Financial Times: A UK marketing group leads the field in Washington power game

November 27, 2007

Stephanie Kirchgaessner of the Financial Times takes a close look at the powerhouse of WPP agencies in Washington. It’s a must read for today, however we dissect some key quotes below so you don’t have to.

On their scope of agencies:

At a time when the capital’s public relations and lobbying organisations are more influential than ever, no single company has concentrated as much Washington influence under one corporate roof as WPP.

The British group owns three big public relations companies with Washington expertise: Burson-Marsteller, Ogilvy, and Hill & Knowlton. It owns BKSH & Associates, a lobbying shop, and Penn, Schoen and Berland, a pollster, both of which are units of Burson. It also owns Timmons and Company, Quinn Gillespie, and Wexler & Walker, three other lobbying operations.

They have deep government ties:

Among them are Mark Penn, the chief executive of Burson and chief adviser to Senator Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner; Wayne Berman, a top fundraiser to President George W. Bush and vice-chairman of Republican Senator John McCain’s White House campaign; Dan Bartlett, who served as counsellor to Mr Bush; Mark McKinnon, who was chief media adviser for Mr Bush in his 2000 and 2004 campaigns and these days advises Mr McCain; and Michael Whouley, a former senior adviser to Senator John Kerry who helped the 2004 Democratic candidate clinch his crucial caucus victory in Iowa.

$2m for a congress member?

Mr Holman [Craig Holman, a campaign finance lobbyist for Public Citizen, a Washington watchdog,] adds: “Those types of huge conglomerates can afford hiring former members of Congress. They go for about $2m a year and, once you hire those, you are the one who is controlling Capitol Hill.” He says the government’s interaction with business interests has become less transparent because of the convergence of lobbying groups, which must disclose who their clients are, with public relations companies, which do not have to reveal their clients’ identity.

On balancing clients with opposing viewpoints:

Sitting in his office just a block off the lobbyist-favoured K Street, Howard Paster, vice-president of public relations and public affairs at WPP and former head of legislative affairs during the Bill Clinton administration, says he is not bothered when companies within the WPP family have clients that oppose one another on issues on Capitol Hill. The situation is no different, he says, from two advertising agencies within WPP working for competing shampoo manufacturers.

“I don’t see where a different value applies. What you can’t do is have one person working two sides of the same issue,” he says, emphasising that companies within WPP operate independently. “I think the ethical standards are high and demonstrably so,” he says.

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