Fleishman-Hillard is buying one of Washington's largest liberal Democratic ad and public-affairs shops in an unusual deal that groups the architects of both Ronald Reagan's advertising and some of President Bill Clinton's ads under the Omnicom Group banner.
Greer, Margolis, Mitchell, Burns & Associates, which eight years ago handled Mr. Clinton's first run for the presidency and also has worked on several Democratic and liberal causes, is slated to become part of St. Louis-based PR company Fleishman-Hillard early this year. The companies declined to reveal the deal's price.
Last July, Porter Novelli, another Omnicom PR firm, bought Goddard Claussen, a Republican-oriented agency that does advertising for public-policy issues. But the Greer Margolis purchase appears to mark the first time a major ad agency group will own a shop that does political advertising for candidates. "We don't anticipate it to be a problem," said John Graham, chairman-CEO of Fleishman-Hillard.
Omnicom's BBDO Worldwide Chairman Phil Dusenberry headed the Tuesday team that in 1984 created the advertising for Ronald Reagan.
Greer Margolis, buoyed by activity on behalf of political candidates last year, claims its advertising billings exceeded $90 million in 2000. The agency worked for the campaigns of Sen. Kent Conrad (D, Mont.); the gubernatorial runs of Frank O'Bannon (D., Indiana) and Bob Wise (D., W. Virginia) as well as for the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. However, it was the shop's advertising for associations and public-affairs issues ranging from the state of California's anti-tobacco efforts to a national seat belt safety campaign that attracted Fleishman-Hillard.
Fleishman-Hillard has worked with the agency at least once before: It handled PR while Greer Margolis did the advertising for the American Association of Retired Persons when it rebranded itself as AARP, hoping to appeal to an audience that hadn't yet reached traditional retirement age.
With ad campaigns increasingly becoming a component of PR efforts in Washington and elsewhere - and pitches often incorporating both elements - officials of both the ad agency and the PR shop said it made sense to join forces. "We had talks with a couple of other holding companies, but thought this was the best fit," said Greer Margolis founder Frank Greer. "[Fleishman-Hillard] is the largest public-relations company, but does not have advertising as part of their holdings."
Mr. Graham said the two already share some clients, but he didn't name them. "I think [the purchase] will really complement what we will do," he said. "The most compelling reason is we really like these guys."
Greer Margolis has done some PR work, although it didn't have an extensive public-relations staff. Fleishman has done some advertising, but since it didn't have much of an ad staff, it sometimes called on its Omnicom partners.
Mr. Greer said his ad agency will continue to operate out of separate offices from Fleishman in Washington, Los Angeles and Seattle, and will continue to be involved in Democratic Party campaigns. Both the ad agency and the PR agency will make individual decisions about which projects to take on.
Besides Mr. Greer, the agency's remaining partners, Jim Margolis, David Mitchell and Annie Burns, also agreed to stay on.
Copyright December 2000, Crain Communications Inc.