U.S. PR firm Kwittken establishes Toronto office

The MDC Partners controlled firm will operate inside KBS Toronto
Aaron Kwittken

Aaron Kwittken

Public relations firm Kwittken, which has offices in New York and London, has launched a Canadian division inside the office of its parent company, KBS Toronto, which is a MDC Partners shop.

Aaron Kwittken, the agency’s New York-based co-founder, said he and KBS Toronto president Nick Dean have had informal discussions about launching a Canadian operation for several years. Canada offers considerable growth opportunities for the eight-year-old agency, he said.

“We both agreed that with the right timing and the right level of client interest, we’ll make this happen,” Kwittken told Marketing. “It feels like the right time.” The agency is not launching with any Canadian-specific clients, but does have several U.S.-based clients keen to increase activity in this market, he said.

Kwittken said he is “feeling bullish” about the prospects for Toronto, saying he expects the agency to be “quite successful” in the first year.

KBS Canada CEO Steve McCall said he sees a lot of opportunity for organic growth for Kwittken, suggesting that up to half of its revenue in the early stages will come via KBS Canada’s existing clients.

He called Kwittken a “best-in-class” PR practice that adds a valuable component to the agency’s suite of services as it looks to “fill in the gaps” in its service offering. “If I had to pick one place where I really wanted to make sure we were adding extra firepower, this space [was it].”

McCall said the agency could pitch assignments “more confidently” knowing it had access to Kwittken’s capabilities. “I hate to suggest to clients we have a capability and not have something best-in-class, and now I feel we can include PR,” he said.

Kwittken has built a strong reputation in the U.S. for its multi-channel approach to PR and an emphasis on strategic branding and storytelling. The latter is growing in importance, said Kwittken, particularly as the media relations aspect of PR becomes increasingly commoditized.

“A really good story, told well, can be spread well,” he said.

Kwittken has historically enjoyed a strong reputation in the areas of business-to-business and crisis and issues management, but has spent the past several years developing its consumer practice. Kwittken said he expects the Canadian business to be spread evenly between business-to-business and business-to-consumer communications.

The Toronto opening also comes with an expanded role for Kwittken, who becomes global chairman and CEO, overseeing the agency’s three offices in New York, Toronto and London, with an eye towards expansion in Asia and key European markets.

About 25% of Kwittken’s current U.S. business comes from existing KBS clients looking to add PR to their suite of marketing communications, while the rest are PR-only clients.

The agency’s revenues have tripled since KBS acquired a majority interest in the agency in 2010. Kwittken currently has about 60 employees spread across its three offices, up from 16 at the time of its acquisition. “Our growth has been highly accelerated by MDC partners,” said Kwittken.

The agency has hired Kimberly Gibson as account supervisor to support the new Toronto office. Gibson previously ran public relations programs for Coty’s prestige division, including six fragrance brands and the skincare brand Philosophy. She has also worked at Estée Lauder Canada.

The agency hopes to have a “handful” of staffers in place by mid-2015, said Kwittken, with plans to invest in both senior and mid-range talent in the coming months.

There are many clients in the U.S. who think you can do PR in Canada from the U.S., but I disagree” said Kwittken. “We feel very strongly that you need people on the ground – Canada is a different and unique market in the same way that states and different regions of the U.S. are different.”

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