size with the acquisition of Jim Dowd‘s firm. It’s Middleberg’s third purchase in as many years.

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The Ticker: 2009 Media Blunders; Agency Revenues Down; News Corp. & Time Warner…

Year in Review: Top 5 Publicity Stunts

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Our picks for the biggest publicity stunts of the year are not based on effectiveness. Some achieved a goal, while the verdict is still out on others. Regardless, it was as big a year as any for making a splash for doing something outrageous:

1) The Yes Men attack:

The “culture jammers” known as the Yes Men used their knowledge of standard PR tactics–press release followed by press conference–to humiliate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for their unpopular stance on climate change. A number of journalists witnessed the real Chamber spokesman interrupt the fake one. It was all captured on film and immediately YouTubed. In turn the duo scored a lot of legit publicity for their latest movie.

2) Balloon Boy

Delusional father Richard Heene let the media believe his son was flying around Colorado for an hour in a homemade aircraft in a bizarre attempt to gain attention for himself and his would-be pitch for his science TV show idea. Even crazies have an inherent idea of how the media functions, though no one really thought the goofy balloon was a UFO. By sheer impressions, this is probably the top stunt of the year.

3) Skittles: A rainbow of socnet profanity

When Skittles and unleashed a pure consumer-generated content ploy to get attention, the social media pundits reacted swiftly with both praise and disdain. was re-skinned for to show its Wikipedia entry, and again to show what people were saying about the brand on Twitter. Given an inch, consumers took a mile and posted all shades of ironic comments and profanity. Did it sully the “sacred” brand? We don’t think so. It’s a 79 cent candy after all, and here we are nine months later still writing about the stunt.

4) GM’s Bob Lutz Races Bloggers

We all know the hit the Big 3 has taken in the last few years in sales, and in image. Remember how the CEOs flew to Washington in private jets to testify in 2008? Now that’s gas guzzling. So we always appreciate when the mouthy Bob Lutz does something cool. When Jalopnik took GM’s “May the Best Car Win” message literally, Lutz put the marketing rubber on the road and met the blogger on the track for a time trial. Lutz lost though showed septuagenarians can drive. Less than two months later, he lost his job when GM’s new CEO came in.

5) The Salahis crash the White House

When socialites Michaele and Tareq Salahi allegedly crashed a White House state dinner in the name of publicity, they made headlines over the slow Thanksgiving weekend. Except it was the same weekend Tiger Woods crashed too. Unlike the golfer, the couple along with their publicist Mahogany Jones handled things surprisingly well, stood their ground and punted the ball firmly back to the White House. White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and the Secret Service both drew heat for the debacle. “Salahi” is now a verb in D.C.

2010 Predictions: ‘The Days of Press Hits To Justify the PR Budget Are Over’


Today’s 2010 PR predictions come from an agency owner and a provocative PR blogger…

Josh Sternberg, Founder, Sternberg Strategic Communications:

The days of press hits to justify the PR budget are over. Brand reputation and crisis/issues management should be at the top of our “to do” lists in 2010, as the last few years have proven that the one-way flow of communication is dead.

POP! PR Jots blogger Jeremy Pepper:

We see an uptick in PR acquisitions for 2010 by other holding companies, with concentration on public affairs, health-care and technology. Social Media shops, for the most part, will not play a part in the acquisition game as agencies will have hired internally and built out their practices.

2009′s social media gurus will be replaced by 2010′s social media gurus. It’s cyclical where the old regime is replaced by a new regime. And the people are likely names and voices we don’t know just yet, but will come out with a vengeance. The old guard – and older guard – will still be talked about, but the new shiny toy mentality of social media will lead to new voices that are hailed (rightly or wrongly) as geniuses.

RELATED: 2010 PR Predictions: Crisis Firms Will Adopt ‘Pay-By-Performance Model’

2010 Predictions: Bad Pitch Blog Edition


For a “lighter” take on 2010 PR industry predictions, we turned to Richard Laermer and Kevin Dugan, founders of “The Bad Pitch Blog.”

On business prospects for 2010:

Kevin: According to economists, we’ll be eating Ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner until 2015. But I think PR business will be flat and any growth will be from companies simply doing more with less. Translation: longer hours for the same pay — if you’re lucky. But it’s how these things go in the service industry. It keeps us all thinking, reinventing and learning.

Richard: I will be up in 2010. Thanks to Viagra.


Kevin: Let me guess, you’ll be stiff competition?

On PR M&A activity in 2010:

Kevin: There will be more mergers and acquisitions in general. TV will see the biggest shakeup. Perhaps We and SyFy channels will merge and become WyFy? OK, probably not, but TV’s decline is following newspapers in short order.

Richard: Nothing will merge because no one has the money to spend on an agency. Many will close. Some will merge with small shops. Some will do both. PS: Big success story: AOL! Yeah.

Kevin: You mean “Aol.”


Richard: Oops. They could sue.

Kevin: I see more lawsuits in 2010!

Richard: Hmm. Yeah, it’s the new blackmail.

The biggest PR story of 2010 will be…

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Euro RSCG’s Salzman on 2010 Trends: ‘Co-Creating the News’

Brian Morrissey, digital editor at AdWeek, and Marian Salzman, president of North American PR for agency Euro RSCG joined CNBC’s “Power Lunch” today to talk “Top Marketing Trends for 2010.”

Salzman said with social media taking even more of a front seat, “it’s not going to be paid anymore, it’s going to be persuade. It’s all about being part of wherever the news is being created, co-creating the news.”

“It’s about replacing ads with action” said Morrissey, emphasizing that companies need to “prove it” and “show, don’t tell” when it comes to their products and customer service.

Year in Review: Agency Trends

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This year was all about digital, digital, digital. Agencies big and small expanded, re-branded, and staffed up to meet client demand, while also performing triage on their traditional business. A number agencies made deep staff cuts, while some closed altogether. Journalists fled crumbling mastheads to join the PR world. Flat became the new growth for those reporting earnings.

Here are a few posts remembering the year that was in public relations agency trends…

Firms create and name their digital divisions:

Levine opens LCO 2.0, Morris + King opens SeisMK; Ogilvy PR calls theirs 360° Digital Influence.

Big hires, mostly in digital:

David Patton leaves WSJ for WagEd’s Studio D; Stephanie Agresta gets a big bump at Porter Novelli; Chad Latz joins Cohn & Wolfe; Ogilvy adds several; Marian Salzman re-joins EuroRSCG; Cristina Lawrence leaves Fleishman Hillard for Razorfish; David Armano joins Edelman.

Digi-gurus leave their jobs to start their own consultancies, including:

“PR” Sarah Evans launches Sevans Strategy; “Key Influencer” James Andrews leaves Ketchum to start Everywhere; Chris Brown leaves “America’s Most Wanted” to run his firm full time.

Flat is the new up:

Richard Edelman predicts gloom at Davos; Omnicom, MDC (with up earnings), WPP all report revenue slips; Martin Sorrell already saying 2010 will be rough; The Council of PR Firms called it.

Firms and offices closed or shrank:

The mega-firm Enfatico, created to service Dell, has layoffs; Fleishman cuts deep in hometown Kansas City office; Taylor makes cuts; Catevo closes; LP&G closes office, goes virtual; Paul Wilmot exits L.A. after less than a year.

2010 PR Predictions: Tech Edition


Continuing our 2010 predictions series, here are some thoughts from tech agency heads, and a vendor…

“Everyone is saying this, but we’ll see more IPO’s in 2010. A lot of people are willing it to happen. It’s going to be a good recovery year.” Jason Mandell, Co-Founder, LaunchSquad

“2010 will present its own challenges. We are not a fully recovered economy, and the communications industry has much to do in terms of remaking and shaping itself for a changing market. We have to be careful not to be overly exuberant that things will be all that different in January than they were in December, and we must run our businesses prudently.” Sabrina Horn, Founder & CEO, Horn Group

“The much-heralded ‘death of the press release’ will prove a lie, and that press releases–especially well-written ones from local businesses and organizations–will become more important than ever.” Colin Mathews, President & CEO, readMedia

“Those firms that put mechanisms in place to insulate themselves from the downturn early on should be fine in 2010. Also sectors such as tech and green tech continue to rebound. Large conglomerates that missed their numbers in 2009 will snap up smaller shops to compensate for their balance sheets. Valuations are likely lower now. Small and mid-size shops that were battered in the downturn are likely looking for liquidity or exits.”
Donna (Sokolsky) Burke, Founder, Sparkpr

“Virtually every Ph.D. student who can say ‘algorithm’ and chew gum at the same time devotes their thesis to building a social media monitoring tool. Each is convinced he or she has cracked the code on the best way to capture every word, visual and action that transpires in this alternative universe called social media. These 500+ companies scamper to find a PR agency, creating a dotcom-like boom for the PR industry.” Lou Hoffman, CEO, The Hoffman Agency

Quote of the Day…


“We’ve never had this proliferation of train-wreck celebrities. I mean, we have this preponderance of reality-show everyday schlumps making headlines.”

–Publicist Ken Sunshine to USA Today in a story titled, “Decade in celebrities: Nobodies walk the path to stardom.”

Outrageous Pitch Suggests Extra Security Is ‘Marketing Opportunity for Airlines’


Those of you who attended the PRNewser holiday party know we receive a lot of bad pitches – we read out loud some of the worst offenders at this year’s party. We generally don’t mind them, as it’s part of the game, and our delete button works well, and fast.

But sometimes there are pitches that just take the cake. For example, one came into our inbox this morning from 5WPR, who represents “branding expert” Adam Hanft. Hanft suggests all of the extra security precautions at airports could be a “marketing opportunity for airlines.” Really. Among his talking points:

Airlines also need to rush in and make the long lines at security as tolerable as possible. They should set up flat screen TVs along the path, hand out milk and cookies, and have magicians to occupy crying kids.

Milk and cookies? Magicians?

PR pros often go with a contrarian or “man bites dog” point of view to get attention, but this seems a bit too far. Read the full pitch after the jump. What’s your take?

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