Hill & Knowlton

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Hill & Knowlton (H&K) is one of the oldest public relations firms in the United States. It was the public relations firm for the tobacco industry from 1953 through 1968.

Global climate change

Hill & Knowlton is representing the Copenhagen Climate Council, the official convenor of the World Business Summit on Climate Change prior to the UN Climate Conference COP15 in November, 2009.[1]

Big tobacco

In December, 1953, H&K designed the tobacco industry's strategy for counteracting scientific evidence which linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer. The campaign began with the publication of a full-page newspaper ad called The Frank Statement [2] which was printed in hundreds of newspapers throughout the USA in January, 1954. H&K also helped organize the Council for Tobacco Research [3]. As a result, H&K was named a co-defendant of Philip Morris in numerous tobacco lawsuits.

A H & K employee was also responsible for producing and distributing a 1954 booklet titled Smoke Without Fear, which sought to blunt public fears about the dangers of smoking. A copy of the booklet is available here.

A 23-page paper titled Health and Morality -- Tobacco's Counter Campaign, is a historical account written in 1992 describing the key part that Hill and Knowlton played on behalf of the tobacco industry in obfuscating the link between tobacco use and disease for decades to come.

The 23-page document details the history of John W. Hill, founder of Hill and Knowlton, who helped a panicked tobacco industry stave off a wave of public fear over the allegations that smoking caused lung cancer in the 1950's. With John Hill's deft coaching, the industry published its 1954 "Frank Statement to the Public" and formed the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (forerunner of the Tobacco Institute). A quote from the document is as follows:

Business Week, in an article on the state of public relations in 1960, commented: 'Probably one of PR's best finger-in-the-dike jobs was during the tobacco-lung cancer scare when the tobacco industry brought in Hill and Knowlton. H&K helped set up the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, run by prominent scientists and based on the premise that 'there is no conclusive proof that cigarettes cause cancer, but that the industry has an obligation to get the full facts.'

The document is authored by John W. Hill II, and was sent to Murray H. Bring, top Philip Morris lawyer, who made handwritten notes on it here and there, according to the header. The language used in this piece is quite damning of the industry. Here is one example:

The stakes in this ongoing public relations battle are enormous. On one side of the ledger is the health of more than 200 million teen-agers and adults. One (sic) the other side are (handwritten: the) profits, even survival, of the tobacco industry in dependence on the 55.8 million addicted smokers as of 1988."

In an apparent negative reaction to the realization of what he had done, in writing his memoirs, Hill omitted any mention of the part he played in forming the Tobacco Industry Research Committee. Indeed, when he was asked about this topic by a student who was writing a master's thesis on Hill's work, Hill said, "I decline to comment on this matter on the basis that this is an active, highly sensitive account."

Furthermore, and to his credit, Hill later broke completely with the industry's tactic of forming front groups to protect profits:

Over time John Hill had stoutly asserted that paper groups established by a client to promote a cause under the guise of being independent should be eliminated from the public relations profession. 'The right of free speech also carries the obligation that the source of it will be open for all to see,' he wrote. 'It is not the work of public relations -- let it always be emphasized -- to outsmart the American public by helping management build profits.' But in fact the TIRC was essentially a front for the public relations work of the industry, created to blunt the growing threat to the cigarette makers' enormous profits.[1]

Desert Storm

In 1990, H&K went to work for the government of Kuwait, organizing PR in support of the war with Iraq. During the Nayirah affair in the first Gulf war, Victoria Clarke was General Manager of Hill & Knowlton's Washington, DC office. (Clarke would later become Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs for the George W. Bush administration.)

Non-profit work

Hill & Knowlton has also worked for large non-profit groups. In January 2004, the American Heart Association (AHA) announced they had hired the company to launch an awareness and educational campaign - GoRed for Women - to educate women about their risk of heart disease. "We looked to hire a firm with solid consumer and healthcare marketing and public relations experience coupled with creative flair ... We were especially attracted to the company's proven track record in understanding and implementing diversity marketing," vice president of communications, Robyn Landry, told The Holmes Report. [4] The American Heart Association entered into a partnership with Rite Aid Drugstores to promote its GoRed for Women campaign, which turned out to be a highly embarassing move. Rite Aid has had a long relationship with cigarette companies and sells cigarettes (the country's single largest cause of heart disease). For the partnership, Rite Aid claimed that it was "taking a stand against heart disease in women" and placed large red posters touting AHA's "healthy heart" campaign in windows in its stores immediately next to cigarette displays, allowing Rite Aid to promote both cigarettes and health simultaneously. (Photos of Rite Aid's embarassing displays can be seen at http://www.rawbw.com/~jpk/stand/Pictures.html). The move highlighted Rite Aid's corporate hypocrisy, and provoked the public to send letters and emails to AHA asking them to end their partnership with Rite Aid.

Spinning elections

In October 2004, O'Dwyer's PR Daily reported that H&K "is working to allay any voters' concerns in Florida's fourth largest county amid reports that votes were not counted by new electronic balloting machines in an August primary."[5]

After working with electronic voting machine manufacturer Hart Intercivic on their unsuccessful bid to obtain the Hillsborough County, FL voting machine contract, the county signed H&K to a $160,000 deal. H&K's job was "to showcase new electronic voting machines and encourage voters to turn out and cast ballots."[6]

H&K also wound up working with the county's Republican elections chief, Buddy Johnson, after it was revealed that 245 votes had been "lost" in a close primary election in August 2004 which was decided by just 130 votes. The votes weren't recorded because "an elections worker mistakenly left a touch screen voting machine in the 'test' mode." Moreover, the "statutory 10-day period for challenging an election" passed with no notice to the public, as Johnson's staff "was still trying to hunt down the missing 245 votes." (The St. Petersburg Times reported, "As it turned out, the 245 votes did not affect the outcome of any Hillsborough race.") [7]

Johnson said he himself did not learn of the vote loss until August 16, when he immediately "notified Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood of the lost votes in a faxed letter." But, according to the St. Petersburg Times: [8]

Johnson did not make the first public disclosure of the lost votes until about 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17, as news organizations were preoccupied with Hurricane Ivan slamming Florida's Panhandle and Tropical Storm Jeanne meandering through the Caribbean. Johnson said he met with two executives from Hill & Knowlton ... to coordinate the news release about the 245 votes.

U.S. government PR contracts

According to the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform Minority Office, Hill & Knowlton received the following amounts per year, for federal PR contracts: [9]

  • $286,000 in 1997
  • $1,250,000 in 1998
  • $1,980,000 in 1999
  • $15,702,000 in 2000

According to the Public Relations Society of America's database of Silver Anvil Award winners, Hill & Knowlton's federal contracts have included work for the General Services Administration, on the "Dedication of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center," in Washington DC. The goal of the campaign was "to generate a positive acceptance of the building and neutralize critics," given the cost over-run and Ronald Reagan's controversial political legacy.

Other work

International Monetary Fund

In September 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) retained Hill & Knowlton for one year, to boost the international financial institution's "global outreach." H&K's press release quoted CEO Paul Taaffe as saying, "The IMF plays a crucial role around the world working to stabilize financial markets. H&K's regional expertise and global network means the firm is ideally suited to support the IMF." The contract, for an unspecified dollar amount, is coordinated out of H&K's Washington DC office. Dave Robinson, who heads the firm's Middle East & Africa work, "will lead an H&K team across the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, while Glenn Schloss, regional director for H&K in the Asia Pacific region, will oversee activity on the IMF program in the Far East." H&K will advise the IMF on "stakeholder outreach strategy for Asia and the Middle East, and on financial sector issues." The firm will also design "customized contact programs with key opinion formers, influencers and the wider financial and economic community." [2]

Africa work

In April 2009, H&K announced it was "expanding its presence in Africa with the launch of a new public relations firm in a joint venture with Scangroup, the first and only marketing services company to be quoted on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. ... The new company will operate as Hill & Knowlton East Africa and will cover Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and will be headquartered in Nairobi." H&K chair and CEO Paul Taaffe called Africa "perhaps the last great emerging market opportunity globally. ... While 2009 sees turmoil in some global markets, all the indicators are very positive for Africa and we will be there to guide and advise clients who want to capitalise on the many opportunities on this growing continent." [3]

In May 2005, it was reported that the London office of Hill & Knowlton signed a $600,000 contract with the government of Uganda, "to improve Uganda's image with donors and to help blunt damaging reports from human rights watchdogs that have been highly critical of the government." The AFP report on the Uganda contract noted, "Political activity is now largely restricted in Uganda and plans for multi-party elections in 2006 have been overshadowed by a controversial bid to amend the constitution so President Yoweri Museveni can stand for a third term." [10] Also in May 2005, the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch released a report documenting "recent cases of torture by Ugandan security forces against political opponents, alleged rebels and criminal suspect." [11]

In an interview with The Guardian, Hill & Knowlton associate director James Barbour said, "What we are doing is encouraging dialogue between the Ugandan government and people like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, Oxfam. It's not about spinning a different version of the truth, its about making sure that the Ugandans are having the right conversations with the right people." [12]

Hill & Knowlton also represents Debswana, a joint venture between De Beers diamond mining companty and the government of Botswana. De Beers owns the rights to mine diamonds in the Kalahari, and through Debswana, has played a role in evicting indigenous Kalahari Bushmen from their land. According to Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a Peer in the British House of Lords, "Many of them (Kalahari Bushmen) felt that they had been evicted because Debswana wanted their land for its diamonds." [13] Hill & Knowlton claims on its website that "an information campaign generated support [for Debswana] among members of Congress, UK Parliamentarians, Members of the Japanese Diet and Members of the European Parliament, as well as numerous media outlets." [14].


H&K represented the Catholic bishops in America in their campaign against legalized abortion, and the Body Shop International when it came under criticism for making false claims about itself and its products.[citation needed]

Political action committee

Hill & Knowlton operate a federal political action committee. [15] According to the Center for Responsive Politics database the company's PAC spent $21,754 for the 2004 election cycle, with 41% of the donations given at that point going to Democrats, and 59% to Republicans. [16] In the 2002 election cycle, the PAC gave 58% of the $35,239 spent to Democrats, and 42% to Republicans. [17] In 2000, 49% of the $47,703 spent went to Democrats, 51% to Republicans. [18] In 1998, 48% of the $59,296 spent was given to Democrats, 52% to Republicans. [19]


Senion H&K Staff, as of August 2006, are:

  • Paul Taaffe, Chairman and Chief Executive , Hill & Knowlton, Inc.
  • Tony Burgess-Webb, Chief Marketing Officer/Director, Worldwide Netcoms Practice, Hill and Knowlton, Inc
  • Juan Cappello, President and Managing Partner - Latin America,
  • Mike Coates, President and CEO, Hill & Knowlton Canada, Hill & Knowlton Canada
  • Elaine Cruikshanks, Chair, Worldwide Public Affairs Practice/Chair and CEO Cont. Western Europe/CEO, Brussels, Hill & Knowlton International Belgium
  • Thomas Hoog, Senior Counselor to the Chairman, Hill & Knowlton, Inc.
  • Andrew Laurence, Chairman and CEO, Hill & Knowlton Europe, Middle East & Africa, Hill & Knowlton Limited
  • Vivian Lines, President and COO, Asia Pacific,
  • Norman Mineta, Vice Chairman,
  • Joe Paluska, Director, Technology Practice Worldwide, Hill & Knowlton, Inc.
  • MaryLee Sachs, Chairman, Hill & Knowlton USA and Director, Worldwide Marketing Communications Practice, Hill & Knowlton, Inc.
  • Ellen Shedlarz, Chief Talent Officer, Hill & Knowlton, Inc.
  • Mark Thorne, Chief Operating Officer/Chief Financial Officer, Hill & Knowlton, Inc.


The following list of clients is largely based on O'Dwyers PR Services compilation from public records of H&K's clients. Some have been added from other sources and are referenced as such.

During the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, it was reported that the studio owners' group, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, had hired Hill & Knowlton. [39] However, the firm denied working for the studio owners. [40]

Contact details

Website: http://www.hillandknowlton.com/

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. John W. Hill II Health and Morality-Tobacco's Counter Campaign Report. 1992. 23 pp. Bates No. 2022849007/9028
  2. 2.0 2.1 "IMF Turns to H&K for Global Outreach," Hill & Knowlton press release, September 22, 2008.
  3. "H&K Forms Joint Venture to Expand Into East Africa," The Holmes Report (sub req'd), April 19, 2009.
  4. "Press Enquiries", Play.com website, accessed August 2009.

External resources

External articles

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