Hill & Knowlton

Paul Taaffe, Chairman and chief executive officer

Report by Paul Taaffe (above)
Chairman and chief executive officer

In 2008 Hill & Knowlton enjoyed one of the finest years in its eight-decade history. Our international network strength, our investments in BRIC countries and other emerging markets and our range of services gave H&K a distinct competitive advantage. Revenues, margins and the number of both large clients and transnational assignments were all at their highest levels ever.

We saw dramatic growth from non-US multinational companies and sovereign investors, especially in China, the Middle East and parts of Europe. The resource economies of Canada and Australia also boomed. We acquired financial specialist Rikes Communications in Hong Kong and took a majority interest in our South Korean partner, Synergy. We are now among the largest and fastest-growing operations in China – in 2009, our 25th anniversary year, we will be expanding our network there to include major commercial centers across the country.

Our two largest industry sector practices, technology and healthcare, expanded considerably as did our work in the energy sector and in consumer goods and services. We continued to focus on delivering real, measurable business impact for our clients, allowing us to consolidate business with existing clients and win new ones, motivate staff and attract new talent. We continued to invest in top people with senior hires in healthcare, technology, internal communications, corporate and financial and government affairs.

Clients increasingly required speedier communication execution and digital expertise – driven by a shift in budget from traditional to digital media and accelerated by economic necessity. With digital thinking increasingly integrated into all our practices, disciplines and counsel, we launched new offerings such as full participation marketing and influencer marketing, allowing clients to understand and leverage the new conversations around their brands.

We introduced a sustainable enterprise offer for clients focusing on the risks and opportunities at all points of the value chain. Anticipating a growth in environmental communications in 2009, the ‘Year of Copenhagen,’ we announced our own sustainability manifesto, creating a ‘green team’ that ensures we deliver against our own CO2 reduction objectives. We took on Iwokrama, a Guyanan rainforest scientific preserve, as a pro bono client, campaigning against rainforest destruction.

New intellectual capital underpinned the firm’s thought leadership: H&K’s Corporate Reputation Watch studied the factors shaping the global war for talent; a Clean Tech survey looked at success strategies for eco-friendly technologies; and an employee-penned book, Enterprise 2.0: How Social Software Will Change the Future of Work explored the impact of online social networks inside organizations.

Blanc & Otus, H&K’s stand-alone technology communications company saw an accelerated uptake of its range of offerings, especially its new social media services. Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates continued to advance its clients’ interests as the 2008 US election campaign rhetoric evolved into the governing agenda.

open quoteWe continued to focus on delivering real, measurable business impact for our clientsclose quote

Finally, continuing a tradition of excellence, H&K was named one of the best places to work in Canada and earned a gold award for quality from the National Quality Institute. Singapore was again named No.1 agency in a vote by its peers.

The economic pressures facing our many clients have led to an immediate focus in helping them through reputational and brand challenges. However, economic uncertainty also is creating new kinds of demand. Diversification of client services and solutions is a very real opportunity for H&K in the short term.