Kekst CNC

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Background

Kekst CNC is a global public relations firm which has long worked with tobacco companies, in particular Philip Morris and Philip Morris International (PMI), advising them on corporate takeovers and regulatory battles.

Organisation

The company was founded in 1971 by Gershon Kekst who had previously been with Ruder Finn – another company with long tobacco links.1

Kekst built up the firm and ran it until 2010. Two years later it became part of part of the French Publicis Groupe. In 2018 Kekst merged with CNC – also part of Publicis Groupe. It gave them a staff of 250, a dozen offices around the world and a client list of more than 600.2

It describes itself as a global strategic communications firm:

“As trusted advisors, the firm brings expertise on such high stakes matters as: M&A, shareholder activism and governance, crisis communications, restructurings, regulatory investigations/resolutions, litigation support, investor relations, IPO communications, issues and reputation management, change management and employee engagement, as well as digital and social communications.”3

Tobacco clients

After establishing his company Gershon Kekst quickly acquired tobacco clients.

Lorillard

Truth Tobacco Industry Documents show that from at least 1975 the firm was employed by Lorillard, with Gershon Kekst personally involved in the account. It acted for the tobacco company in a lawsuit it launched against the Federal Trade Commission.4 That personal relationship continued for several years.5 Lorillard was eventually bought by Reynolds American, owned in turn by British American Tobacco (BAT).

British American Tobacco

Kekst also advised British American Tobacco. A letter from Michael Prideaux, BAT’s Director of Group Public Affairs, in December 1993 praises the work of Kekst that year, and in particular “the extra intelligence provided” in a pricing battle. He agreed to retrain the firm’s services for another year.6. Kekst was a key advisor in BAT’s $1bn acquisition of the American Tobacco Company in 1994.7

Philip Morris and Phillip Morris International

Philip Morris is long-standing client, with Kekst advising it on its US$13bn corporate takeover of food giant Kraft in 1988.89 Mergers and acquisitions were an early specialism of the firm which advised on attack or defence in such battles. It remains a key service.10

Gershon Kekst continued to be a trusted personal advisor to Philip Morris.11

According to the EU Transparency register, Kekst was paid by Philip Morris International between 200,000 and 299,999 euros in 2019 to act as a lobbyist. That dropped to between 100,000 and 199,999 for 2020. But it still made PMI one of the two single highest paying clients for Kekst.12

Personnel

Bernhard Meising is joint Chief Executive Officer of Kekst CNC. He worked in corporate audit for Philip  Morris before going on to work for Citigate Dewe Rogerson and then Kekst.13

Olivier Hinnekens is registered lobbyist with the EU and his Kekst company profile says he has worked on the PMI account as well as the Coalition Against Illicit Trade (CAIT). He was previously a policy advisor to the Flemish Christian Democrats. 14. CAIT was formed in 2015 and is a group of mostly business organisations, some with tobacco links, addressing illicit trade in several sectors, including tobacco.

Gunther Oettinger is a former German member of the European Commission who started working for Kekst CNC in November 2020. In February 2021 the European Ombudsman opened a case regarding Oettinger’s new role, calling for the Commission to review its commitment to FCTC guidelines on tobacco industry interference in light of the upcoming Tobacco Products Directive Revision.15

Kekst makes good use of the revolving door between corporates and governments. Sir Robbie Gibb, previously Director of Communications at No 10 Downing Street, joined Kekst CNC in 2019 as a senior advisor.16 Before joining the government, Gibb worked for 25 years at the BBC on various political programmes. In May 2021 he will re-join the BBC as a board member for England. Gibb is also a director of The Jewish Chronicle.17 He will retain his Kekst role while on the BBC board.

Tobacco Tactics Resources

Revolving Door

PR Companies

Lobbyists and PR People

References

  1. S.Czarnecki, Gershon Kekst, founder of Kekst and Company, dead at 82, PR Week, 22 March 2017, accessed April 2021
  2. Unknwon, Kekst and CNC Join Forces to create premier global strategic communications consultancy, PRNewswire, 9 October 2018, accessed April 2021
  3. Kekst CNC, About us, Kekst CNC website, date unknown, accessed April 2021
  4. G.Kekst, For immediate release, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, 15 August 1975, Bates no 03696764-03696765, accessed April 2021
  5. C H Judge, Notes for Gershon Kekst re 760000 annual report, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, 2 February 1977, Bates no 92748341-92748348, accessed April 2021
  6. M.Prideaux, Letter from Michael Prideaux to Jim Fingeroth regarding the arrangements for the following year between BAT Industries and Keskt, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, 21 December 1993, Bates no 202025812, accessed April 2021
  7. B&W, News from BAT Industries. BAT acquisition of American Tobacco cleared, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, 22 December 1994, Bates no 480010014-480010015, accessed April 2021
  8. B Sing, Kraft to Be Sold to Philip Morris for $13.1 Billion, LA Times, 31 October 1988, accessed April 2021
  9. L J Davis, Image-Makers In Takeover Land, New York Times, 24 September 1989, accessed April 2021
  10. F.Bratman, PR, IR advisers have Kekst to thank for their seat at the table, PR Week, 14 July 2008, accessed April 2021
  11. C Fuller, Kekst weigh in, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, 29 June 1993, Bates no 2073911296, accessed April 2021
  12. EU Transparency Register, Kekst CNC entry, 17 February 2021, accessed April 2021
  13. Kekst CNC, Bernhard Meising, Kekst CNC website, date unknown, accessed April 2021
  14. Kekst CNC, Oliver Hinnekens, Kekst CNC website, date unknown, accessed April 2021
  15. European Ombudsman,, Letter from the European Ombudsman to the European Commission on upcoming revision of tobacco related legislation, 10 February 2021, accessed March 2021
  16. Kekst CNC, Former Downing Street aide, Sir Robbie Gibb, joins as a senior advisor, Kekst CNC website, 2 October 2019, access April 2021
  17. A.Rajan, Sir Robbie Gibb: Former Downing Street communications director joins BBC Board, BBC News, 29 April 2021, accessed April 2021
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