LONDON — Edelman Europe CEO Michael Stewart is to move into a new role as global vice-chair of the world's largest PR firm, after three years in charge of its second-largest region.

Stewart, who joined Edelman from McKinsey in mid-2013, will have responsibility for three primary areas in his new role — the Edelman Intelligence research business; the firm's C-suite advisory approach; and, notably, its risk management efforts, after he completed a comprehensive overview of the agency's climate change exposure last year

The shift means that Edelman is currently searching for Stewart's successor, and has retained recruitment firm Spencer Stuart to oversee the process. Edelman global chief operating officer Matt Harrington told the Holmes Report that the agency is looking both internally and externally, and expects the new CEO to be in place by the start of 2017.

"We are engaged in a very open search," said Harrington. "It's important to ensure we are professionally managing the process both internally and externally. Europe’s performing really well right now — so we can think about future leadership in a very new way."

Harrington added that the firm is considering candidates from an agency background "in the broadest possible context," noting that it is looking across marketing services, advertising and professional services. "There’s a wide swathe. Our competitive set has changed so dramatically in the last few years."

Under Stewart, Edelman's European operations saw substantial change. The firm acquired a number of businesses, including French powerhouse Agence Elan, Sweden's Deportivo, Smithfield in the UK and German firm Ergo. Stewart also shut down Edelman's branded operations in Central and Eastern Europe — namely Russia, Turkey and Poland — and overhauled the regional leadership team.

Edelman's European revenues grew by 6.3% on an organic basis to $157m in 2015, with around half of the revenue coming from its UK operation.

Stewart reiterated that this was a "clear strategy to focus on where the big foreign direct investment money flows — UK, Germany and France — and making sure we really have scale there."

"We have no more intention of closures and no more near-term intention of expansion," added Stewart, who will continue to oversee Edelman Europe until his successor is in place. "We have the structure that’s right, right now."

Prior to Stewart, Edelman's EMEA region was overseen by Robert Philips, who left shortly after the firm's Middle East and Asia-Pacific operations were joined with Asia-Pacific under the leadership of David Brain.

In his new role, Stewart will remain based in London, retaining his place on the firm's global Exco and continuing to report to Harrington. He noted that the risk management work, which has resulted in Edelman walking away from coal producers and climate change deniers, will ensure the firm is "always trying to anticipate issues that are on the horizon," pointing to data privacy as another example.

"It's ensuring we are doing all the things we need to have a licence to operate," added Harrington.

Edelman's previous vice-chair was Ted Smyth, who only lasted a few months at the agency after also serving as CEO Richard Edelman's chief of staff since the summer of 2015. However, Harrington noted that the closest analogue to Stewart's new role was Michael Deaver.

Stewart also hopes to broaden the scale of Edelman Intelligence in his new role. "We’re trying to take the lessons we’ve learned here — in the UK there’s virtually no work we do that doesn’t have Edelman Intelligence involved at the outset, informing the work," he said. "That’s not necessarily the case across the broader Edelman."