Weber Shandwick

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Weber Shandwick describes itself as “a leading global communications network that delivers next-generation solutions to brands, businesses and organizations in major markets around the world.”1 It, and many of the communications agencies it has absorbed over the years, have a long history of working with tobacco industry clients.


The agency is owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies and was formed in January 2001, with the merger of Shandwick International and Weber Public Relations Worldwide.2

It is the world’s second largest PR agency and earned $865 million in fee income in 2019, up three per cent on the previous year.3

Weber Shandwick’s headquarters are in New York and the agency employs 4,865 staff globally.4 It has offices in 79 cities worldwide, with a network extending to 129 cities on six continents.5

It says that truth is one of its values. The agency states: “No fake news here, without truth there’s no trust. Without trust, there’s no audience willing to engage.”6 The agency boasts that it is known “for seamless cooperation in pursuit of our clients’ needs. Our specialty firms allow us to provide a complete marketing services offering, from culture marketing to public affairs, advertising, and market research.” Weber Shandwick’s companies include:

  • Bomoda, a data science and business intelligence firm
  • Cappuccino, a digital marketing and technology agency
  • Flipside, a mobile and digital agency
  • KRC Research, a public opinion research consultancy
  • Powell Tate, a strategic communications firm
  • Resolute Digital, a digital marketing and technology agency
  • Revive Health, a marketing communications firm specialising in the health sector
  • That Lot, a social creative agency
  • United Minds, a management consultancy
  • Prime Weber Shandwick, composed of communications agency Prime and United Minds7

Links with the Tobacco Industry Over the Decades

Prior to the merger with the Weber Group, the Shandwick Group had links with the tobacco industry stretching back to the late 1970s.8 In 2000, Shandwick was sacked by its client the American Cancer Society after it discovered the PR agency was also representing RJ Reynolds.9

Shandwick’s regional hub in the Ukraine has also worked for RJ Reynolds and was the “first agency to use sponsored television as a method of brand awareness development” according to a presentation made to BAT in June 2000. The report added: “As a result RJ Reynolds brand Camel enjoyed over 240 hours of television brand exposure at less than $25 per minute with the result that in just six months sales climbed 12 Nielson points against their biggest competitor Marlboro. All this at a time when tobacco advertising on television was banned and Marlboro’s advertising budget was 4 times larger.”10

Shandwick International, in a letter to RJ Reynolds in October 2000, recommended that the tobacco firm “reframe the debate” and consider doing research to show the amount collected in taxes from tobacco sales and how those taxes are used for health and education. It also suggested finding out “how much taxes would be raised in various jurisdictions to compensate for the loss of all tobacco revenues.”11

The Bozell Sawyer Miller Group, which merged with Weber Shandwick in 2001,12 also had a track record in promoting the interests of big tobacco. In 1997 it drew up a communications plan for tobacco firms to deal with the legal settlement that was being negotiated with US authorities to settle a series of lawsuits. The plan stated the “need to reposition the settlement as an historic opportunity for a comprehensive solution to outstanding tobacco issues.” It should make clear that any such deal “can’t be done without industry compliance and the industry getting something in return.”

The plan suggested that an “exit strategy” would be created as a result of “making it clear that this is a “deal” that in order to get the things people want, the industry has to get restrictions on lawsuits in return.”13

Weber Shandwick’s ties to tobacco

Weber Shandwick’s history of working for tobacco companies is revealed in Tobacco legacy documents publicly disclosed as a result of a series of US court cases in the 1990s.

The agency has worked on communications campaigns for the likes of Brown & Williamson,14 and British American Tobacco.

In a presentation to BAT in March 2001, Weber Shandwick outlined the long term aim of positioning BAT “as a responsible and responsive company.” The agency stressed the need to find “an independent neutral, credible facilitator to persuade stakeholders to engage with BAT.”15

Its tobacco clients have also included Lorillard, for whom the agency ran anti-smoking campaigns aimed at teenagers,16 and it has worked for Philip Morris in trying to persuade American women who “distrust and dislike” the company to become “open to listening to Philip Morris’ point of view.”17

In 2001 Weber Shandwick came up with a communications strategy for the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation in a bid to promote the firm as open and responsible. This included arranging for Nicholas Brookes, Chief Executive of Brown & Williamson, to give a speech at the National Press Club in Washington DC on the topic of “being a responsible company in a controversial industry.” Weber Shandwick also handled the PR for the launch of a new filtered Pall Mall cigarette.18

At the same time it was working for major tobacco firms, the agency was also being paid by the State of Minnesota to run an important anti-smoking campaign aimed at young people. A tractor trailer was sent on a tour around the state with tobacco company documents – obtained through legal actions against the industry – exposing the marketing of cigarettes. The tactic proved effective in getting the attention of teenagers, and the six-week tour reached around one million kids, according to Ted Johnson, a manager on the account. The campaign also copied a tobacco industry tactic in getting artists to take part in a live tour to back a music CD. Johnson said: “Whenever in doubt about tactics, we ask ‘What would Big Tobacco do?”19

Links to UK government

Weber Shandwick has connections to cabinet ministers in the UK government.

Priti Patel, appointed Home Secretary in July 2019, worked for the agency from 2000 to 2003 and was a key member of the team working on the BAT account.

Ed Taylor, who is the managing director of the agency’s corporate affairs practice, is a former special adviser to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.20

Revolving door

Several agency staff have subsequently gone to work for BAT, and vice versa.

One example of a BAT employee moving to Weber Shandwick is Jacobo de Aranzadi Higueras, who is now working as a consultant for Accenture. He was an External Affairs Executive for BAT between June 2017 and June 2018, before leaving to take up a role as Senior Associate, Public Affairs, at Weber Shandwick.21

Markus Lindblad, former Chief Operating Officer at Weber Shandwick in Sweden, left the agency in 2012 and a few months later started work at BAT as Head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Sweden.22

Abandoning the past?

In May 2019, Kate Lowry, Weber Shandwick’s director of global corporate communications, declared: “Weber Shandwick will not work on any e-cigarette products and has not worked on any in the past.” She added: “We also will not work for the tobacco industry or tobacco products as has been our long-standing policy.”23

It is not clear how long Weber Shandwick has taken this stance. It appears that the agency was working for BAT as recently as 2011. Miral Mourad, the agency’s Group Director in Egypt between September 2010 and July 2011, worked for clients including BAT, according to her LinkedIn profile.24

Although the company claims it has never worked on e-cigarette products, Weber Shandwick has worked for vaping retailer Kix2526 as well as a company called E Cigarette World.27.

Weber Shandwick has yet to sign up to the #QuitBigTobacco pledge and refuse to work for tobacco or tobacco-related clients. More than 250 agencies, including the world’s top ranked PR agency Edelman, and brands have signed the pledge, which is a campaign run by public health consultancy Vital Strategies.28

Weber Shandwick’s parent company, Intergroup, regards any crackdown against tobacco products as a potential threat. In the part of its 2019 annual report detailing areas of risk for the company, it states: “Legislators, agencies and other governmental units may also continue to initiate proposals to ban the advertising of specific products, such as alcohol, tobacco or marijuana products, and to impose taxes on or deny deductions for advertising, which, if successful, may hinder our ability to accomplish our clients’ goals and have an adverse effect on advertising expenditures and, consequently, on our revenues.”

The annual report also warns: “we could suffer reputational risk as a result of governmental or legal action or from undertaking work that may be challenged by consumer groups or considered controversial.”29

Weber Shandwick’s senior management:

  • Jack Leslie, Chairman
  • Andy Polansky, Executive Chairman
  • Gail Heimann, President and Chief Executive Officer
  • Kate Bullinger, President, United Minds
  • Sung Chang, Chief Impact Officer
  • Joe Danek, Chief Financial Officer, North America
  • Joy Farber Kolo, President, North America
  • Sara Gavin, Chief Client Officer
  • Josh Gilbert, Executive Creative Director, Global Practices
  • Abby Gold, Chief Employee Experience Officer
  • Judith Harrison, Senior Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion
  • Susan Howe, Chief Growth Officer
  • Pam Jenkins, President, Global Public Affairs; and President, Weber Shandwick South
  • Baxter Jolly, Chief Executive Officer, Asia Pacific
  • Jean Lee Swagert, Chief Human Resources Officer, North America
  • Paul Massey, President, Powell Tate and Global Lead, Social Impact
  • Cameron Murray, Senior Vice President, Human Resources & Talent, EMEA & APAC
  • Deb Nichols, Chief Financial Officer
  • Lee Noonan, Chief Technology Officer
  • Brian Offutt, Chief Workforce Innovation & Operations Officer
  • Chris Perry, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Laura Schoen, Chair, Latin America, and President, Global Healthcare Practice
  • Tim Scott, Chief Financial Officer, Asia Pacific
  • Micho Spring, Chair, Global Corporate Practice and President, New England
  • Jill Tannenbaum, Chief Communications & Marketing Officer30

Weber Shandwick’s major clients:

  • ALDI
  • Amazon
  • Anheuser-Busch InBev
  • Chevrolet
  • ExxonMobil
  • General Motors
  • GMC
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • IBM
  • Mars
  • Mattel
  • Milk Processor Education Program
  • Nestlé
  • Novartis
  • Roche
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises
  • Unilever
  • Verizon31
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  16. Weber Shandwick, Lorillard Tobacco Company’s Youth Smoking Prevention Program Status Report, 6 January 2003, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 92858138-92858141, accessed October 2020
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