Hill & Knowlton boss Paul Taaffe out as WPP puts Public Strategies in charge of two company merger

WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell isn’t one to fall asleep over the holiday period and, hard on the heels of ditching Doug Checkeris as US CEO of Mediacom after losing the GSK account to PHD, Paul Taaffe, global CEO of WPP-owned PR giant Hill & Knowlton is on his bike.

WPP merged Hill & Knowlton with Austin-based politics to public affairs company Public Strategies this month with the latter’s founder Jack Martin emerging as the clear number one despite the fact that H&K is ten times bigger than Martin’s company.

H&K has under-performed in recent years and Sorrell may well have decided that the future for PR firms lies in activist activities on behalf of their clients rather than the traditional channelling of press releases at the media.

Public Strategies initially made its reputation by handling notoriously bare-knuckled political campaigns in the US and then grew by asserting it could apply the same principles and practice to the commercial world.

This is doubtless attractive to some clients, of course, although WPP’s US lobbying company Dewey Square has recently found itself at odds with the US government over forged letters submitted on behalf of its clients.

Sorrell himself began his commercial life as a management consultant at Glendinnings before the joined the brothers at Saatchis and it may be that he sees an opportunity for WPP to break into the high end consultancy market.

He recently struck a deal with former Labour minister and fixer supreme Peter Mandelson to start a new global business consultancy, Global Counsel LLP. On the face of it this business would seem to have a lot in common with Jack Martin’s political-based commercial offering.

Judging by events so far in 2011 it’s going to be a nervous next few months for WPP’s thousands of individual company bosses. The big boss Sir Martin is obviously intent on a shake-up as he tries to wire in last year’s revenue and income gains over the medium term.

But how on earth is he going to persuade anyone good to come and work for him?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.