Cossette's man in New York

Blurb: Peter Post is playing a key role in the Quebec City based advertising agency's international growth strategy.

New York -- U.S. advertising is one of the world's most cutthroat industries. At one end are huge conglomerates that control the biggest agencies, at the other, are targeted players active in lucrative niches.

So more than a few eyebrows were raised in August 2001, when Quebec City based Cossette Communications Group jumped into the fray, by acquiring New York based Post Communications. The timing couldn't have been worse. A few weeks later, September 11th hit, and the entire U.S, ad industry went into a tailspin.

"Things were pretty rough for a while," said Peter Post, who heads Cossette's U.S. operations. "But we've turned the corner and are on our way to a record year."

According to Claude Lessard, Cossette's Chairman and CEO, much of the credit goes to Post himself, whose firm was one of a slew acquired by Cossette, in an effort to position itself as a mid-sized player in the international communications market.

"He sits on our board and is an integral part of our total strategy," Lessard said.

Cossette's international expansion plans took a significant leap forward last week, when the company announced a deal to buy an 80 per cent stake in public relations firm Paine PR, a search that was led by Post. That deal comes on the heels of last month's acquisition of Band & Brown Group, a London based PR firm.

These deals, coupled with several others announced in recent months, now give Canada's largest advertising agency a presence in the world's most important ad markets including New York, Los Angeles, London and Shanghai. But Cossette Post's Madison Avenue offices, remain the key to the firm's international gamble.

There Post, who is CEO of Cossette's U.S. operations, oversees a fully integrated group, that offers a wide range of services. These include ad production, direct marketing, media buying and interactive communications. Its accounts include the New York Rangers, discount broker TD Waterhouse, decorative products marketer Hunter Douglas and natural gas distributor KeySpan.

Cosette Post's mid-town Manhattan offices will also eventually house PainePR's New York operations as well as those of Identica, a London based branding and design consultancy that Cossette acquired last year.

The goal is to extend the "Convergent Communication" service that Cossette provides its Canadian clients into the international arena. "Convergent Communication," a trademark that Cossette registered, consists of developing synergies among some or all of a client's marketing services by developing an integrated advertising strategy and development.

"We are not a big holding company, not are we ad-centric," Post said. "We try to strike a balance, so that we can recommend the best possible solution for the client based on their need, not based on (what makes us the most money)."

Post got into the advertising industry through the back door. He started as a journalist for a small local paper, but writing ad copy on the side, a gig that later led to his first full time job. He turned out to be a natural, quickly rising to the presidency of Lintas, --now one of the largest agencies in the InterPublic conglomerate,-- later striking out on his own.

Like many in the communications world, he is a big believer in the increasing importance of public relations in an overall communications strategy.

"We talk to about two dozen PR firms before deciding to acquire Paine PR and many of them had steadily improving financials," Post said. "The sector is definitely on the upswing."

Post had better hope so, because international operations are taking on an increasingly important role in Cossette's future growth. If PainePR's revenues are added into the mix, Cossette's revenues are running at roughly $200 million in the 12 months trailing to June 30, 2004, with international revenues providing up to 28 per cent of the total. Cossette does not provide forecasts, but according to one insider, the company is hoping to boost that percentage to 40 per cent by the end of next year.

Much of that growth could come from new acquisitions. Cossette's purchases of PR boutiques in London and Los Angeles leave two big markets where the firm is without a local ad agency offering.

According to one analyst, Cossette's long term strategy looks to be on the right track.

"So far it's going well. Initially they were cautious, but they took their time and made smart decisions," said David McFadgen, a media analyst with Sprott Securities.

McFadgen is not worried about the Canadian firm's ability to compete south of the border.

" Lots of companies have done it. Look at Cirque du Soleil. They are everywhere," McFadgen said. "Plus Cossette's U.S. operations are all run by Americans, who know their own market well."




Sidebar: Cossette's international expansion stategy

o Establish a presence in the world's key cities including New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai and London
o Offer integrated communications services including advertising, public relations, direct marketing, to cover all of a client's potential needs.
o Decentralize operations to keep and motivate strong managers
o Build slowly by making sure that the corporate culture is right before making acquisitions.


Photo caption: Peter Post is the key player in Cossette Communication Group's international expansion strategy.

Fact Box:
Company Name: Cossette Communication Group
Owner: Publicly traded
Founded: 1972
Products: Advertising, PR, interactive and other communications services
Employees: 1,450
Sales: $200 million (projected 2004)
Phone #: 514-845-2727


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Peter Diekmeyer
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