Y&R purchase moves WPP to No. 2 PR spot

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Any way you spin it, WPP Group is a public relations force to be reckoned with.

As the London-based holding company swallows up Young & Rubicam, WPP almost doubles its public relations capabilities. In 1999, WPP's PR entities reaped $368.3 million in worldwide fee income, according to Advertising Age data. Add Y&R's 1999 fee income of $323.8 million -- led by Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe -- and the holding company overtakes Interpublic Group of Co.'s No. 2 ranking. Interpublic had $432.3 in fee income last year.

Omnicom Group led the PR pack in terms of 1999 worldwide fees, with its combined units pulling in $724.7 million. If WPP's fee income were combined with that of Y&R, it would have posted $692.1 million last year. However, Y&R's March acquisition of Robinson Lerer & Montgomery, which has an estimated annual revenue of $30 million, now gives Omnicom a run for its money. Y&R CEO Tom Bell presumably knows the value of PR; he's a former president-CEO of Burson-Marsteller.

In the late '90s, agency holding companies snapped up some of PR's biggest and best. In 1998, Interpublic purchased International Public Relations, parent of Shandwick International and Golin/Harris.

Omnicom significantly strengthened its PR expertise in 1997, when it added Fleishman-Hillard. In 1996, the holding company swallowed PR goliath Ketchum Communications.

No. 5 ranked Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, with worldwide fee income of $186.9 million in 1999, is currently the largest independent.

With a Y&R takeover, WPP will control the world's two largest PR agencies -- Y&R's Burson-Marsteller and WPP's Hill & Knowlton. Burson had worldwide fee income of $274.6 million in 1999; Hill & Knowlton had $243.3 million.

Some said this makes Sir Martin the king of all spin masters, but that's a title many journalists long ago bestowed upon him.

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