Peter Finn
Peter Finn

2019 was a year jammed with wall-to-wall breaking news, making it harder for PR firms to chalk up placements for clients.

While the media maintained a 24/7 watch of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, there was a raft of newsworthy items to keep the minds of the American people spinning.

The Google News Labs reports that top searches in 2019 focused on the US government shutdown, Brexit, Boeing’s 737 Max disaster, China/US trade war, Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged sexual abuse/suicide, Hong Kong pro-democracy riots, Hurricane Dorian slamming the Bahamas, Robert Mueller’s Russia meddling investigation, Ukraine, California wildfires and the impeachment.

Focusing on the world of PR, here are some of the highlights and lowlights covered by O’Dwyer’s in 2019.


ICR Inc. acquires Westwicke Partners, a health-centered investor relations firm based in Baltimore with offices in New York, Boston, San Diego, San Francisco and London.

Headed by founders Bob East and Mark Klausner, Westwicke’s 30 staffers serve more than 100 clients in the life science, medical technology and healthcare sectors.

ICR CEO Tom Ryan combined ICR’s 75-plus healthcare staffers with Westwicke’s group to create the Westwicke, An ICR Company, brand.

Paul Manafort
Paul Manafort

Skadden settles Ukraine/Manafort FARA suit. Lobbying powerhouse Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom agreed to $4.6M to settle a civil suit, alleging that it failed to register as a foreign agent for Ukraine work that was headed by Paul Manafort, president Trump's former campaign manager.

According to the agreement, Skadden contributed to "a public relations campaign directed at select members of the US media," without filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Following multiple inquiries from the Justice Dept.'s FARA unit, a "partner then at Skadden made false and misleading statements to the FARA unit," which led it to believe that is was not obligated to file, according to the Justice Dept.'s Jan. 17 statement.

The Justice Dept. ultimately determined that Skadden was required to register in 2012 and under the settlement agreement has agreed to do so retroactively.

The $4.6 million represents the fees/expenses that Skadden got from Ukraine.

Stuart Smith
Stuart Smith

Ogilvy PR chief exits for gluten-free pizza gig. Stuart Smith, head of Ogilvy’s global PR group left to take the chief marketing & growth job at Vegolutionary Foods, the Los Angeles health food company founded by his wife and former Edelman western region CEO Gail Becker.

He joined Ogilvy in 2011 following a seven-year run as Edelman UK chief and three years at Hill & Knowlton, where he rose to head the corporate EMEA group.

CEOs say profit, not CSR, is top priority, according to a new study from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations and Chief Executive magazine.

About 60 percent of the 210 CEOs surveyed for the study said they were unlikely to communicate about any social issue in 2019.

The main communications goal for most of the CEOs surveyed remains the bottom line, with 44 percent saying that selling their products and services is the top message they are concerned with delivering.

“At a time when high-profile corporations like Nike and Levi Strauss are speaking out about societal issues, it’s fascinating to see that the majority of CEOs have little interest in being part of that conversation,” said Fred Cook, director of the Annenberg Center.

Small Army

Finn Partners captures Small Army of digital pros. Peter Finn’s firm scooped up Small Army, a Boston-based 45-member integrated marketing shop focused on health, financial, technology and travel sectors. The deal bolsters Finn's digital marketing team to 150-strong.

Founded in 2002, Small Army provides strategic planning, brand development, advertising, media buying, content creation, video production and social media management services.

Richard Edelman
Richard Edelman

Trust in the US suffers its largest-ever-recorded drop among the general population in the history of Edelman’s Trust Barometer.

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust in the U.S. among the general population fell nine points to 43, placing it in the lower quarter of the 28-country Trust Index.

“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs. The root cause of this fall is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse.”

London's Lansons expands to US via Intermarket. Lansons, a reputation management shop in London, picks up a 51 percent stake in New York’s Intermarket Communications, financial shop co-founded by Matt Zachowski and Martin Mosbacher in 1986, to form an entity with fee income in the $17M range.

Lansons is expected to acquire full ownership of Intermarket via the purchase of two additional tranches over the next three years based on the performance of the business.

Intermarket, which has 25 clients, ranked as O’Dwyer’s tenth largest financial firm in 2017 with fees of $4M.

Mark Penn
Mark Penn

Mark Penn takes command of MDC. The former political advisor to Bill and Hillary Clinton assumed the helm of MDC Partners as his Stagwell Group agrees to pump a $100M equity infusion into the financially strapped ad/PR company.

Before launching Stagwell, Penn was executive VP/chief strategy officer at Microsoft, CEO of Burson-Marsteller, co-founder of Penn Schoen Berland, and pollster/advisor for Tony Blair, Bill Ford and Bill Gates.

He called MDC a place brimming with "some of the world’s best creative and strategic talent; strategists with a deep understanding of the way technology and media solutions address the needs of today’s modern marketer."


China’s embattled Huawei Technologies enlists Larry Weber’s Racepoint Global for PR and crisis support as it takes on the US law that bars American governmental agencies for federal contractors from doing business with the Japanese firm.

Racepoint’s one-year contract covers strategy, media/analyst relations, content, crisis, and social media.

Weber, who bills at $320 per-hour, heads Racepoint’s 13-member Huawei team.

Paul Ryan joins Fox Corp. board. The former House Speaker has joined the board of the slimmed-down Fox Corp., which has closed the sale of the bulk of its entertainment assets to Walt Disney Co.

Prior to his election as Speaker, Ryan chaired the House Ways and Means Committee and Budget Committee. He was VP candidate for Mitt Romney’s presidential run.

Seema Verma
Seema Verma

HHSA probes Porter Novelli. The Health and Human Services Administration slates a review of subcontracting deals flowing from Porter Novelli’s $2.25M contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Politico reported March 29 that money from the PR contract went to Republican consultants to burnish the image of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma.

Pam Stevens, a media adviser coached Verma; Marcus Barlow wrote speeches and devised strategy, while Nahigan Strategies’ staffers traveled with the administrator and helped orchestrate announcements, according to Politico.

Publicis spends $4.4B for Epsilon. Publicis Groupe is acquiring Alliance Data’s Epsilon unit for $4.4B as part of its drive to become “a leader in the data-led, digital-first world.”

CEO Arthur Sadoun said with the mainstreaming of direct-to-consumer brands and new data regulations, the Epsilon deal will enable Publicis to “deliver personalized experiences at scale.”

Epsilon recorded 97 percent of its $1.9B 2018 revenues from clients in the US. It employs 9,000 staffers, of which 3,700 are data scientists and 2,000 are technology delivery experts in Bangalore.


NRA sues long-time PR firm. The National Rifle Association has sued long-time ad agency Ackerman McQueen and its Mercury Group PR unit for allegedly failing to turn over its business records to justify its billings.

The organization paid Ackerman McQueen more than $42M in 2017.

AM dismissed the suit as “frivolous, inaccurate and intended to cause harm to the reputation of our company.”

The NRA and AM have worked together for decades and created the high-impact “from my cold, dead hands” messaging of the late actor and five-time NRA president Charlton Heston.

Five PR firms join anti-tobacco push… Only five PR firms have joined the Quit Big Tobacco Campaign and pledged not to represent tobacco and e-cigarette clients.

Ketchum, Golin, Fenton, Finn Partners and Hager Sharp are the PR firms that signed the pledge, according to the QTC website.

MDC Partners (parent of Allison + Partners, Sloane & Co, KWT Global and Hunter PR) also is on the list.

Organized by New York-based Vital Strategies, global public health organization, QBTC takes aim at Big Tobacco (Altria, Philip Morris International, Reynolds American and Imperial Tobacco) and its promotion of e-cigarettes to counter the decline in smoking.


Edelman helps Boeing navigate PR turbulence… Boeing reached out to Edelman in May to map a communications plan to reintroduce its 737 Max to the flying public, once the grounded plane receives regulatory approval to return to service.

A member of Edelman's corporate advisory team declined comment on the work and referred O’Dwyer’s to Gordon Johndroe, VP-communications, government operations at Boeing.

“While I cannot comment on any particular firms, we engage a number across the world to assist with strategic communications,” he said via email.

Bayer ousts FleishmanHillard. Germany’s Bayer has suspended FleishmanHillard following reports in France's Le Monde that it compiled a dossier of about 200 politicians, journalists and scientists who raised health concerns about client Monsanto's “Roundup” weed killer.

The German pharmaceuticals and life sciences giant released a statement May 12, acknowledging the French media raised accusations that lists of supportive and critical stakeholders drawn up by Monsanto in 2016 may have violated ethical principles and legal regulations.

Anna Maria DeSalve
Anna Maria DeSalva

DeSalva returns to H+K as CEO. AnnaMaria DeSalva returned to WPP’s Hill+Knowlton Strategies unit as chairman/CEO on June 24, taking over for Jack Martin, who will remain an adviser until the end of the year.

She left DuPont as chief communications officer in February after guiding communications through its $130B mega-merger with Dow and establishing the corporate affairs capability of the combined entity.

From 2006-2009, she headed worldwide healthcare at H+K, a job she took after leaving the healthcare managing director slot at GCI Group, another WPP unit.

Evoke PR & Influence merges with KYNE. Evoke, healthcare, medical marketing and communications unit of Huntsworth, has acquired Independent health PR specialist KYNE, the ten-year-old shop that registered $10.4M in fees on O'Dwyer's 2018 rankings of healthcare firms.

KYNE and Evoke's PR & Influence unit, which offers strategic communications, PA, investor relations and consumer marketing services, will join to form a new entity

Evoke reported $12M in PR fees on O'Dwyer's healthcare rankings list.

42 West bows to friends of elephants. 42 West has ended its PR push to justify the Government of Botswana's effort to cull its elephant herd, which has grown in population from the 20,000s during the 1970s to 135K today.

Animal rights and environmental groups have trashed the hunt. Britain's Daily Mail dubbed the elephant hunt, "Operation Jumbo Slaughter."

The entertainment PR firm released the following statement to Roger Friedman's Showbiz411 column: “While the nature of what 42West was hired to do for the Botswana Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism has been grossly misrepresented, we have ended this relationship.”

Rebecca Messina
Rebecca Messina

Uber's marketing chief exits. Rebecca Messina, Uber's first marketing chief, stepped down after eight months on the job, following the massive $1B first-quarter red ink tide at the ride-hailing and delivery giant.

Her June departure followed CEO Dara Khosrowshahi's vow to take a more “hands-on” approach to management.

In August, Google vet Thomas Ranese replaced Messina as the company unveiled plans to cut a third of its marketing team.

Brunswick hires ex-US cyber command chief Rogers. Mike Rogers, retired US Navy admiral who served as commander of the US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, has joined Brunswick Group in its Washington office.

As senior advisor, he will counsel clients on cybersecurity, geopolitical, technology, telecom and crisis matters.

He retired from the Navy in 2018 after 37 years of service.

Ad/PR execs go public on gun control. Mark Read, Omnicom’s John Wren and Edelman’s Richard Edelman are the ad/PR firm CEOs among the 145 corporate leaders to sign a letter urging the Senate to pass gun control measures.

Noting that 100 Americans are shot and killed every day with many more wounded, the letter urges the Republican-controlled Senate to “stand with the American people and take action on gun safety by passing a bill to require background checks on all gun sales and a strong Red Flag law that would allow courts to issue life-saving extreme risk protection orders.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Huckabee Sanders leaves White House press job. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, stepped down at the end of June, announced by a tweet from Donald Trump.

"After 3 1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas," tweeted the president.

Sanders, who succeeded Sean Spicer in 2017, will be remembered for killing the daily press briefing for reporters and for ardent defense of Trump.

Stephanie Grisham, who has been on Team Trump since 2015, most recently as Melania Trump's communications director, took over the press secretary job in August.

Sanders wound up as Fox News commentator.

Dominican Republic taps Rubenstein PR for crisis. The Dominican Republic has a $35K monthly contract with Rubenstein PR to provide advisory services regarding the impact that its reeling tourism sector will have on the economy and effect on the Caribbean nation. The effort is led by president Richard Rubenstein.

The firm was hired after at least nine tourists have mysteriously died in the DR, including Leyla Cox, a Staten Island woman who passed away June 10 a day after celebrating her 53rd birthday.

Dominican officials have lashed out at US media coverage of the deaths, dismissing it as “fake news” about an island that welcomes 6M visitors a year.

Levinson Group fights for equity for US Women Soccer. The Levinson Group is representing the 28 members of the US women's soccer team as they press their case for pay equity against the US Soccer Federation.

The defending World Cup champions filed a lawsuit in March, charging the Federation denies them equal compensation, training, playing and travel conditions with the men’s team. The suit also alleges the Federation promotes their games less than the men’s matches.

Molly Levinson, who launched her firm in 2014 after stints at CNN and CBS, serves as spokesperson for the players.


WPP sells 60% Kantar stake to Bain. WPP Group has sold a 60 percent stake in its Kantar research unit to Bain Capital for $4B as part of CEO Mark Read's plan to simplify the structure of the ad/PR giant.

WPP will retain a 40 percent Kantar stake and looks forward to working with Bain to "unlock its full potential," according to Read.

Interpublic ups Polansky, Heimann. Interpublic has named Weber Shandwick CEO Andy Polansky chairman/CEO of its constituency management group, succeeding Frank Mergenthaler, who is retiring as CFO at the end of year.

Weber Shandwick global president Gail Heimann takes over the helm from Polansky, who will become executive chairman of Interpublic’s PR flagship. Jack Leslie will remain chairman.

The CMG group includes Weber Shandwick, DeVries Global, Rogers & Cowan, Jack Morton, Octagon, Current Global and Golin.

Polansky, who began his career as a journalist, took over Weber Shandwick from Harris Diamond in 2012.

Michael Roth, IPG CEO, called Polansky "a collaborative leader with a strong commitment to driving business results and core values and who has consistently evolved our offerings to stay ahead of client needs.”

Ruder Finn gobbles up $5M SPI Group. Ruder Finn has acquired SPI Group, the Jersey-based shop that ranked No. 17 in O’Dwyer’s 2018 healthcare rankings with fees of $5M.

Launched in 1997, SPI provides internal communications services to clients such as Bayer, Novo Nordisk, Merck, Regeneron, Pfizer and Novartis.

Steve Goodman launched SPI in 1997. The firm’s 30 members bolster RF healthcare unit to about 250 staffers.

RF ranked as O’Dwyer’s No. 7 independent PR firm, registering overall fees of $69.1M during the past year.

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

MBS takes responsibility for Khashoggi's murder. Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Sept. 27 that he took responsibility for the torture, murder and dismemberment of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

"It happened under my watch," MBS told “Frontline’s” Martin Smith. "I get all the responsibility because it happened under my watch."

Khashoggi's murder drew global condemnation and undermined Saudi Arabia's PR program that pitched MBS as a young and progressive leader of the Kingdom. Publicis Groupe's Qorvis Communications is Saudi Arabia's main PR firm.

Next Fifteen Acquires Health Unlimited USA. Next Fifteen Communications Group has acquired the US division of Health Unlimited.

Health Unlimited, along with its specialist consultancy Corkery Group, will be rebranded as M Booth Health and operate as a separate agency reporting to M Booth CEO Dale Bornstein. M Booth was acquired by Next 15 in 2009.

Timothy Bird, Health Unlimited global CEO, and his US-based management team will continue to lead the agency.

Health Unlimited comes in at #5 on O’Dwyer’s list of top healthcare firms, reporting 2018 net fees of $24.3 million. For the year ending March 31, the agency reported adjusted before-tax profit of $5.2 million and net assets of $17 million. It is to be acquired debt-free.

Andrew Garson
Andrew Garson

Ex-MWWPR, Catalyst PR exec charged with wire fraud. Former PR executive Andrew Garson was arrested and charged with wire fraud in connection with multimillion-dollar schemes to defraud two PR firms where he worked and for a subsequent scheme to obtain New York State unemployment benefits to which he was not entitled, according to a suit filed by Geoffrey Berman, US attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The suit does not identify the firms that employed Garson, but the allegations cover the period from 2013 to 2018 when he worked as executive VP at MWWPR and VP at Catalyst PR, a unit of WME|IMG (now known as Endeavor).

“As a PR executive, Andrew Garson’s expertise in garnering positive attention for his clients is well-known, even earning him a spot on the "40 Under 40” in a popular industry magazine,” Berman said in a release. “But behind the scenes, Garson allegedly schemed to steal from his employers, eventually costing them over $2M in losses. Andrew Garson has likely generated his own (negative) publicity, and now faces the possibility of serious jail time in federal prison.”

Garson is charged with two counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Huawei makes $1M pivot to BCW arm. Huawei Technologies USA has retained BCW’s Pivot Integrated Communications arm for a one-year strategic communications program in the US pegged at $939,179 in fees.

In its federal filing, Pivot says Huawei Technologies USA is wholly owned by Huawei Technologies Co,. Ltd., which is located in Shenzhen, China.

“It is our understanding that Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, which owns Huawei Technologies USA Inc. is a private, employee-owned company,” according to Pivot’s federal filing. “That understanding was confirmed by representatives of Huawei Technologies USA Inc.”

Shepard Smith
Shepard Smith

Shep Smith quits Fox News. Shepard Smith, Fox news anchor and managing editor of the network's breaking news unit, quit Oct. 11. He broke the news during his program. Smith is a sometimes critic of president Trump.

The anchor of the afternoon "Shepard Smith Reporting" program said the decision to walk was his own.

Publicis eliminates MSL CEO post. Guillaume Herbette, global CEO of MSL, is leaving the firm as Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun has decided to eliminate the position.

"We will not appoint a new global head of MSL, wrote Sadoun in a note to staffers. "With the implementation of the country model, all MSL offices in the world will now report to the new country structure of Publicis Groupe."

He wished Herbette well and thanked him "for his many contributions over the course of the last four years as the head of MSL and wish him all the best for the future."

Platinum Equity shells out $2.7B for Cision. Platinum Equity, which has $19B in assets under management, is acquiring Cision for $2.7B in cash.

The $10-per share offer is a 34 percent premium over the 60-day closing stock price for the period ended Oct. 21.

The PR services firm posted a $7.7M loss on $190.4M in second-quarter revenues. Its stock has traded in the $6.02 to $15.76 range during the past 52 weeks.


PRSA puts search for CEO "on hold." Public Relations Society of America has put the search for the CEO "on hold" until early next year when more people are looking for jobs. Russell Reynolds was doing the search.

Joe Truncale stepped down as CEO on July 15, taking on the role of consultant. PRSA CFO Phil Bonaventura took over Truncale's CEO duties on an interim basis.

Garland Stansell, chair-elect, told the Assembly in San Diego that the search for Truncale's replacement was being pushed back into 2020 after the holiday season.

NYC's Governors Island seeks PR pitches. The Trust for Governors Island, which oversees the 43-acre park in New York Harbor that attracts about 1M visitors annually, is looking for a PR firm to promote it as a 24/7 campus for learning, creativity and innovation.

The overall goal is "transforming Governors Island into a vibrant resource for New York City" and a "destination with extraordinary public open space, as well as educational, not-for-profit and commercial facility for all," according to the RFP.

Tony Sayegh
Tony Sayegh

Teneo's Sayegh to return to Team Trump. Tony Sayegh, spokesperson for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who joined Teneo last month as managing director, is returning to the Trump administration to handle communications surrounding impeachment.

He will be responsible for communications strategy, messaging and recruit surrogates to support the president.

Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general who joined the Sunshine State's Ballard Partners in January, is teaming with Sayegh on impeachment communications.

A frequent guest on Fox News, Bondi is a favorite of president Trump, who considered her for the AG spot vacated by Jeff Sessions.

Jim Abernathy
Jim Abernathy

Abernathy MacGregor's Jim Abernathy dies at 78. Jim Abernathy, founder/executive chairman of Abernathy MacGregor, died Nov. 17. He was 78.

The Kansas City native launched Abernathy MacGregor in 1984 with Jim MacGregor. The shop, which currently has more than 70 staffers in New York, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, became part of Havas in 2000.

Prior to AM, Abernathy edited broadcasting trade magazines and held PR/IR posts at ABC, CBS and Warner Communications.

Finn Partners beefs up healthcare unit. Finn Partners has acquired Medical & Health Consulting, Paris-headquartered firm that works for biopharma, technology and medical devices outfits, to bolster its position in Europe.

Marie-Helene Coste, MHC founding director, will take on the role of senior director, health for Finn Europe. She will report to Chantal Bowman-Boyles, managing partner of Europe and Gil Bashe, managing partner of global health.

Peter Finn called MHC a "perfect complement" to his firm's September acquisition of high-science healthcare firm Lazar Partners, a 22-member New York firm.

Evo Morales

CLS Parachutes into Bolivia's political mess. CLS Strategies has picked up a 90-day assignment to provide strategic counsel to the government of Bolivia, which has been rocked by political upheaval.

Former president Evo Morales, who ruled the country for 14 years, has been granted refugee status in Argentina.

He fled to Mexico following a contested election in October after his government was charged with manipulating the results.

Bolivia’s interim president Jeanine Anez issued an arrest warrant for Morales, charging him with treason.

Interpublic junks Golin's Co-CEO trio model. Interpublic has junked Golin's three co-CEO model that it put into effect Jan. 2017 with the exit of chief Fred Cook. Matt Neale assumes CEO slot.

Under the "CEO+" structure, Neale handled thought leadership, reputation, new products; Gary Rudnick managed North America, finance, HR; and Jon Hughes supervised international activities.

Rudnick now slides into the president & COO position, reporting to Neale. Hughes is leaving Golin.

Neale reports to Andy Polansky, CEO of IPG’s constituency management group.