NEW YORK, April 5—In January of 1999, Ketchum acquired benefits communications specialist Sheppard Associates, triggering a wave of deals in which multinational agencies bought or affiliated with employee communications firms. Three months later, GCI Group acquired Boxenbaum Grates, then Hill & Knowlton announced a partnership with Banner McBride, Brodeur Worldwide formed a strategic alliance with Omnicom sister company Smythe Dorward Lambert, and finally Manning Selvage & Lee bought Atlanta’s Deeley Trimble.

Now Ketchum is moving to stay one step ahead of the competition in the suddenly competitive employee communications marketplace, acquiring New York-based management consulting firm Stromberg Consulting, which focuses on change management and will become part of a new Ketchum Inside group with revenues of about $30 million.

The Ketchum Inside partnership, led by Peter Fleischer in the firm’s Chicago office, now offers a comprehensive range of internal communications services. The Ketchum Sheppard unit will continue to offer benefits and other human resources consulting, while the firm’s Concentric Communications unit will provide meeting and event production and planning services, eKetchum will help firms develop Intranets and other technology-based communications, and a labor relations practice in the firm’s Pittsburgh office will handle labor relations.

“Communicating with internal constituencies about organizational change is one of the biggest business challenges facing our clients today,” commented Raymond Kotcher, the agency’s senior partner and chief executive officer. “The acquisition of Stromberg Consulting rounds out our workplace portfolio and establishes Ketchum as a full service provider in this important category.”

Fleischer says companies are devoting more attention to employee communications than ever before. “The first thing that is happening is that CEOs realize they have to devote more time to employee communications than they did in the past, whether they are trying to recruit the best people or trying to align their people behind a common vision. The second thing that is happening is the pace of change— whether it’s a change in strategy, structure, systems, leadership, product mix or benefits—is accelerating. That means change communication is a constant.”

That’s where Stromberg comes in. With more than 60 employees, all of whom hold advanced degrees (either a Masters, MBA, or PhD) in areas such as business and organizational development, the firm helps clients define and articulate their business strategies and the “operationalize” them. Clients include Citibank, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Deutsche Bank, MetLife and Merck.

Ketchum, meanwhile, has built its employee practice by offering internal communications assistance to clients of other units, including Andersen (which was included on Fortune’s Best Places to Work list for the first time this year), Federal Express, Miller Brewing, and Visa.
According to Stromberg Consulting founder and president Gary Stromberg, “By joining Ketchum, we believe both our companies and our combined clients will benefit from the new expanded services we have to offer. We share the same vision for the future and are excited about continuing our work as part of Ketchum.”