- Chris Foster was named chief of Omnicom’s PR unit, the first Black CEO of a holding company PR unit.
- He said he would use his healthcare experience to grow Omnicom’s PR business.
- He also plans to use cross-agency account teams to better service clients.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Omnicom Public Relations Group has hired Chris Foster as CEO, making him the first Black executive to ever serve as CEO of a holding company PR division.
OPRG poached Foster from rival holding company WPP’s BCW, where he was president of North America.
Foster said the healthcare industry is a priority both for OPRG and the Omnicom holding company, where OPRG is the second largest unit by revenue, and that OPRG would focus on growing areas like its healthcare division to buoy its recovery by providing services like product marketing and recruitment campaigns.
As an example of healthcare’s momentum in 2020, OPRG’s Marina Maher Communications won work for Johnson & Johnson’s video content series, “Road to a Vaccine.”
Foster said he would use his experience — he previously led Burston-Marteller’s healthcare business and worked on Booz Allen Hamilton’s healthcare team — to help push OPRG in that vertical.
OPRG was already doubling down on healthcare. The PR network partnered with LaVoieHealthScience, a healthcare marketing and PR firm, which let it tap LaVoieHealthScience’s expertise and share client referrals.
OPRG’s global revenue declined 4.2% on an organic basis in 2020 to $1.3 billion, slightly better than the world’s largest holding company, WPP, where PR revenue declined by 6.6%.
Foster also said he would leverage OPRG’s network by creating account teams from its agencies from Porter Novelli, known for its “purpose” marketing, to FleishmanHillard, which focuses on corporate and public affairs offerings.
“We’re integrating more and more datasets to drive greater precision in communications, which allows us to have a more complete picture on the impact of a campaign and the impact on consumers,” Foster said.
PR, a majority-white industry, has renewed its efforts to diversify since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Recent hires like Foster may indicate the industry has reached a turning point, said Kim Hunter, CEO of the Lagrant Foundation, which provides scholarships to ethnic minorities trying to work in PR.
“Chris Foster’s appointment is not only historical, but sends a clear message to the agency world that there are highly skilled and value-added racially diverse talent in the marketplace,” Hunter said. “It’s a new day, and the reckoning has come.”
PR agencies and holding companies including Omnicom have made pledges to diversify their workforce. Edelman named Lisa Ross as its US CEO, making her the first Black woman to have that title. GMMB, one of the top Democrat PR firms, named Micheline Kennedy its first Black partner after facing criticism from its employees.
The OPRG CEO position was vacant for a year and a half since Karen Van Bergen stepped down as CEO in January 2020, and the pandemic delayed efforts to find her replacement, said Kate Northway, an EVP at OPRG. John Doolittle, who served as interim CEO, will become chairman of OPRG.
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