Richard Edelman
Richard Edelman

The public relations business rebounded in 2021 from the chaos of pandemic 2020, which triggered a massive restructuring of the communications sector.

The big ad/PR holding companies reported robust earnings and mapped out plans for hybrid work models.

Omicron delayed implementing those new plans but the outlook for 2022 is bright due to mandatory vaccination policies and the hope that the COVID-19 pandemic will begin to become a manageable endemic illness.

Here are some of the highlights for 2021:

Richard Edelman says the U.S. is living in an “era of information bankruptcy” as leaders lie to the public, which views media outlets as politicized and biased. The Edelman CEO believes the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol and the fact that only a third of Americans plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine highlight the dangers of misinformation.

Stephanie Grisham, who was White House press secretary and communications director, resigned as chief of staff for Melania Trump in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection inspired by the president.

Anita Dunn
Anita Dunn

Anita Dunn, a founding member of SKDKnickerbocker who returned to the firm after serving as a senior advisor to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris during the campaign, rejoined Team Biden to work on the transition. She took a leave of absence from the New York firm, which is part of Stagwell Group, and returned in the summer

Former US Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux signed on to represent TikTok, the social media platform that is owned by China’s ByteDance.

Porter Novelli releases a survey showing the impact of “cancel culture” on brands. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents felt “more empowered than ever before” about expressing opinions about a company’s action, leadership or spokespeople.

Teneo picked up a lucrative assignment to handle publicity for the “Golden Jubilee” of the United Arab Emirates to mark its accomplishments over the last 50 years, which included the launch of the Hope Probe that is currently orbiting Mars.

Software giant Cision inks a deal to acquire digital consumer intelligence company Brandwatch, a deal that is pegged in the $450M range.


W2O Group, a healthcare marketing and communications network rebrands as Real Chemistry. It says the move reflects the disruption facing the healthcare sector since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sara Carpenter, a former spokesperson for the New York City police department, was arrested March 23 for participating in the Jan. 6 storming of the US Capitol.

Former WPP chief Martin Sorrell takes a bow as his S4 Capital reported an “outstandingly successful” performance for 2020. He boasts that the “creativity, adaptability, resilience and hard work” of S4’s employees proved the “potency of our new age/era, digital, data-driven, unitary model.”

MWWPR rebrands as MikeWorldWide, paying tribute to its founder Michael Kempner, who built the shop into a global brand with 2020 fees of $38.9M. Kempner says he built the agency on passion and agility, challenging industry convention and always prioritizing cultural needs and client service.

Lou Hammond Group books the Jamaica Tourist Board following a competitive pitch, replacing Finn Partners, which decided not to compete for the business.

Naomi Campbell, the British model and actor, hires Ballard Partners for guidance regarding the US visa process. The 50-year-old has faced problems obtaining work visas in the US due to a history of violence against associates, staffers and others from 1998 to 2009.

Meredith Webster
Meredith Webster

Meredith Webster, special assistant to President Biden and chief of staff at the Domestic Policy Council, joins Estēe Lauder Cos. in the newly created executive VP, global communications and PA post. She replaces Alexandra Trower as global communications chief and Maria Cristina Gonzalez Noguera as PA head.

Ogilvy Government Relations picks up Avangrid sustainable energy company, which is building the nation’s first large-scale wind project, to lobby on offshore wind power and transmission matters. Avangrid's turbines off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard will power 400K homes and businesses in Massachusetts.

Finn Partners buys back the investment stake that it sold to Mark Penn’s Stagwell Group, and the two companies have amicably separated. “Our partnership with Stagwell, which started in 2017 and lasted more than four years, served us well,” said CEO Peter Finn. Penn and Finn attended high school together and have known each other for about 50 years.

ExxonMobil suffered a massive PR blowout as shareholders voted in activist investors from Engine No. 1 hedge fund to the oil giant’s board, following one of the most expensive proxy fights in US corporate history. Gasthalter & Co.’s Jonathan Gasthalter and Amanda Klein represent Engine No. 1.

Edward Reilly
Edward Reilly

Ed Reilly, who stepped down as leader of FTI Consulting Group’s strategic communications unit in December 2017 after a seven-year run, becomes CEO of Dentons Global Advisors, which was launched by the world’s biggest law firm, Dentons. DGA services include capital markets transactions, geopolitical risk advisory, crisis/issues management, corporate positioning, commercial diplomacy and dispute resolution.

LLYC unveils plans to go public via a stock offering on the Spanish stock market via a transaction that raised about $12M. Founding partner Jose Antonio Llorente said the proceeds will bankroll LLYC’s strategy, which is geared to expanding high-tech offerings; making acquisitions to differentiate it from competitors; establishing alliances to bolster geographic reach; and driving organic growth.

Ursula Burns
Ursula Burns

Teneo names Ursula Burns, senior advisor and former Xerox CEO, chairwoman in the aftermath of the Declan Kelly scandal and his June 29 exit from the firm. He was inebriated at a corporate event in May and engaged in inappropriate behavior.

Finn Partners promotes Kristie Kuhl to managing partner & global health practice leader, succeeding Gil Bashe, who remains chair of the $35M unit. She joined Finn in 2015 as US pharma & New York health head after executive VP stints at Cohn & Wolfe and Makovsky.

The Cleveland Indians announce plans to change their name and brand identity after the 2021 season. The team is now known as the Cleveland Guardians.

Karen van Bergen
Karen van Bergen

Omnicom names Karen van Bergen, former Porter Novelli CEO and head of OMC’s PR group, chief environmental sustainability officer, a new post.

Rich Bamberger and Josh Vlasto, former aides to disgraced and former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, leave their managing director jobs at Kivvit. They were members of the governor’s “inner circle” of advisors that worked to fend off accusations of sexual misconduct, according to the report from New York attorney general Letitia James.

Rudy Giuliani’s PR guru Christianné Allen calls it quits, stepping down from her post at Giuliani Communications. The 22-year-old signed up for Team Rudy in August 2019 with the mission of updating the image of the former New York mayor and personal attorney to Donald Trump.

WPP agrees to pay $19M to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges that it violated anti-bribery and internal accounting controls measures of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The company noted the activity occurred when Martin Sorrell helmed the firm. He stepped down in 2018.

Finsbury Glover Hering, which is majority-owned by WPP, merges with Sard Verbinnen & Co. to create a firm they say chalked up $330M in combined 2020 revenues and will have more than 1,000 staffers in 25 offices throughout the world. A new name for the combined entity will be unveiled in early 2022.

David Finn
David Finn

David Finn, a founding father of modern PR who launched Ruder Finn in 1948 with Bill Ruder, dies at 100. As RF chairman and CEO for more than 70 years, Finn nurtured the growth of corporate communications. His 1969 book, “The Corporate Oligarch,” developed the groundwork for “stakeholder capitalism” by depicting corporations as “the central institution in American life” while underscoring the importance of public service.

Interpublic reports Q3 revenues rose 15.7 percent to $2.3B as it registered solid gains across all operating sectors. IPG DXTRA, the collective of 27 specialty marketing brands including Weber Shandwick, Golin, Revive, Powell Tate, Current Global and Rogers & Cowan PMK, posted an 18.5 percent surge to $319M in reported revenues. It was up 18.6 percent organically.

WPP CEO Mark Read also recorded a 15.7 percent growth in Q3 revenues (less pass-through costs) to $3.6B as clients across the board hiked investments in marketing, especially digital media and ecommerce services.

Omnicom Group’s Q3 revenues grew 7.1 percent to $3.4B due to the moderation of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its communications offerings. Net income surged 13.5 percent to $355.6M.

Peace Corps

Crosby Marketing Communications lands a five-year brand strategy and integrated marketing communications contract from the Peace Corps worth an estimated $20M. Ogilvy had the business.

Finn Partners acquires Anthology Marketing Group, the 86-member Honolulu-based communications shop with a robust travel and tourism practice. It counts Hawaii Tourism Authority, Hawaiian Airlines, Guam Visitors Bureau, USS Missouri Memorial and Polynesian Cultural Center as clients.

5W Public Relations CEO Ronn Torossian organizes the victory celebration for incoming NYC mayor Eric Adams that was held at downtown Manhattan’s Zero Bond, a members-only club that charges an annual $3K membership and $1,000 initiation fee.

Martin Whittaker
Martin Whittaker

Edelman names Martin Whittaker, founding CEO of Just Capital, as senior advisor to its newly launched Edelman Impact unit formed to advance the climate, purpose and ESG goals of clients. The firm also hires Robert Casamento its first-ever global head of climate. Casamento, a founding director of the World Economic Forum’s global climate change initiatives, worked on sustainability efforts at EY and Deloitte.

The country of Jordan retains Finn Partners to create a communications campaign that would transform the site, believed to be where John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ, into the world’s leading spiritual pilgrimage destination.

Jim Weiss, founder of Real Chemistry, announces plan to step down as CEO at O’Dwyer’s No. 1 healthcare firm on Jan. 3. Shankar Narayanan, who led McKinsey & Co.’s healthcare and pharma group before exiting the consultancy in 2012 after a nearly 16-year run, will take the helm.

The Battery Park City Authority, the non-profit that manages and oversees the financing, development, maintenance and operations of Battery Park City in Manhattan’s southernmost tip is seeking proposals from public relations firms.

Symone Sanders
Symone Sanders

Symone Sanders, chief spokesperson for VP Kamala Harris, leaves the White House. Sanders follows the high-profile exit of VP communications director, Ashley Etienne.

Walt Disney Co. taps former BP and Pentagon communications exec Geoff Morell to succeed Zenia Mucha, who is retiring at the end of the year, as its PR chief.

The People’s Republic of China taps Vippi Media Inc. to handle a social media campaign to promote the 2022 Olympics and Paralympics slated for Beijing.

Jim Dowling, the former CEO of Burson-Marsteller who played a key role in handling Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol crisis, died Dec. 15. He was 90.

Terrence Thompson
Terrence Thompson

Terrence Thompson, who was director of government relations at Dell Technologies, has joined Kyndryl, which is the spin-off of IBM’s IT infrastructure unit, as VP-government affairs.

Public Policy Holding Co., a collection of US government affairs firms, goes public on the London Stock Exchange and raises more than $40M. Its units include Crossroads Strategies, Seven Letter, Alpine Group, Forbes Tate Partners and O’Neill & Associates.

Texas launches search for a PR firm to educate Texans about new controversial voter identification requirements in the Lone Star State ahead of the key 2022 Congressional elections.