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British Agencies See Opportunity in the Americas

Grace Blue launches in New York

When it comes to the advertising and media industries, the trans-Atlantic traffic between the United States and Britain has long been robust. Initially, the flow was West to East, but in recent years it has largely trended the other way.

That directional shift is being underlined as two firms based in London set up shop in this country. One, Frank PR, is establishing its American operation, called Frank PR USA, in New York. The other firm, Grace Blue, which specializes in finding senior executives for agencies and media companies, is opening offices in New York and on the West Coast.

The two newcomers typify a change in the expansion plans of British firms in that both are independently owned rather than units of giant holding companies. Of course, the reason may be just that by now, almost every major firm with British roots and a well-heeled parent is already in the United States.

Whatever the ownership profile of the British arrivals, the start-ups tell a story that has been heard for some time: despite the woes of the American economy, the opportunities arising from a presence in the United States outweigh the risks.

“We’re certainly entering in with caution and humility,” Andrew Bloch, the vice chairman of Frank PR who founded the British firm in 2000 with Graham Goodkind, said during an interview last week in New York. “Someone once said to me that Madison Avenue is littered with the carcasses of failed U.K. agencies, and those words have rung in my head.”

Still, Mr. Bloch said, “the U.S. is an incredibly exciting market,” partly because of its size and partly because “a lot of our U.K. clients are U.S. companies.”

Jay Haines, chief executive of Grace Blue, which has been conducting executive searches since 2006, echoed Mr. Bloch.

“It is interesting how many people” from Britain arriving in the United States “haven’t gotten it right,” Mr. Haines said in a separate interview, also last week in New York.

“They assume because their companies were successful there they would be successful here,” he added.

Even so, “we have to be in this part of the world” because “there is no more important market,” Mr. Haines said, and “more and more of our work is coming out of the United States.”

Mr. Haines, who is 37, said he would move from London to an office in New York — at 41 East 11th Street, at University Place — from which he would oversee the firm’s operations in North and South America.

“Out of respect to this market, you have to do that,” Mr. Haines said of his relocation. The West Coast office will probably be in Los Angeles, he added. (Back in London, Juliet Timms, a partner, will oversee operations in Europe and Asia, and Mr. Haines’s mother, Gay, formerly of the Kendall Tarrant search firm, continues as chairwoman of the British operation of Grace Blue.)

To help Grace Blue with its expansion, Mr. Haines is hiring Mark Goldstein, a longtime American advertising executive, to serve as nonexecutive chairman for North and South America. Mr. Goldstein, 64, will continue as chief executive of Eleven, a consultant firm he recently started in Naples, Fla.

Asked if Grace Blue was late in entering the crowded American market, Mr. Goldstein quoted a proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.”

“There’s an interesting way Jay talks about how they look at their business,” Mr. Goldstein said. “They look for the best possible person, not the best available person.”

Grace Blue will have five or six employees in the New York office in addition to Mr. Haines and at least two on the West Coast.

To start its American outpost, Frank PR — which also has a field office in Manchester, England, and an office in Sydney, Australia — has hired an American, Jim Dowd, to be managing director of Frank PR USA. Mr. Dowd, 38, had most recently been senior vice president for global media at the New York office of GolinHarris, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

“The opportunity to work with a British-based company has always been a dream of mine,” Mr. Dowd said. “They think more creatively; they take more risks.”

Frank PR USA is starting with several clients, among them AMC Networks, which owns cable channels like AMC and Sundance Channel; the television personalities Bill and Giuliana Rancic; and Trulia, the real estate search Web site.

“Jim and I have the same philosophy about public relations, that you can’t control the conversations but you can participate in the conversations,” said Ken Shuman, head of communications at Trulia. That reflects how Frank PR positions itself as specializing in “public reactions” rather than public relations.

Mr. Shuman said he “brought Frank PR USA in to help us with a project,” an event on Wednesday at an apartment on Central Park South once owned by Billy Joel.

He is so pleased with the results, he added, that “I imagine we’ll continue some degree of engagement with them.”

The Frank PR USA office — at 441 Broadway between Howard and Grand streets — has five employees. Mr. Dowd said he was “absolutely looking for new hires immediately.”

Talk about public reactions; imagine the reaction to that from the unemployed and underemployed of New York.

New York Times