Friends & Colleagues,
First, as I have not written in several months, I’d like to give you an update. As many of you know, I became the global chairman and CEO of Hill & Knowlton in January of this year. The company has over 2,200 employees and 82 offices in 45 countries.
Hill & Knowlton was founded in 1927 by John W. Hill in Cleveland, Ohio and grew rapidly under his and partner Donald Knowlton’s leadership by working to enlighten and inform public opinion through effective public relations. Many of you are already familiar with the history of Public Strategies, which I founded over 20 years ago on a new model that expanded typical concepts of “the public” and how organizations manage their interactions with the public.
After Public Strategies was acquired by WPP, the world’s largest marketing communications company in 2006, I embarked on a five-year commitment to broaden the firm’s client base and achieve new levels of growth. Upon completing that commitment, WPP — a London Stock Exchange and NASDAQ company that also owns Hill & Knowlton — asked me to assume leadership of the company.
Public Strategies, now a subsidiary of Hill and Knowlton, is part of our U.S. operations and joins an impressive list of H&K offices that includes Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Irvine, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Spokane, Tallahassee, Tampa and Washington, D.C.
Since January, my world travels have taken me to our offices and clients in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, as well as throughout North America. This week, I am in Latin America. I continue to be fascinated every day by the challenges of my new role and believe that it has never been a better time than now to be in this position with the ever-changing global events we are experiencing.
In the meantime, I’d like to share some of the observations I’ve developed as I’ve traveled the world in this new capacity — some perspectives on the importance of the public. You’ve heard me talk for years about the importance of the public, but never has the public had as much power as it does today.
Not only have the Digital Age and the Internet led to most information being in the public domain — the public now has technology at its fingertips to analyze and leverage it to its own advantage. The power of that technology was previously the domain of experts and controlled by institutions. This is no longer the case.
The public is becoming an increasingly loose affiliation of independent operators, empowered by technology and outgrowing the constraints of traditional institutions. Through this combination of information and technology, individuals can inform themselves, make decisions, seek out like-minded individuals to associate with and mobilize — whether to join a book club, advocate for a charity, recommend or boycott a company, or launch a revolution.
In short, what I believe we’re witnessing is the democratization of everything. Traditionally, the concept of democracy is discussed in a political context, but today, democratization is occurring across geographic and informational boundaries at almost every level of society. It is transforming the relationship between corporations and the public. The democratization of data offers unprecedented access to information; the democratization of media gives the public access to powerful global platforms to share information and opinions; the democratization of capital and energy encourages non-traditional approaches to challenges and opportunities; and the democratization of travel brings people closer together, highlighting less their differences and more what they share in common.
The most obvious examples of the public’s powerful tool set are Google, Facebook and Twitter, and from Domino’s pizza to the streets of Egypt, we see two wildly different examples of how profound the impact of this tool set is on the way society now works.
Information and these tools have significantly diminished the power of traditionally dominant institutions, and they are likely to continue to chip away at that power in ways that we can’t yet imagine. What it means is that organizations today have to talk with the public and consider the public’s point of view at the most strategic level of decision making – more than ever before.
You’ll hear much more from me about this in the coming year — further elaboration on the thinking that has fueled our business for years and is now driving me in my new global role at H&K. I am proud of our reputation as a world-class firm, capable of helping global corporations face today’s greatest business and public challenges.
While I’ll be based in Hill & Knowlton’s New York headquarters and continuing to travel the world in the coming months, Texas will always be home. Should you need to reach me, please don’t hesitate to do so at the contact information given below.
98 San Jacinto Blvd., Suite 1200
Austin, Texas 78701