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Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

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Independent public relations firm Edelman has launched a new unit called
Ruth: Edelman Integrated Marketing, named after the wife of Edelman founder
Daniel J. Edelman. The new unit will offer a variety of services ranging
from graphic design to direct consumer advertising. Among other things, Ruth
is designed to compete with boutique marketing firms.

Edelman has signed a definitive purchase agreement to acquire Vollmer Public Relations, the largest independent PR firm in the American southwest. Edelman plans to merge Vollmer's Austin, Dallas and New York operations into its own and will establish Vollmer's Houston headquarters as the hub for a new Edelman Southwest, serving Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico and Kansas. The new regional headquarters will be home to 50 Edelman employees and will exceed $9 million in annual revenue. "We aspire to be the leading firm in every market in which we do business, and Vollmer's considerable consumer marketing and corporate experience, well-known crisis management capability and stellar reputation will give us the chance to realize that aspiration in the southwestern United States," said Edelman CEO and president Richard Edelman.

Alan VanderMolen, president of Edelman Asia-Pacific since 2002, has been appointed to the newly-created role of president and CEO of Edelman's global practices and diversified insights businesses. David Brain will transition from his role as president and CEO of Edelman Europe, Middle East and Africa to take over leadership of Edelman Asia-Pacific Both roles take effect Jan. 1, 2011.

VanderMolen will lead the development of Edelman's global practices (consumer, corporate, health, public affairs, crisis, technology, sustainability and employee engagement), specialty research firm (StrategyOne) and consulting businesses (including First & 42nd) . Currently based in Hong Kong, VanderMolen will relocated to Chicago and continue to report to Richard Edelman.

Leo Burnett's already extraordinarily thinly-staffed public relations department has taken another hit. Chicago-based Abby Lovett, who was in charge of Burnett's global public relations effort, is leaving the agency to take a PR job in the Chicago office of Weber Shandwick, where she will work on cherries (trade association stuff, most likely) and Campbell's soup, she told us. That leaves Burnett with exactly one PR representative in Chicago, the pleasant Steve Peckham. But he isn't a Burnetter. Peckham is technically a consultant from PR firm Edelman who has been working at Burnett since May, while the ad agency takes its sweet time finding a full-time PR staffer to replace the less-than-stellar one that was fired last January.

We were told a while ago a new PR person was supposed to take over for Peckham in mid-June, but obviously that didn't happen. And there appears to be no definitive date now for when Burnett will manage to find a new PR leader for its Chicago flagship shop. "They want to get the right fit," Lovett said. Lovett also told us the agency intends to fill her job.

After nearly a five-year tour of duty, Lovett leaves Burnett at a particularly difficult moment in the agency's history. New business has been slow in coming, and the agency's image was battered recently by an alleged billing scandal on the United States Army account, which left the agency a while ago. Even the win of the Choice Hotels International creative account this week has become another reason for anonymous comment posters on blogs to suggest how the once-mighty Burnett has fallen. Many observers seem to doubt that any Burnetter would, of their own volition, ever spend a night in a Choice Hotels budget property.

A search is ongoing on at least a couple of fronts at Leo Burnett. The agency's flagship Chicago shop is still trying to hire a new top public relations executive to replace the ineffective one that was fired last January. We were told several months ago that a new PR executive was expected to be in place by mid-June, but that target date has come and long gone.

The exceedingly pleasant Steve Peckham, the agency's interim spokesman on loan from global PR firm Edelman, says he has not been given any firm date for when Burnett actually will name a new spokesperson, and he hasn't pressed for one. So for now he is carrying on in that role indefinitely, though he will be out on vacation next week.

The search goes on, as well, for Burnett's new chief creative officer. This is a type of search that has taken a very long time for several local agencies to complete in recent years, perhaps in part because the city's image as an advertising hub has been severely tarnished due to major account defections at several local agencies and agency downsizings. For many years a local behemoth, JWT/Chicago recently shuttered as a full-service agency.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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