Does H&K hiring Peggy O’Neill change the agency competitive landscape? Potentially very much.

When H&K’s Josh Reynolds announced at the AR meeting at Gartner US Spring Symposium that he had hired Peggy O’Neill, Oracle’s VP of AR, a lot of us in the industry went “Wow!” Wow because Peggy was leaving one to the top AR jobs to join an agency and wow because H&K had just grabbed a heavy hitter to add to already strong AR story. But does this hire really make a difference in the grand scheme of things? SageCircle believes it does.

Frankly, PR agencies in general do not have a great reputation for best-in-class AR. The analysts dislike the typical agency PR professional doing AR because they are not analyst centric.  Unfortunately most PR staff treat the analysts like reporters. For example, analysts loathe that PR pros spam them with requests outside of their coverage area. Ugh. On the vendor side, AR managers look at PR agencies as necessary evils because they are not permitted to hire as many AR professions as they need so they have to throw cash at agencies to get additional labor. Then the AR manager has to deal with PR professionals that really don’t know the company, treat analysts like the press, and try to hoard interaction details to make switching agencies as painful as possible. Triple ugh.

The hiring of O’Neill has the potential – on paper at least – for H&K to challenge this perception to its advantage. Consider the differentiation H&K can now put forth: 

  • Vendor-based AR management experience at the highest level
  • Agency-based AR management experience at the highest level
  • Two former analysts, Gartner/Dataquest no less
  • In-house expertise that can mentor/coach the H&K AR team on AR best practices
  • Tough-as-nails managers to enforce the analyst centric approach
  • In-house AR training expertise that can enhance the skills of the H&K AR team and clients alike
  • (Potential) Publishing whitepapers and/or blogging on innovative approaches to AR to develop thought leadership and mindshare

 To be blunt, it looks grim for other PR agencies in terms of marketing, lead generation, and sales deals where AR will be an important consideration for awarding PR contracts. Of course, what is grim for PR agencies might turn into a good thing for analysts and AR teams as the overall level of agency-based AR could be improved in response to H&K’s surprise move.

 SageCircle Technique:

  • Analysts should be candid with AR managers if the PR agency staff are treating them like reporters and not providing analyst-centric support
  • AR managers should carefully evaluate all agency AR proposals to ensure that the agency has the right attitude, manager abilities, and staff expertise to deliver best-in-class AR
  • AR managers should carefully evaluate all agency AR proposals to ensure that the agencies are investing in AR training, AR coaching resources, and hiring staff with AR backgrounds so that any agency staff member put on the account will have the AR expertise needed and not just the individual put forward as part of the selling process
  • AR managers should reserve the right of refusal regarding agency staff assigned to the account to do AR

Bottom Line: It is a fact of life that AR teams will have to hire PR agencies and analysts will have to put up with them. However, H&K’s hiring of Oracle’s Peggy O’Neill has the potential to raise the bar when it comes to agency-delivered AR. Other agencies will have to improve their game and invest in training and mentoring capabilities in order to remain competitive. Potentially the ultimate beneficiaries of this competitive action will be AR managers and analysts, not just H&K.

Questions: Analysts – What are typical mistakes that PR agencies make when interacting with you? PR agencies – What is your response to this analysis? Do you think that it will be business as usual going forward? AR Managers – How might this affect your selection of an agency the next time you have to renew your contract?

SageCircle can help.  For vendor AR managers, we offer a complete scope of AR training, best practices, and advisory that can help your AR team, including any agency staff, drive your program to the next level. Visit and click on our various services to learn more.



  1. Playing Devil’s advocate here, I think a seasoned PR professonal that has successfully made the transition to AR is probably a lot more useful looking forward over the next 5 years than an ex big-firm analyst that only has experience of traditional analyst/AR models.

    The future is with influencer relations in my book, which is not to say that you don’t treat analysts appropriately, but understand that analysts are just part of a much larger influencer ecosystem, in which the press is pretty important too.

    I know you get it Carter, and people like David Rossiter are the benchmark in terms of bringing PR experience together with analyst insight (if you’ll forgive the pun for those who know David’s blog). And let’s be clear here, it is not about understanding how analysts use social media (this is a detail), it is about really having a genuine feel for the AR/PR/Analyst/Press dynamic.

    Bottom line is I hope Peggy learns as much from her new colleages as they learn from her. Fortress AR is not an option for the future.

  2. Dale, your key phrase is “…has successfully made the transition to AR …” . Too often PR types doing AR just keep treating the analysts like press, which is the real mistake.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Peggy did a good job for Oracle, in true Oracle-style, but did not make herself popular with analysts. While she may have a good knowledge on who is who, she does not have the relationships to be successful for H&K. Her view of the analyst industry is not one of cultivating relationships and thought-leadership, but more of one of pay-for-play and politics. This will not work agency-side, unless she has a complete epiphany and changes her style and personality.

  4. Hi Anon, Thanks for the expansion of your earlier comment. I agree with your observation that cultivating relationships and thought leadership are critical best practices for AR.

  5. I dont think it will change at all. Peggy’s only measurement for a successful relationship with analysts are based on positive report & Press mentions. Nothing about impacting sales or all the strategic things you talk about here at Sage. She will fit in perfectly at H&K and the analysts and the AR teams will continue to feel the same way about PR agencies doing AR.

  6. Hi Callit, Thanks for the comment and the kinds words about how we try to encourage a strategic approach to AR.

    You address how Peggy operated. What do you think will be the marketintg and selling impact? Do you think that H&K prospects that do not know how Peggy worked at Oracle will be impressed by her title and what she brings to H&K, at least on paper?

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