Five Questions With New Omnicom PR Group CEO Karen van Bergen

Exec Oversees 10 Agencies Within Holding Company

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Newly minted Omnicom Public Relations Group CEO Karen van Bergen
Newly minted Omnicom Public Relations Group CEO Karen van Bergen Credit: Courtesy of Porter Novelli

Omnicom has elevated Karen van Bergen from CEO of PR agency Porter Novelli to chief executive of its newly formed Omnicom Public Relations Group, which will house the holding company's PR shops.

Brad MacAfee, senior partner and president of Porter Novelli's North America region, is succeeding Ms. van Bergen as CEO.

Ms. van Bergen took the helm at Porter in December 2012 following a tumultuous time for the agency that was filled with executive departures, including its chief marketing officer, president, chief financial officer and CEO. Since joining the firm, Ms. van Bergen has put a strong emphasis on talent, creating professional development and training programs and a succession planning effort.

In an interview with Ad Age, Ms. van Bergen talks about her new role as leader of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.

Why did Omnicom decide to create this separate PR group?

Our industry is changing so much and client needs are changing. Clients are asking more and more for access to diverse talent across the globe -- integrated teams that service them best in all parts of the world and work seamlessly together with other disciplines, like advertising and media buying, within the Omnicom portfolio. Omnicom has always been known for its fierce adherence to the independent brands, so this builds on the independent brands, but working more closely together.

Do the individual PR agency CEOs report in to you now?

Yes, the CEOs of the 10 agencies will report to me and I continue to report to Dale Adams, chairman and CEO of the DAS Group of Companies, a division of Omnicom. The PR agencies include FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, Porter Novelli, as well as CLS Strategies, Cone Communications, Gplus, Marina Maher Communications, Mercury, Paul Wilmot Communications and Portland.

How will this new PR group benefit the agencies?

What we will be fiercely focusing on, and what is already a pillar for Omnicom, is talent. I wake up and go to bed thinking of talent, so this is the next step. We will be able to provide talent within the agencies with more career opportunities. We need to make sure that we keep the talent within Omnicom and provide them with new opportunities and also build out exciting training and development opportunities.

For some clients, nothing will change. They're with the agency they've chosen for their brand. But more and more we get requests where clients come and say, 'I just want have access to the best talent across the world. I don't want to have to bother with leading it all myself. And also if I need other disciplines, help me integrate those as well.' That will be easier with a bit more formal structure. And we will be looking for strategic acquisitions.

What types of acquisition are looking for? Creative, media, digital?

It's too early to say. But it's where all the strategic interests of the agencies will do.

How will the new PR group impact the P&L of the agencies?

It doesn't. That stays the same. [Omnicom Public Relations Group] is more of a management structure.

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