- Edelman, already the biggest public-relations firm, has been vying to become the first $1 billion PR agency, a task made more difficult by the pandemic.
- It has poached leaders from advertising giants like Leo Burnett, McCann, and Wunderman Thompson.
- It's also doubling down on services like corporate reputation, crisis communications, employee engagement, and business marketing.
- Business Insider identified Edelman's most powerful 22 executives based on conversations with current and former employees, publicly available information, and other news.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Edelman, the largest public-relations agency with $892 million in revenue in 2019, is pivoting its business toward creative and other areas to win market share from the advertising industry — a difficult task in the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.
As an independent business, Edelman is an anomaly in an industry dominated by holding companies. The agency credits a lot of its success to its independence, which gave it the ability to invest in digital after the 2008 financial crisis.
Edelman also has been raiding top ad agencies like Leo Burnett, McCann, and Wunderman Thompson to hire execs like Judy John, Lee Maicon, and Yannis Kotziagkiaouridis.
The firm also has longtime agency vets like global chief client officer Lisa Sepulveda, who manages the top 48 client leaders and their businesses, representing 60% of the firm's revenues.
At the same time, Edelman has shoveled resources into corporate work, which includes reputation, employee engagement, and its newly launched business-marketing unit, by hiring prominent fixers like the Chevron vet Dave Samson. Insiders say corporate made up about half of Edelman's revenue in 2020, up from one-third a few years prior.
The pandemic led Edelman to lay off 390 employees. But in a previous interview with Business Insider, CEO Richard Edelman said the agency would rebound by doubling down on its creative business, with one in three employees working in either digital, research, experiential, or creative.
These are the 22 power players at Edelman who are helping the agency make that transition as it weathers a recession.
Business Insider used publicly available information and original reporting to pick these executives based on their seniority at the firm, the accounts they work on, and their level of responsibility. Scroll down to read about them all, listed alphabetically.
Katie Burke, chief strategy officer and global chair of practices and sectors
Edelman is a sprawling PR giant with 6,000 employees, and it falls to Burke to make sure all of its practices and sectors are working toward the same goal.
Since joining Edelman in 2008, Burke has also served as the global public-affairs chair and chief of staff.
She's plugged into the Washington, DC, scene, having served as communications director for Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign in 2008 and Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial reelection campaign in 2006. She's also worked for the George W. Bush White House and the Republican National Committee.
Deidre Campbell, global sector chair of financial services
The financial sector isn't immune to disruption or social change, and Campbell leads a 650-member team that helps clients like BNY Mellon and PayPal manage their communications and image.
Historically, financial-services companies were press-shy. Now they're communicating through social media, doing media interviews that feature their executives, and talking about social issues. With Edelman's help, PayPal even launched a podcast with CEO Dan Schulman as the host.
Russell Dubner, US president and CEO
Dubner oversees Edelman's largest market, which generates $554.1 million in annual revenue, according to the firm.
Edelman has built out its data analytics for the US, establishing a 150-person performance-communications division whose goal is to help the firm demonstrate its influence on clients' business.
The launch of that division coincided with Edelman's partnership with Cision, the largest PR-software company, which gave Edelman exclusive access to data on the Cision platform.
Dubner and Richard Edelman have also hired data-analytics professionals like Yannis Kotziagkiaouridis, the global chief data and analytics officer; Theresa LaMontagne, the US head of data and technology services; and Jacob Loban, the US head of performance marketing.
Dubner has been with the firm since 1992. Before he was named to his current role in 2014, he was president of Edelman New York, an office large enough to be its own PR firm with 800 employees.
Richard Edelman, CEO
For more than two decades, Edelman has set the pace for the communications industry as the visible and vocal leader of the largest PR agency, which his father, Daniel Edelman, founded in 1952.
Under him, the firm produced back-to-back years of double-digit growth after the 2008 financial crisis by focusing on the then emerging areas of social media and digital.
Along the way, the firm rejected work from fossil-fuel and e-cigarette companies, but it has also courted controversy in past years by working with the oil-lobby group American Petroleum Institute and the Geo Group, a contractor that built detention centers along the US-Mexico border.
The CEO's view is that a big independent agency can outcompete holding-company-owned firms.
"The advantage of being independent is you can make these big transitions and not have to worry about immediate acceptance of the idea," Edelman told Ad Age.
Now he's betting on creative and data analytics — and how the firm emerges from the pandemic will serve as a bellwether for the rest of the PR industry.
Kirsty Graham, CEO of global public affairs and global chair of health
Graham oversees a 275-employee business at Edelman and was a key hire in the firm's effort to bulk up its public-affairs wing and make it a semiautonomous entity as brands face more political controversies, Richard Edelman told PRWeek.
Graham joined in February and focuses on policy, health, and public affairs, similar to the work she did at Pfizer, where she rose to senior vice president of corporate affairs for its biopharmaceutical group.
She also brings political experience. She served at the New Zealand Foreign Service for 16 years, working on diplomatic assignments like supporting Foreign Minister Don McKinnon and serving as New Zealand's deputy ambassador to the United Nations.
Matthew Harrington, global president and chief operating officer
There are few people Richard Edelman trusts with helping manage his firm. On that short list is Harrington.
For the better half of a decade, Harrington has served as Edelman's right-hand man. Harrington manages digital, advisory, talent, the client portfolio management committee, and the company's five regions: the US, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Canada, and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
After the 2008 financial crisis, Harrington revived growth at the agency as US CEO, helping clients leverage the then new area of social media. He was promoted to global president in October.
Judy John, global chief creative officer
John is spearheading Edelman's push into creative as the PR firm tries to wrest market share from advertising.
John, the former chief creative officer for Leo Burnett North America, was hired in 2019 in part for her work on campaigns like Always' #LikeAGirl, which encompassed the social, newsworthiness, and corporate social-responsibility elements Edelman aims to have in its consumer campaigns. She oversees about 600 staffers.
An insider said John helped recruit advertising vets like John Flannery, the chief creative officer in Chicago, and Maicon, the global chief innovation and strategy officer.
Stephen Kehoe, president and CEO of Asia-Pacific
Kehoe has been overseeing Asia-Pacific, Edelman's third-largest market by revenue, since 2019.
The region had regular turnover after David Brian left the agency in 2017 but has rebounded under Kehoe, becoming the agency's strongest-performing region in 2019 with 4.3% year-over-year revenue growth.
He previously served as global practice head of reputation and global chair of practices and sectors.
Lisa Kimmel, chair and CEO, Canada and Latin America
Kimmel oversees two of Edelman's five regional markets — Canada and Latin America — which represented $48.6 million in revenue in 2019.
The longtime employee earned the respect of her peers early on by winning work in Canada from clients like Unilever, Labatt, Kraft, and Johnson & Johnson.
Kimmel was promoted to her current position in 2015. Earlier, she oversaw the Toronto office from 2009 to 2015, where profits doubled and revenue grew by more than 65% during that time.
Yannis Kotziagkiaouridis, global chief data and analytics officer
Richard Edelman courted Kotziagkiaouridis for two years before poaching the Wunderman Thompson vet in 2019 as the first global chief data and analytics officer, according to PRWeek — speaking to the importance the firm has placed on data analytics. If ideas provided by its creative arm will drive growth for the next decade, then data analytics will prove their effectiveness.
Kotziagkiaouridis quickly built out a data and analytics offering across each of Edelman's divisions and, with Dubner, hired LaMontagne as the US head of data and technology services and Loban as US head of performance marketing.
Kotziagkiaouridis also oversees Edelman Intelligence, a 210-person subsidiary of Edelman's parent company, Daniel J. Edelman, that specializes in research and analytics.
Deirdre Latour, president of New York office
Latour was tapped in June to oversee Edelman's New York office, its largest worldwide, with more than 800 employees. She's scheduled to join the firm after Labor Day.
She returns to Edelman, where she worked for six years earlier in her career, as it reckons with the economic impact of the pandemic. The company also recently lost Samsung's $20 million digital-marketing account, which was handled out of the New York office, according to Provoke.
Before her return to Edelman, Latour served as chief communications officer for General Electric, a longstanding Edelman client, and chief corporate-affairs officer of Pearson.
Lee Maicon, global chief innovation and strategy officer
Maicon joined Edelman as its first chief innovation and strategy officer in 2020 to accelerate its strategy and planning business, which has worked on accounts like Asics, Heineken, Axe, and Playtex.
Richard Edelman has said Maicon's hire was the culmination of his agency's goal to become a modern PR firm that approaches creative work from an earned media perspective.
Maicon reports to John, the chief creative officer.
Sanjay Nair, global chair of the technology sector
Nair manages more than 700 employees in Edelman's tech sector, which is the agency's most profitable.
Tech has been a key area of revenue growth for the agency, up 8% year over year in 2019, with clients including HPI, Adobe, Microsoft, Samsung, and PayPal.
Earlier, Nair served as the chief operating officer for China and in other senior-level positions, like head of Edelman's technology practice for the Asia-Pacific region.
Jim O'Leary, global corporate chair
O'Leary oversees more than 1,000 employees in Edelman's corporate branch that helps manage clients' reputations and accounts for about half of the firm's revenue.
Most recently, O'Leary has been helping build Edelman's business-marketing offering, a new unit directed at helping business-to-business clients drive sales. Since its launch in 2020, the business-marketing unit has won accounts with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Shell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Businessolver.
O'Leary is also working on releasing better PR technology products with Samson, the vice chair of corporate affairs.
During his 13-year career at Edelman, O'Leary has worked with big-name clients like Bombardier, GE, Hewlett-Packard, and PayPal.
Lisa Ross, US chief operating officer
Ross, already one of the PR industry's highest-profile Black executives, gained prominence after Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country.
Ross has consulted with more than 200 current and prospective clients seeking advice on whether to take a stance on race relations in the US, an insider said.
In addition to serving under Dubner as US chief operating officer, Ross also oversees the Washington office, which she's grown using her political connections from her time in the Clinton administration.
The agency has credited Ross with winning clients in areas such as public affairs, crisis, brand, digital, and multicultural work.
Tristan Roy, global chair of digital
Roy runs one of Edelman's most reliable growth engines, its digital practice encompassing social strategy, performance marketing, e-commerce, and more.
He oversees a team of more than 700 staffers and more than $200 million in annual revenue for Edelman. Roy is focused on integrating digital into the rest of its services, instead of leaving it as a separate offering.
His remit is to steady the division after a string of high-profile exits in the past couple years, like its former digital executives Kevin King and Thomas Crampton, and make the practice work closer to the North American creative team.
Dave Samson, vice chairman of corporate affairs
Corporate affairs is Edelman's fastest-growing business unit, and it hired Samson, who rose to prominence as former general manager of public affairs at Chevron, to strengthen that offering.
Having that caliber of talent is critical at a firm where even Richard Edelman works on accounts, and like his boss, Samson works directly with the firm's largest accounts on corporate communications and crisis.
He's also working with Global Corporate Chair O'Leary on new technology products to boost its business-marketing offering.
Megan Van Someren, global chair of brand and chair of food and beverage
Along with John, Van Someren is one of Edelman's high-profile poaches from the ad industry. Van Someren oversees the more than 1,000 employees in the brand practice and helps coordinate the work of creative, digital, and data analytics.
She joined the firm in 2019 and was later promoted to the role that same year. She also serves as the global chair of food and beverage.
Previously, Van Someren had senior roles at J. Walter Thompson, working on accounts like Special K and Nespresso, Leo Burnett, and Wunderman Chicago.
Lex Suvanto, global MD of financial communications and capital markets
Suvanto oversees the financial-communications practice, whose revenue soared 33% year over year in 2019.
With a core business in brand PR, Edelman isn't well-known for financial communications, but it's been hiring top talent to build out this unit, which now has more than 150 finance, investor-relations, communications, journalism, and government-service vets.
The branch worked on 66 mergers and acquisitions in 2019, according to Mergermarket. Collectively, those deals were worth $82.7 billion in value, a 21.5% increase over 2018.
Hugh Taggart, global crisis chair and general manager for corporate affairs in EMEA
Crisis services have been a consistent source of business for the PR industry for the past decade, the result of social movements, political rancor, and, now, the pandemic.
At Edelman, it's led by Taggart, who ascended to global chair of crisis when the agency changed up leadership for its corporate division. His clients include Starbucks, Sky, Ikea, Lagardere, and ABB.
Taggart previously was a managing director and partner at the PR firm Bell Pottinger, which collapsed in the wake of its involvement in the Gupta scandal in South Africa.
Megan Tweed, US head of performance communications
For the past couple years, Tweed has spearheaded Edelman's data-analytics initiatives in the US, a division that's a testing ground for the agency and its clients.
Tweed leads a year-old partnership with Cision, the biggest PR tech firm providing services like measurement, databases, and newswire distribution.
More than 150 analysts, data specialists, and integrators work full time under Tweed on Cision's data, and in a sign of its commitment to the partnership, Edelman is preparing to launch new technology products with Cision, insiders said.
Ed Williams, president and CEO of EMEA
Edelman selected Williams to be president and CEO of EMEA in 2019 after his success leading its business in the Ireland and UK for the past eight years.
During that time, Williams doubled the size of the UK business and made Edelman the largest PR firm in the country, a record Williams told PRWeek he would try to replicate in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
In 2019, Edelman's UK business grew 7% to about $87.5 million after winning major accounts like FedEx, Ikea, HSBC, and Mars. The tech practice in the UK jumped 19%. All this happened while the UK business restructured into a single profit and loss statement.
Before joining Edelman, Williams oversaw corporate affairs and communications for the BBC and Reuters.
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