Harold Burson
Harold Burson

What would Harold Burson think about WPP engineering a merger of BCW with Hill & Knowlton, his one-time arch-competitor?

Burson, who died in January 2020 at the age of 98, could never have dreamed that back in its heyday Burson-Marsteller could hook up with H+K.

The two bitter rivals represented the upper-crust of corporate PR but they competed like cats and dogs. B-M and H+K ranked No. 1 and No. 2. respectively in O'Dwyer's 1991 rankings. B-M retained the top notch in 1992 and 1993 as H+K fell to No. 3 as Shandwick moved up into the second spot in both years.

But times certainly have changed. Driven by technology, the shattering of the old-boys’ network, growing professionalism, globalization, and the insatiable demand for public relations, a whole new generation of firms rose to challenge the dominance of B-M and H+K. They lost the relative clout that they once enjoyed.

WPP made that crystal clear in 2018 when it retired the Burson-Marsteller brand via a merger with Cohn & Wolfe to form BCW.

To make matters worse (from a B-M standpoint) C&W CEO Donna Imperato was named chief of the combined company.

B-M royalty, which counseled CEOs and governments that ran afoul of US opinion, dismissed C&W as a little sister agency focused on consumer products and sports PR. The creation of BCW put the bottom rung on top.

A WPP executive told me today that Harold would have approved the BCW-H+K marriage because it restores his name to the PR field.

Harold also would smile over the fact that H+K will be reduced to being a brand dealing with selected clients in the renamed Burson firm, once the company springs to life on July 1.

What would John Hill and Donald Knowlton think about that?

Seat at the table… That old cliche has been bandied about the PR business for years and years, but sometimes it turns out to be true as evidenced by the preliminary proxy statement released Jan. 24 by US Steel for its proposed merger with Nippon Steel.

It shows that representatives of USS financial communications advisor Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher attended virtual special meetings held by the board of directors and senior managers to discuss the Nippon offer and competing bids from Cleveland-Cliffs and others for the steelmaker.

JFWBK attended at least three meetings from Aug. 11 through Dec. 16 concerning the merger.

Goldman Sachs and Barclays; global advisory Evercore; and lawyers Millbank, Ropes & Gray, and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz joined JFWBK at the table. That’s pretty heady company for a PR firm.

The press release announcing the $14.9B merger of USS and Nippon Steel was issued Dec. 18.

JFWBK partners Kelly Sullivan and Ed Trissel handled that announcement. Both executives are veterans in the M&A arena.

Sullivan represented US Airways on its acquisition by American Airlines, and Grupo Modelo on the InBev/Anheuser-Busch transaction.

Trissel handled Gannett during its acquisition by New Media, and Mastercard on its deal for Finicity.

Future PR meetings and seminars about “getting a seat at the table” would be wise to feature JFWBK’s work for USS.

Trump stumped as Haley gives him a taste of his own medicine… Congratulations to Nikki Haley for turning the tables on Donald Trump by “celebrating” her victory in the New Hampshire primary.

“We got close to half the vote,” said Haley, who was polling in the two percent range when she first tossed her hat into the ring.

Trump was gobsmacked with Haley’s positive spin.“She’s doing a speech like she won,” said Trump on Jan 24. “She didn’t win. She lost.” And boy does he hate "losers."

He then went on Truth Social: “Could somebody please explain to Nikki Haley that she lost—and lost really badly. She also lost Iowa, BIG, last week. They were, as certain Non-Fake Media says, ‘CRUSHING DEFEATS.’ Loser, loser, loser."

It’s pretty ironic that a guy who still claims victory in an election that he lost nearly four years ago is complaining about Haley.

But Trump is really upset that she didn’t grovel before him and kiss his ring as Florida’s disgraced governor did.

Before he weaseled out of the race, Ron DeSantis said of Trump on Jan. 15:

“You can be the strongest, most dynamic, successful Republican and conservative in America, but if you don’t kiss that ring, then he’ll try to trash you. You can be the most worthless Republican in America, but if you kiss the ring, he’ll say you’re wonderful.”

Trump hasn’t yet called his Floridian mini-me “wonderful,” but he did promise not to refer to him, as Ron DeSanctimonious.

Ron takes what his master shells out.