NEW YORK, October 29—There was a time when online communication was an exotic add-on to the typical corporate communications program, often provided by a small specialist firm rather than a company’s traditional agency of record. But that time is past, at least for clients of international PR agency  Hill & Knowlton, where—if executive managing director Jeff Raleigh gets his way—online PR will soon be integrated into every client program.
Raleigh has been tapped to lead a new division of H&K called Netcoms U.S., an extension of the firm’s Netcoms group that was launched in the U.K. last year under the leadership of Tony Burgess-Webb and with the assistance of a team of experts from the former extension11, a specialized Internet firm. It’s an indication of how seriously H&K is taking online communications that Netcoms will be a separate unit with its own P&L—the only such unit in the H&K empire.
“Netcoms will be responsible for creating products that our account teams can use to help them better serve our clients, and for creating products that we can sell to clients,” says Raleigh.
Right now, the unit’s products range from extranets, which enable account team members to stay in constant contact with their clients over the Internet, to crisis communications websites—dark sites packed with content that can go live at any time—to online media rooms. All of these can be launched and managed by corporate communications professionals without going through IT or MIS people, says Raleigh, who is confident that these products will be of value to all H&K clients.
“We want online communication to be part of the thinking on every single account,” he says. The use of extranets is one way to ensure that happens, since they provide an opportunity for the agency to demonstrate its capabilities in the online arena, and demonstrate how easy the Internet can make life for clients. Raleigh says he believes 100 percent of H&K clients will have an extranet in place by the end of the first quarter 2001.
“This move will significantly expand our interactive capability in the U.S.,” said Tom Hoog, president and CEO of Hill and Knowlton USA.
Former extension11 chief executive Jason Keller is joining the agency as Netcoms U.S. practice director. Keller will oversee the integration and expansion of the agency’s online services, working with existing practice and industry sectors. He will also develop strategic alliances with Internet application firms and service providers.
In addition to San Francisco, where Raleigh is based, the Netcoms U.S. team also includes experienced online communications professionals in Hill and Knowlton’s Washington, New York and Chicago offices.