Arun Sudhaman 27 Jul 2020 // 1:35AM GMT
SEOUL — BCW's Korean operations are being folded into H+K Strategies in Korea, marking the latest stage of WPP PR firms' North Asian integration.
Launched more than 30 years to support the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Burson-Marsteller was Korea's first international PR firm and for many years served as the market's leading player. However, during the past decade, the firm's headcount has declined to less than 20; while there will be some redundancies, most staffers are expected to transition to the merged operation, which will be led by Synergy H+K Strategies founder and CEO HS Chung.
Chung, who has also served as H+K Strategies Asia president since last year, told PRovoke that she could not immediately confirm how many of BCW's staff will be retained, citing an ongoing consultation process. She reiterated, however, that there will only be "minimal redundancies," thanks to a shortage of talent in the Korean market.
BCW Korea has been led by Elizabeth Bae since 2018. "She is also part of that process," said Chung. "We’re in full, open mind, as we really do lack bilingual talent here. But, I can’t confirm that we will carry everyone."
BCW's brand will be retained in Korea, operating under the Synergy H+K operation that will approach 100 staffers in the market this year, said Chung. That makes the the 20-year-old firm one of Korea's biggest international PR players, alongside Edelman and Weber Shandwick.
The merger comes two years after Ogilvy was integrated into Synergy H+K Strategies, and follows a similar merger of the three WPP PR networks under BCW in Japan at the start of this year.
"The integration of the WPP PR firms made a lot of sense in Japan and Korea, but I don’t see this happening in any other market in the Asia region," BCW Asia-Pacific president Matt Stafford told PRovoke.
Following the Seoul Olympics in 1988, Burson-Marsteller Korea lead Bill Rylance left the firm to start to form his own Korean public relations firm, Merit Communcations, which was ultimately acquired by Burson a decade later when Rylance became regional CEO of the network.
"Burson-Marsteller is like a symbol in Korea," said Chung. "The first international firm, providing more of a sophisticated PR service that local agencies were not able to do. I feel privileged to continue the reputation and history of BCW in Korea."
While H+K Strategies is well known for leading LG Electronics' global PR remit for the past decade, it is understood that BCW's relatively small Samsung relationship will end.