Young & Rubicam Brands

Burson-Marsteller

Mark Penn, Worldwide chief executive officer

Report by Mark Penn (above)
Worldwide chief executive officer

Burson-Marsteller (B-M) grew its revenue in 2008 while expanding profit margins to levels near the upper-end of the PR industry’s historic range. An increasing number of clients sought out B-M’s advice on crisis matters and issues management, two of our core strengths. Our new Strategy Team, which includes top former White House counselors, was kept busy with a wide range of clients in the financial, transportation and energy sectors which faced unexpected crises in the wake of the Wall Street credit crisis.

This was the third year of the DIGS strategy for B-M – modernizing its offerings by being more Digital, Integrated, Global and Strategic. Our digital business roughly quadrupled in size in the last three years, pioneering online press conferences, for instance for the US government unveiling its new currency. Digital is now fully integrated into everything we do.

We strengthened our offering of ‘evidence-based’ communications with new tools and by working closely with Penn, Schoen & Berland to research key facts and messages for a growing list of clients. In the US, we formed the Issues & Crisis Group, a team of experts that now works on the most sensitive and complex crises and issues management challenges our clients face.

More clients faced internal communications needs as they underwent expected – and unexpected – change. For instance, B-M helped lead the successful internal communications for the global launch of the newly formed Thomson-Reuters brand.

In 2008, we received major new assignments from Hewlett-Packard, Sony Ericsson and Huawei. We also worked on significant corporate responsibility projects for Intel, Visa and BP and product crises for companies like Nestlé.

This was another year of geographic expansion for B-M. We merged our EMEA operation with Asda’a PR, one of the leading PR firms in the Middle East, and kicked off the relationship with a landmark study of the attitudes and lifestyle habits of Arab youth across six Middle East nations. During the year, we also established a South Asia network of affiliates.

Each of our four geographic regions performed well in 2008. Our Asian operation, particularly China, was bolstered by some key client assignments related to the Beijing Olympics. B-M EMEA enjoyed a resurgent London office, which was named Consultancy of the Year by the UK’s PR Week. B-M Latin America again proved to be the strongest regional public relations network in Latin America posting its eighth consecutive year of revenue growth.

We made several key hires in 2008, adding former White House counselor Karen Hughes as our new global vice chair and Gail Cohen as new head of our global Healthcare Practice.

As we enter 2009, we feel optimistic but cautious about our business as more clients are seeing the increased value of PR in a changing and more digital world. We continue to expect our crisis, issues management and digital capabilities to do well. We also believe our strong public affairs capabilities in political centers around the globe will grow in importance as governments seek policy solutions to key challenges related to the economy, health care and energy.