SAN FRANCISCO  — Ketchum — best known for its corporate and consumer expertise — is looking to extend that credibility into technology by making Access Communications founder Susan Butenhoff head of its global tech practice.

Meanwhile, the agency’s existing head of tech Esty Pujadas transitions full-time into the role of global development officer and Matthew Afflixio steps up to become president of Ketchum subsidiary Access.

The move comes at time when many big agencies are seeing upheaval in their tech practices.
Already this summer, Burson-Marsteller’s US head of tech Sabrina Guttman moved to Hewlett-Packard; Edelman’s global tech head Joe Paluska resigned; Weber Shandwick’s global tech head Tim Fry parted ways with the firm; and Hill + Knowlton’s US tech head Hadley Wilkins stepped down.

The trigger for the mass exodus has been blamed mostly on the difficulty of growing a tech practice amid sector consolidation, smaller budgets and a move towards specialty shops. But despite working with IBM, Ketchum has long struggled to establish a strong technology foothold. Butenhoff, however, is betting on an overall growth strategy that builds on the strengths of both Ketchum and Access.

As part of the three-pronged strategy, Access will continue focusing on US tech accounts ranging from well-funded startups to larger brands like Intuit. Meanwhile, Ketchum will build out its technology offering around its global scope and ability to tap into other practices areas like corporate, crisis and consumer. In some instances, the two agencies will join forces in an effort led by Butenhoff, who prior to starting Access in 1991, spent seven years at Ketchum, which ultimately bought Access in 2008.

“I’m not worried because I’m not set-up in a silo where we will be measured against other practice areas,” Butenhoff said. “Ketchum knows we’re in a grow, build state.” 

Butenhoff maintains that Ketchum becoming more competitive in technology won’t come at the expense of Access. 

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” Butenhoff said. “Access is known for certain types of technology. Ketchum is a multinational with expertise in areas that Access doesn’t have.”

Butenhoff will continue on as CEO of Access setting forth strategy and managing clients like California Closets and Blue Diamond. Meanwhile, as president Afflixio — previously EVP and creative director —  takes over the day-to-day operations, in addition to maintaining the lead on accounts like Intuit.  

Butenhoff now reports to Hilary Hanson McKean, partner and managing director of global practices, and will continue to report to North American CEO Barri Rafferty in her role as CEO of Access Communications. Pujadas, an 18 year Ketchum veteran, now reports into senior partner and CEO of international operations Jon Higgins.