RALEIGH, July 16—With all the public relations firms that have been acquired by advertising agencies over the past few years, it’s nice to see the reverse occur occasionally. Richard French & Associates, a four-year-old North Carolina PR firm—founded by a refugee from a local ad agency—has acquired an interest in West & Vaughan, a highly regarded creative boutique.
While the deal is being presented as a merger, RF&A will have a stake in the ad agency business while retaining 100 percent of the equity in its own PR operation, and Rick French will be president and chief executive in a new holding company that will house three separate brands: RF&A, West & Vaughn, and Wisse Hollman & Co., an RF&A spin-off that will focus on sponsorship sales and activation.
“We have been looking to add a in-house design and issues advertising capability for some time,” says French, whose firm is often asked to produce collateral materials, from sales brochures to point-of-sale literature, for clients. In the past, RF&A has used outside suppliers, but the merger will enable it to keep that work in-house.
In addition, French expects opportunities for “cross pollination” between the ad agency and his PR shop. “We are not trying to be all things to all people,” he says, “but we have had calls from our clients inquiring about the advertising business—and not just from smaller clients who don’t already have an ad agency. We expect West & Vaughan clients to take advantage of our PR services also.”
RF&A clients include Wrangler, GoodMark Foods (Slim Jim and Pemmican beef jerky), Jack Daniel’s Distillery, the International Gemmological Institute, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and Canandaigua Wine Company.  W&V works with Car Quest Auto Parts, the Southern Brick Institute, Central Carolina Bank, Lowes Home Improvement Warehouses, Biscuitville Restaurants, the Swifty Serve convenience store chain, and Ericsson Products.
Together, the three firms will have about 80 employees and there will be no layoffs as a result of the consolidation. In fact, French says he expects to add staff in the next 60 days. The PR firm recorded fee income of around $3.8 million last year and expects to grow by slightly less than 20 percent for the financial year ended September.
Tom Vaughan, W&V co-founder, will serve as chief operating officer of the holding company and will oversee the West & Vaughan operating division, with fellow co-founder Bill West serving as executive director of creative services. Jay Wisse, formerly a vice president at RF&A, will serve as president of Wisse Hollmann, with French sitting on the company's board of directors.