Donald Trump once again dominated the media landscape, soaking up many placement opportunities for PR people.
Supplementing his Twitter strategy of 2017, the president staged rallies throughout the US, purportedly to support local Republican Congressional politicos, but they turned out to be PR platforms for Trump and his assault on the media.
The president wrapped up the year with a surprise visit to US troops in Iraq. It was his first visit to a combat zone.
He looks ahead to an uncertain 2019 as the Democrats take control of the House and counsel Robert Mueller wraps up his investigation.
The Financial Times ran an editorial on Dec. 27 calling the Trump presidency “a garish spectacle that could just as easily lead to his impeachment in the months ahead—or his resignation in exchange for immunity—as in his re-election in 2020.”
Throughout 2018, the Washington Post gamely chronicled the burgeoning number of lies and deceits spewed by Trump, but the reporting made no impact on his base which dismissed the reports as nothing but "fake news."
Highlights, Lowlights of Year
SKDKnickerbocker, which is part of Mark Penn's Stagwell Group, joined with Time's Up Legal Defense Fund to represent victims of sexual misconduct, including assault, harassment and abuse. With 42West and Sunshine Sachs, the firm coordinated communications for the Time's Up Umbrella organization that kicked off the year with a "Dear Sisters" letter published Jan. 1.
Joe Lockhart, who was President Clinton's White House press secretary, left his high-profile executive VP- communications post at the National Football League in January after a two-year stint. He re-emerged later in the year as Edelman vice chairman.
Burson-Marsteller merged with Cohn & Wolfe in February as WPP chief Martin Sorrell worked to simplify the British conglomerate's management structure. C&W chief Donna Imperato assumed the helm of the revamped BCW.
ICR, a top financial communications shop, sold an investment stake to New York-based Investcorp as CEO Tom Ryan grabbed an opportunity to expand the offerings of the shop with about $65M in 2017 billings.
WPP, on April 3, announced the hiring of an independent counsel to probe claims of “personal misconduct” by Sorrell, who rejected any allegations that he misused corporate assets. He did recognize the company’s right to launch an investigation.
On April 14, Sorrell resigned as WPP CEO. With his exit, WPP wrapped up the investigation, “which did not involve amounts that are material.” Mark Read, Wunderman CEO, and Andrew Scott, corporate development director, were elevated to COO roles.
Lambert, Edwards & Assocs. of Grand Rapids acquired financial powerhouse Owen Blicksilver PR to move into the New York market.
Michael Nyman exited as co-chairman & CEO of PMK*BMC, a top entertainment firm, to launch Acceleration, investment advisory. He unveiled Bragman Nyman Cafarelli in 1991, sold it to Interpublic in 2000 and engineered the merger with PMK in 2009.
Fahlgren Mortine merged with Columbus-based SBC Advertising to form Fahlgren Mortine SBC, which began life with annual revenues in the $35M range. The transaction followed the acquisition of FM by Eastport Holdings Inc.
Weber Shandwick won global lead PR responsibilities for the $15M IBM account following a competitive pitch triggered by the arrival of chief communications officer Ray Day from Ford Motor.
Ketchum and Text100 had the IBM account since 2001. Weber Shandwick spearheads the IBM team that includes SKDKnickerbocker (US strategy, narrative), Spectrum Science (Watson Health, thought leadership) and Ryan Seacrest’s Civic Entertainment Group (influencer relations).
AT&T chief Randall Stephenson admitted that hiring Michael Cohen, president Trump’s former lawyer, was a “big mistake.” Ma Bell paid $600K to Cohen’s Essential Consultants, shell company, for advice on its $85B acquisition of Time Warner, a deal opposed by the president.
Dennis McGrath, former president/CEO of Mona, Meyer McGrath & Gavin, died May 13 at age 81. Weber Shandwick had acquired MMM&G, which became its Minneapolis office.
Mercury Public Affairs, which is part of Omnicom, landed a $75K monthly retainer from China’s ZTE Corp, the smartphone company sanctioned by the Trump administration for selling gear to Iran.
Sorrell put his comeback in motion as his S4 Capital acquired corporate shell company, Derriston Capital. He kicked in $53M of S4’s $67M in funding. His strategy is to duplicate the 1980s formula used to build WPP from the corporate shell of Wireless and Plastic Products.
Qatar, which is under an economic and blockade by its Persian Gulf neighbors, hired Blueprint Advisors to a $1.2M contract. Blueprint’s leadership has close ties with Rudy Giuliani, president Trump’s lawyer. The firm will rebut claims by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that Qatar has ties to terrorist groups.
Paul Manafort, president Trump’s campaign manager, went to jail in June to await his trial for violating federal lobbying laws, after a judge revoked his bail. He had been under house arrest after posting $10M in bail.
Netflix fired chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland for his “descriptive use of the N-word on at least two occasions,” according to a memo from CEO Reed Hastings. On Twitter, Friedland admitted to being “insensitive in speaking with his team about words that offend in comedy.”
Larry Weber returned to the helm of Racepoint Global in July following the surprise resignation of CEO Peter Prodromou. Tech guru Weber, who founded Weber Group, has advised Microsoft, IBM, GE and Verizon Wireless. Prodromou held the top post for about two years and served as president for three years prior to that.
Interpublic shelled out $2.3B for Acxiom Corp.’s data management unit, a transaction designed to help units of the holding company compete against Google and Facebook. Acxiom Marketing Solutions, according to IPG CEO Michael Roth, “offers the deepest set of capabilities for helping companies navigate the complexity of creating personalized brand experiences across every consumer touchpoint.”
Bill Shine, who was a Fox News executive pushed out of his post for his handling of sexual harassment claims against the company, become the fifth communications chief of the White House. He took over for Hope Hicks, who quit in March and joined Fox.
Dolphin Entertainment, parent of 42West, acquired The Door for $11M, which includes a performance management contingent consideration of $7M. The hospitality/lifestyle firm has counseled Rachel Ray, Virgin Hotels, Shake Shack and FAO Schwarz.
Sitrick And Company represented Papa John’s founder and former chairman John Schnatter, who was asked to step down as the company launched a probe into his use of the N-word. Schnatter, who now regrets his resignation, said he used the N-word during a diversity training course, not as a racial epithet.
Huntsworth gobbled up a 90 percent stake in Giant Creative Holdings for $72M cash from Shamrock Capital Growth Fund. San Francisco-based Giant has 150 staffers involved in biopharmaceutical, media device and diagnostics work
CRC Public Relations promoted the drive to win support for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. CRC is the firm of Greg Mueller, who was communications director for Pat Buchanan’s presidential runs in 1992 and 1996.
Avenir Global of Montreal acquired Padilla. With that addition, Avenir becomes one of the 25 largest PR outfits worldwide with 760 staffers and 21 offices across Canada, Europe and the US.
Burson-Marsteller Washington picked up public policy duties for Hikvision, the Chinese-government affiliate that makes video surveillance systems. Critics of the deal expressed concern that Hikvision cameras could send footage to Chinese security officials. China’s government owns a 41.6 percent stake in Hikvision.
Edelman helped CBS handle the bombshell exit of 15-year CEO Les Moonves amid allegations of sexual harassment, revamp of its board of directors and agreement with majority shareholder Shari Redstone’s National Amusements Inc.
The British government launched an investigation of scandal-rocked Bell Pottinger, which collapsed in 2017 in the aftermath of its racist campaign in South Africa on behalf of Oakbay investment firm of the Gupta family.
Brunswick Group named Nik Deogun CEO of the Americas. The nine-year CNBC veteran served as editor-in-chief and senior VP for business news in charge of content for daily programming, specials and documentaries.
MDC Partners, parent of Allison + Partners, Sloane & Co., Hunter PR and KWT Global, announced a strategic review in September following a flood of red ink, client cutbacks and the exit of CEO Scott Kauffmann.
SeaWorld’s former VP-communications settled a fraud charge for his role in misleading investors about the negative impact of the 2013 film Blackfish on the company, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The deal with Fred Jacobs was part of the $5M fraud settlement with SeaWorld.
Gil Schwartz, long-time CBS chief communications officer, called it quits Nov. 1 In the CCO post since 2000, Schwartz joined CBS in 1996 as senior VP-corporate communications after a 14-year run at Westinghouse Broadcasting before its merger with CBS.
WPP unveiled the merger of Young & Rubicam and digital marketing shop VML in September. VMLY&R is set to debut in 2019.
Hill+Knowlton Strategies announced it will spin off its SJR content marketing/strategic storytelling shop on Jan. 1 under the leadership of Alex Jutkowitz and Mitch Stoller. SJR is to maintain a “special attachment” to H+K on common clients within the WPP operation.
Harbour Group and Gladstone Place Partners were among the first PR firms to sever ties with Saudi Arabia following the Oct. 2 torture, murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, Washington Post contributor. Harbor had an $80K retainer pact with the Saudis, while Gladstone resigned a $200K contract with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to promote the construction of the $500B mega-city, Neom.
Facebook announced in October that British politico Nick Clegg would become its global affairs chief. The 51-year-old, who lost his seat in parliament in 2017, will succeed Elliot Schrage.
Gary Ginsberg, most recently executive VP for communications and marketing at Time Warner, joined Japan’s Softbank telecommunication outfit as senior VP-head of corporate communications. A Democratic operative who served in the Clinton White House, Ginsberg also was executive VP at News Corp and counselor to its CEO Rupert Murdoch.
Finn Partners acquired MFA Marketing and Public Relations, which was formerly known as Missy Farren & Assocs. The move bolsters Finn Partners’ position in food, travel, sports, wellness, crisis and corporate social responsibility.
Facebook cut ties with Definers Public Affairs following a New York Times Nov. 14 blockbuster about its effort to smear political opponents.
Amazon hired SKDKnickerbocker to defuse growing opposition to its plan to open a 4M sq. ft. campus in Long Island City, Queens. The New York City Council held a meeting on the facility on Dec. 12 and plans more hearings in 2019.
WPP CEO Mark Read announced during a Dec. 11 "investor day" session that he plans to cut 3,500 jobs in his three-year “radical evolution” plan to restore health to the ad/PR conglom.
The firm will reposition itself as a “creative technology company” focused on communications (PR, advertising, content, media, PA and healthcare), experience, e-commerce and technology.
Read warned investors “previously announced account losses will create the anticipated headwind” during the first half of 2019.
Jack O’Dwyer, who launched the pioneering Jack O’Dwyer Newsletter 50 years ago, died Dec. 19. He was 85. The Washington Post remembered O’Dwyer as the “soul and conscience of the PR industry.”