Ketchum Public Relations reducing local operation to ‘satellite’ status
The economic slow-down has caught up with Ketchum Public Relations — the dominant PR firm in Pittsburgh for 50 years — as its local home office is being consolidated into the Chicago office of parent Omnicom Group.
Six of the local firm’s less than 30 public relations employees were laid off on Tuesday, said current and former workers.
The Pittsburgh office of Ketchum, among the best-known names in corporate communications nationally, will be reduced to a satellite office tied to the Midwest regional headquarters in Chicago.
“We are merging the two operations, yes,” said Jerry Thompson, director of Ketchum’s office in downtown Pittsburgh’s Six PPG Place. “It gives us the benefits of efficiencies. And it gives us a combined talent base, which is good for clients.”
Thompson will relocate to Ketchum’s Southeast regional office in Atlanta as associate director within the next 90 days. The Pittsburgh office will be managed by Omnicom’s Midwest regional director in Chicago, Adaire Putnam.
Another roughly 70 workers in PPG will continue providing Ketchum’s offices worldwide with back-office services, such as accounting, said Thompson. Worldwide, Ketchum employs about 1,000 people in 48 offices.
Founded in Pittsburgh in 1923, Ketchum provides public relations services for such local lions as H.J. Heinz, Mine Safety Appliances, FedEx and Alcoa.
“Any time a large segment of a very talented professional group leaves the city it is a problem for Pittsburgh and does not reflect well on our future,” said Dave Kosick, a veteran of Pittsburgh’s public relations scene and director of PR for Kerestes-Martin Associates Inc., Southpointe, Washington County. “It’s a shame. Ketchum was the dominant PR firm in Pittsburgh for 50 years.”
Ketchum had employed nearly 80 public relations people locally as recently as two years ago. But it had periodically whittled that payroll since then, largely stemming from spending cut-backs in corporate communications, say industry insiders.
Ketchum is part of New York-based Omnicom’s Communications Consulting Worldwide unit.
Omnicon is the world’s third-largest advertising, marketing and public relations conglomerate, with nearly $7.54 billion in 2002 revenue. Publicly traded Omnicom employs roughly 57,600 people and serves more than 5,000 clients worldwide.
Ketchum’s Atlanta and Dallas offices merged last year, and its San Francisco and Los Angeles offices merged two years ago, said Thompson.
The former Ketchum Communications — composed of Ketchum Public Relations and Ketchum Advertising — was sold to Omnicom in 1996.
Two years later, Omnicom sold Ketchum Advertising to Egan/St. James. It later merged into the Blattner Brunner ad agency in Pittsburgh.
Over the decades, Ketchum Advertising created campaigns for Clark Brothers Chewing Gum, Jones & Laughlin Steel and Republican Wendell Willkie’s run for president, according to the agency’s book, “The Ketchum Spirit.”
Another local Ketchum name — Ketchum Inc. — specializes in fund-raising activity. While founded alongside the advertising and PR businesses in the 1920s, Ketchum Inc. has been independent for more than 20 years.