Hill & Knowlton

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Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Inc.
Industry Public Relations
Marketing services
Founded Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. (1927 (1927))
Founder John W. Hill
Headquarters New York City, New York, U.S.
Number of locations
90 offices in 52 countries (2013)
Area served
Key people
Jack Martin, Global Chairman and CEO
Services Marketing communications
Corporate communication
Digital marketing
Full list of services
Parent WPP Group
Website www.hkstrategies.com

Hill+Knowlton Strategies is a global public relations company, headquartered in New York City, United States, with 90 offices in 52 countries. Hill & Knowlton was founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1927 by John W. Hill and is today led by Chairman & CEO, Jack Martin. It is owned by the WPP Group.


Hill, a former reporter and financial columnist, started the firm in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1927; it became Hill & Knowlton when a public relations director for a defunct bank, Donald Knowlton, joined shortly thereafter.

In 1946, Hill and Knowlton dissolved their partnership and Knowlton took over the direction of Hill & Knowlton Cleveland, which closed shortly after Knowlton’s retirement in 1962.[1]

In 1952, Hill established a network of affiliates across Europe.[2] Hill & Knowlton was acquired by JWT Group in 1980. In 1987, JWT was acquired by WPP Group.[3]

Hill moved its headquarters to New York in 1934 and managed the firm until 1962.[citation needed]

Hill, a pro-business Republican, made his mark representing steel companies in labor disputes during the 1930s.[4]


Tobacco industry[edit]

In 1953, members of the tobacco industry hired the firm to help counteract findings that suggested cigarette smoking led to lung cancer. As a result, a statement was released to nearly every major newspaper and magazine, which suggested that cigarettes had no verifiable links to cancer.[citation needed] The tobacco industry remained a Hill & Knowlton client until 1968.[5]

Government of Kuwait[edit]

In 1990, H&K led over 20 other American PR firms in a foreign-funded domestic campaign.[6] H&K earned over $10.8 million for their work, paid by "Citizens for a Free Kuwait", an organization heavily funded by the Kuwaiti government.[6] One particularly notorious event was the testimony of “Nurse Nayirah” to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990. Nayirah falsely testified that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers killing hundreds of premature babies at the al-Addan hospital in Kuwait City.[7] The public was told her identity was concealed to protect her family. It was later discovered she was the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador to the United States. Amnesty International originally supported her testimony, but Amnesty and other human rights groups later withdrew their support. She later changed her statement to saying that she was only repeating what she heard from a friend. H&K faxed the details of her speech to newsrooms across the country, and the story took off quickly. This testimony had an emotional impact on American policy makers and on the public in support the war against Iraq.[8] It was mentioned several times by president George H. W. Bush.[9][10] The Public Relations Society of America wrote a controversial letter to its membership defending the actions of Hill & Knowlton, claiming the criticisms amounted to criticizing the entire practice. Many professionals disagreed.[11]

Church of Scientology and Prozac[edit]

The Church of Scientology was a client of H&K. In 1989 the Church started a campaign against the medication Prozac, manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company. But in 1991 a very negative article about the Church was featured on the cover of Time, and a few days later H&K dropped the Church's account. It turns out that Lilly was an important client of James Walter Thompson, another PR company also owned by the WPP group. The Church sued Lilly, the WPP group and its two subsidiaries, alleging that Lilly had pressured the PR companies to drop its account in order to curtail its anti-Prozac campaign. The Church asked for $40 million in damages, alleging that H&K dropped their account just when the Church needed to defend itself against the Time article. The Church also alleged that H&K's advice to CSI was distorted because of its strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry.[12] In 1994 it was settled confidentially out of court for an undisclosed amount.[13]

Governments around the world[edit]

The company has frequently been criticized for its work with governments that tried to improve their reputation, when they were accused of human rights violations such as Indonesia, Turkey, Maldives, and Uganda.[14][4] Their new Dutch spokesman is Jack de Vries former staatssecretaris of Defence.

Bank of Credit and Commerce International[edit]

H&K represented the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) following its drug-money laundering indictment. According to the BCCI affair report to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate, H&K's actions raised questions concerning a conflict between H&K as a public relations firm and the public interest.[15][16]

Fracking and the gas and oil industry[edit]

In 2009, members of America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), a lobbying organization for the gas industry, spread $80 million in funds across several agencies that included Hill & Knowlton to try to influence decisions on the process of gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking".[17] Similar to the strategy it employed for the pro-cigarette campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s, the company seeks to raise doubt in the public's mind about the dangers of fracking.



  1. ^ [Knowlton, Donald Snow - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: http://ech.case.edu/ech-cgi/article.pl?id=KDS]
  2. ^ [Timetoast-History of Hill and Knowlton Public Relations: http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/history-of-hill-and-knowlton-public-relations]
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b Goodell, Jeffrey (9 September 1990). "What Hill & Knowlton Can Do for You, (And What It Couldn't Do for Itself)". New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2011. 
  5. ^ Richard W. Pollay, "Propaganda, Puffing and the Public Interest", Public Relations Review, Volume XVI, Number 3, Fall 1990.
  6. ^ a b Stauber, John; Rampton, Sheldon (1995). "How PR Sold the War in the Persian Gulf". Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry. Common Courage Press. ISBN 1-56751-060-4. 
  7. ^ "Deception on Capitol Hill" (New York ed.). New York Times. January 15, 1992. 
  8. ^ "When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators". Christian Science Monitor. September 6, 2002. 
  9. ^ John R. MacArthur, "Remember Nayirah, Witness for Kuwait?", Op-Ed, New York Times, A17, January 6, 1992.
  10. ^ Knightley, Phillip (October 4, 2001). "The disinformation campaign". London: Guardian. 
  11. ^ Elliot, Stuart (May 14, 1992). "A Dispute in the Public Relations Industry". The New York Times. pp. Section D; Page 8; Column 3; Financial Desk. Retrieved September 8, 2012. 
  12. ^ "H&K's dropping of church account lands firm in court", The Washington Times (2 ed.), 30 March 1994: B9  The cited Time article is Richard Behar (May 6, 1991), "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power", Time , featured in the cover
  13. ^ James Garcia (July 7, 1994), "Church of Scientology settles suit with PR firm", St. Petersburg Times: 1.E 
  14. ^ HuffingtonPost, Uganda: A Brutal Reality Obscured - by Thor Halvorssen
  15. ^ http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/ProfessionalStandardsAdvisories
  16. ^ http://fas.org/irp/congress/1992_rpt/bcci/
  17. ^ "AdWeek: Grey Energizes America's Natural Gas Alliance By Noreen O'Leary

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