WPP’s PR Firm History: Burson Marsteller, Hill & Knowlton, Cohn & Wolfe & More

WPP Group PR Firm

WPP Public Relations History

WPP is the world’s largest communications services group with 3,000 offices in 111 countries and employing over 170,000 people. The holding company was founded in 1985 and by 1988 it was listed on the NASDAQ Exchange in New York. By 1992, WPP was named the world’s top agency group by Advertising Age.

The company has won many awards. In 2012, it was named Holding Company of the Year at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. It won that award again this year for the fifth consecutive year. Also this year, Martin Sorrell, the company’s founder, ranked No. 5 in the Harvard Business Review’s Best-Performing CEOs in the world.

This outstanding holding company has many fine firms within its holdings, including some of the finest PR agencies in the world.

A few WPP PR Firms are examined below.

GCI Group

GCI Group

Headquartered in Canada, GCI Group, is a subsidiary of Grey Global Group, the sixth largest communications group in the world. GCI has 50 offices in 27 countries and concentrates on public affairs, technology, consumer marketing, corporate, healthcare, and media relations.

Noted for its creativity and for being there when needed, GCI Group is dedicated to grounding their communication services in creativity. For the second year in a row, this firm was named to the list of Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Top 100 Employers for 2016. Also in 2015, it won, in partnership with GSK Consumer Healthcare, the 2015 Silver Leaf Award of Excellence for Media Relations for its role in the VOLTAREN Emulgel Stay in the Play public relations campaign. This widely successful campaign inspired Canadians to be more physically active.

In July of this year, the agency also took pride in partnering with the Transgender Project in Canada to raise awareness to the many challenges facing trans people and calling attention to a unique online documentary series on the transgender experience in Canada.

Some of the highlights of GCI Group’s history include being put in charge of media services at the 2004 Republican National Convention. And in 2006, GCI Group was selected to help Dell with its PR campaign recovering from a poor customer service image.

Recently merged with Cohn & Wolfe, another WPP company, GCI Group now has an even greater global presence.



Burson-Marsteller was founded in 1946 by Harold Burson. In 1953 Bill Marsteller, along with Harold Burson, co-created a new public relations firm belonging to both of them, and the company of Marsteller and Harold Burson began.

Their first European office opened in 1961 in Geneva and soon spread to other countries in Europe. By the 80’s, they had offices in Holland, France, Spain, and Italy displaying their success. Today, the company has a network of offices in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa consisting of 17 offices and covering more than 30 more markets through its subsidiaries.

Recently, the agency was named agency of record for NextVR, a technology company delivering live and on-demand virtual reality experiences such as sporting events and concerts in true broadcast quality. Also earlier this month, Burson-Marsteller formed a strategic partnership with Ridge Global, a cybersecurity firm founded by Tom Ridge, the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and 43rd Governor of Pennsylvania. This alliance will focus on cyber incident response and incident planning for senior management of companies who are planning strategies and tools addressing these issues.

Burson-Marsteller won innumerable prestigious awards throughout its history. This month, it won the Latin American Agency of the Year at the 2015 Latin America SABRE Awards in Sao Paulo. It also won seven Gold SABRE Awards at that ceremony, all given in recognition of the best campaigns in Latin America. In October of this year, the agency won two 2015 Global SABRE Awards for campaigns for Lufthansa and Texas Health Resources. SABRE Awards, presented by The Holmes Report, the leading industry publication, distinguish superior achievement in branding, reputation, and engagement recognizing the 40 best PR campaigns in the world.

Hill and Knowlton Public Relations Strategies

Hill and Knowlton

A third company within WPP’s vast holdings is Hill+Knowlton. Started in 1927 amidst hard economic times in the United States, founder John W. Hill left his secure job at a Cleveland newspaper following his dream of starting a PR firm. He soon partnered with a Depression failed bank’s public relations director, Donald Knowlton. Despite the difficult economy, the company grew quickly as did clients, and soon such clients as the American Iron and Steel Institute were added as clients.

The firm began expanding its business to other countries and soon became this country’s first multinational public relations company. In 1980, the firm was bought by JWT Group Inc. (J. Walter Thompson). In 1987, WPP Group acquired JWT along with Hill+Knowlton.

Today, Hill+Knowlton continues building on its founders’ success with 86 offices across the globe.

This month, the agency garnered numerous awards at the Middle East PR Awards. And Hill+Knowlton’s Strategies President & CEO Middle East Africa and Turkey Sconaid McGeachin also received the “Chairman’s Award” for her singular contributions to the Middle East PR industry.

One of this agency’s most interesting clients in the past has been the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Hill+Knowlton worked to draw attention to the court’s efforts to prosecute war criminals . The court raised over $12 million in financing and convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor. The firm’s work was cited in PRWeek’s ‘great work of the last 15 years’ in 2013.

Clearly, HK does not shy away from difficult challenges or controversy.

As evidenced by these three examples, it’s clear WPP Group chooses its companies for expertise, the right kind of power, and the ability to influence and serve. Among its vast holdings is an array of companies offering a complete and, when needed, integrated range of communication services serving clients worldwide.

Cohn & Wolfe

Cohn & Wolfe

Cohn & Wolfe is a global communications and PR agency and were founded in Atlanta in 1970. They are headquartered in New York City and employ approximately 1,200 people globally. According to their website, their “worldwide talent pool, deep digital expertise, and creative firepower make [them] the Swiss Army® knife of the communications business.” They promise to build brands through an unfailing pursuit of creativity.

They don’t limit themselves to different sectors. Instead their specialty is branding, though they have various departments dealing with particular sectors as well, such as their healthcare, consumer marketing, digital, corporate, sustainability and multicultural. The CEO is Donna Imperato, and under her leadership, the firm has received many awards and grown in size, talent, and client base. Some of the clients represented by them include Jif, U.S. Olympic Committee, Universal, Colgate, and Panasonic.

Cohn & Wolfe has received many awards over the years. Some of them are PRWeek Agency of the Year in 2013, Many “Best Place to Work” lists from sites like PRNews, Advertising Age, and Crain’s New York. Imperato was included twice on PRWeek’s “Power List” (2008 and 2012) and in 2009, she was inducted into PRNews Hall of Fame. But beware of their website, it’s full of bangs and clanks.

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

Ogilvy PR is a global communications leader and can be found in more than 80 locations. They are under the WPP parachute and the Ogilvy umbrella – which has several entities involved in PR, advertising, and other communication-related pursuits. For those in the know, the name Ogilvy is iconic, and Don Draper of Mad Men is rumored to be based on the original Ogilvy, David – who opened the first Ogilvy company in 1948, but that was all about advertising in those days. The PR firm has been around for the last 30 years.

Ogilvy PR specializes in healthcare, public affairs, consumer, brand marketing, content, social, technology, and a few others. They’ve represented some of the largest and best-known corporations in the world including World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), Goodyear, YUM!, Google+ and Google Hangouts, and Dupont.

The Holmes Report and PRNews have named them Large Agency of the Year. They have also been honored numerous times over the years at the Effie Awards, Cannes Lions Festival for Creativity, and PRCA, to name a few.

BWR Public Relations WPP

B|W|R Public Relations

B।W⃒⃒।R PR is bi-coastal with offices in New York and Beverly Hills. They work in retail and consumer brands, lifestyle, entertainment, tech, social media, corporate communications, and special events. And they specialize in hospitality, product launches, fashion and beauty, filmed entertainment, and on top of that, they represent approximately 200 music and talent personalities – allowing them the opportunity to match talent with brands in a wonderful symbiotic balance to benefit both.

Some of their clients include Dell, IFC, Melissa McCarthy, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Jessica Chastain, Garrett Hedlund, and Fast Company. BWR has also worked with a wide range of nonprofit organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, People for the American Way, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Portraits of Hope.

As is common for PR firms primarily representing celebrities, musicians, and sports figures, their website focuses on the clients rather than the PR firm. But BWR has been around for 33 or more years. It was cofounded by Nanci Ryder, who was diagnosed with ALS around the time of the famous bucket challenge a few years ago. Together with a group of her friends and associates, Team Nanci raised more than $265,000 for the cause.

As evidenced by these examples, it’s clear WPP Group chooses its companies for expertise, the right kind of power, and the ability to influence and serve. Among its vast holdings is an array of companies offering a complete and, when needed, integrated range of communication services for clients worldwide.

To learn more about their many companies, you will find them at wpp.com.

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