Until recently, Cohn & Wolfe was among the world's Top 15 full-service public relations agencies, and the #4 in WPP's portfolio. It sat centrally within the group, although more recently it tended to be associated with Grey Group, and was best-known for consumer or corporate PR and healthcare. In 2018, WPP announced the merger of Cohn & Wolfe into its larger sibling Burson-Marsteller to create a new global Top Three agency, Burson Cohn & Wolfe. C&W leader Donna Imperato is CEO of the merged business. Previously, in 2008, Cohn & Wolfe, then a unit of Y&R Brands, had absorbed GCI, the PR network then associated with Grey. The group also served as an umbrella for several standalone units, including public affairs agency Quinn Gillespie, interactive specialist Schematic, technology adviser AxiCom and mobile shop Joule. It was best-known for its strength in consumer PR and healthcare, but has developed considerable expertise in social media, positioning itself as a slightly more unconventional or "challenger" PR network, with greater willingness than some to be entrepreneurial or take a few risks. The merger with Burson-Marsteller elevates the business to the top tier of the industry, but in fact there have been close ties between the two agencies for many years. Cohn & Wolfe was founded in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1970 by former newspapermen Bob Cohn and Norman Wolfe. In 1984, the business was acquired by Burson-Marsteller, by then already a unit of Young & Rubicam, but the two agencies continued to be run separately, at first within Y&R and then after 2000 within WPP. Under CEO Donna Imperato, Cohn & Wolfe had reported several years of strong growth, and was recognised as 2016 North America Large PR Agency of the Year by the Holmes Report. It took that prize again in 2018, as well as being named Global Agency of the Year for the first time. Holmes estimated fee income of $246m for 2017. Proforma income for the combined Burson Cohn & Wolfe would have been $709m, putting the agency in third place globally behind Edelman and Weber Shandwick.
Capsule checked 30th October 2018
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Adbrands Weekly Update 1st Nov 2018: Some welcome good news for WPP. Its Cohn & Wolfe PR agency - now Burson Cohn & Wolfe - was named Global PR Agency of the Year for the first time by The Holmes Report, It had already won Large Agency of the Year for the North America region and was Midsize Agency of the Year in Asia Pacific. "While most of the top tier agencies were happy if they could brag about any kind of growth in 2017, Cohn & Wolfe was recording its fourth consecutive year of double-digit increase in fee income," said the judges. Among other winners, overall North American Agency of the year was Omnicom's Marina Maher, while Edelman took the top prize in Digital.
Adbrands Weekly Update 1st Mar 2018: In pursuit of further economies of scale, WPP announced the merger of two of its three biggest PR agencies, Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe. The new Burson Cohn & Wolfe (or BCW) will, said WPP, combine Cohn & Wolfe's expertise in "digitally-driven, creative content and integrated communications" in consumer, healthcare and technology with Burson's "strength in public affairs, corporate and crisis management, technology and research." C&W's Donna Imperato becomes CEO of the merged entity with BM's Don Baer moving up chairman. BCW will also jump several places up the revenue rankings. The Holmes Report estimated combined fee income for the two companies in 2016 at $704m, which would put BCW into third place behind Edelman and Weber Shandwick. Currently, BM and C&W rank 6th and 12th respectively. This latest consolidation follows on from the combination of MEC and Maxus to form Wavemaker, and the merger of five separate design agencies within the WPP to form SuperUnion.
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