Manning, Selvage & Lee

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Manning, Selvage & Lee (MS&L) is one of the largest U.S. public relations companies. It was founded in 1938 and, in 2004, was estimated to have more than 1,000 employees and approximately $100 million in turnover. [1]. It is owned by communications conglomerate Publicis Groupe.


Its agency statement declares, "MS&L goes well beyond media relations, acting as partners and advisors to its clients, powering their businesses with proven methods and tools for strategic planning, corporate and product branding, corporate reputation, crisis management, and stakeholder relations. ... MS&L is organized around four core areas of expertise - consumer, corporate, healthcare and technology - whose true value is realized not from their specialization, but from their convergence." [2]

Other areas of expertise listed on the Holmes Report agency profile for MS&L include Biotechnology, Cause Related PR, Community Relations, Corporate Image, Crisis management, Environmental PR, Government Agencies, Internet/E-Commerce, Investor Relations, Minority Markets, Public Affairs, Sponsorship, Sports Marketing, and Youth Marketing. [3]

According to PR Week, "The challenge MS&L itself faces is arguably one of bringing some excitement to a firm that has always felt like the reliable workhorse of international PR, rather than the glitzy showman. ... MS&L stood back from the major tech-boom buying sprees that the quoted marketing groups (WPP, Interpublic and Omnicom, mainly) went in for." [4]

Marketer survey finds pay for play widespread

A survey conducted in May 2008 on behalf of MS&L and the trade publication PR Week found that nearly one in five senior marketers "say their organizations have bought advertising in return for a news story." The survey queried 252 U.S. chief marketing officers. "The survey also found that 10 percent of senior marketers said their organizations have had an implicit / non-verbal agreement with a reporter or editor that anticipated favorable coverage of their company or products in exchange for advertising," according to an MS&L press release. MSL's Mark Hass called the widespread use of pay for play "troubling," as "without full disclosure and transparency, media lose credibility and their value as an unbiased source of information." More than half of survey respondents also disagreed with the statement that marketers are "following ethical guidelines in new media more than they did a year ago." [1]

An Army of One

MS&L "was ‘recruited’ to work with the United States Army Recruiting Command in August 2000," according to the Holmes Report. The Army was seeking to replace its "Be All You Can Be” advertising and PR campaign with a new campaign, "to appeal to the changing attitudes and perceptions of Generation Y—the Army’s 17-21 year-old target audience." The new campaign was called "An Army of One." [5]

MS&L's work for the Army "focused on an assortment of influencer groups to:

  • "Increase awareness of the broad array of careers and educational opportunities available in the Army among influencers (e.g. parents, counselors, administrators, clergy, etc.) and high school students
  • "Communicate the message of a cutting edge Army transforming to meet new challenges with changing global threats
  • "Position the soldier as being a part of something bigger than one's self and re-energize soldiers about the Army
  • "Internally communicate the campaign core brand messages and generate excitement in the 'An Army of One' campaign." [6]

MS&L's "minority agency partners" were integral to developing the Army of One campaign: "MS&L staff participated in the Army immersion sessions with Leo Burnett and our minority agency partners. ... This 'greening' meant visiting Army installations to observe soldiers, study the culture and learn the Army language." [7]

The three major Army of One programs that MS&L worked on were the website, the Army's first public relations briefing book, and "synergistic PR activities" around the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers."

For the website, "The troops at MS&L were recruited to witness the transformation of six recruits from civilian to soldier as they prepared for and completed basic training over a 12-week period. Uncut, unfiltered and on the Web, 'Basic Training: The Making of An Army of One' launched February 2, 2001 with reality-based TV commercials, directing viewers to which featured 'Webisodes' unique to the site." [8]

The Army PR briefing book served to unify "the individual voices of more than 4,000 Army Public Affairs Officers into one, consistent voice." The resource included information on "basic public relations, community relations, partnerships, press material templates and external resources." [9]

With the HBO miniseries, "MS&L developed a documentary to cultivate understanding of the Army of One campaign using the Band of Brothers story. Easy Company members and current 101st Airborne Soldiers stories were highlighted presented in first-person style." Working with HBO and TIME/AOL, MS&L also developed "an education kit about leadership development and personal transformation" that featured "biographical profiles of Easy Company members and current 101st Airborne soldiers." The kit was distributed to more than 30,000 teachers and 3 million students. [10]

Voices of Iraq

The week before the 2004 U.S. presidential election, a documentary called "Voices of Iraq" opened in ten cities across the country. MS&L coordinated publicity for the movie, which proved somewhat controversial.

Promotional materials called the movie "innovative," "unprecedented," and "startling." The producers "distributed more than 150 digital video cameras across the country" and then "condensed more than 400 hours of footage." The film promised to make "evident that American opinions - whatever they might be - are based on filtered and occasionally faulty information about the Iraqi people" (October 18, 2004 press release). While announcing that his Magnolia Pictures would distribute the film, Mark Cuban said, "This is the one movie everyone should see before they vote. ... If the war in Iraq is an issue that impacts your vote, you have to see this movie first" (October 19, 2004 press release).

One journalist erroneously describing the film wrote, "People seem happy that Saddam is gone and optimistic that, if the United States stays in Iraq, democracy will prevail. They seem unafraid of bombs going off nearby. People say Saddam funded al Qaeda. Former Iraqi political prisoners are shown laughing off the stories of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib – what Arab man wouldn't want a female American soldier to play with his penis?" [11]

The timing of the movie's release, its tone, and the fact that MS&L promoted it, raised questions about the intent of the movie. "According to MS&L Managing Director Joe Gleason, he and his colleagues also deliver key targeted messages about the war in Iraq to specific constituencies," wrote Eartha Melzer. "Was the left-leaning art house crowd one of those constituencies? Is the government hiring documentary filmmakers to propagandize the U.S. population?" [12]

In addition, the filmmakers received help from the Washington DC-based Iraq Foundation, which receives funding from the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy. The Iraq Foundation helped the filmmakers "figure out how to get around and who to give the cameras to," as well as providing "torture footage." [13]

The producer, Martin Kunert, took exception to Melzer's accusations. He wrote, "If Iraq is a hot topic during the election, Magnolia would have to be dumb to wait until the elections over to release the film. Mark Cuban is not dumb. I also doubt Melzer actually saw the movie, despite her gross generalizations of how Iraqis in the film feel. If she did, she would have seen children at the river-front terrified by a nearby explosions, or Iraqis unhappy with the US and wanting Saddam back. She wrote that Sharif Ali isn't identified in the film. That's because man doesn't appear in the film. So Melzer's multiple misrepresentations of the film arise either from her own deceit, ignorance or agenda." [14]

Regarding MS&L's role in promoting the movie, Kunert added, " ... Are makers of SUV’s, chocolates, and toothpaste hiring documentary filmmakers to propagandize the U.S. population?" [15]

Blog content

The internet related division of MS&L, Hass MS&L, has been hired by the Army to provide "exclusive editorial content" to military bloggers as a response to the "mainstream media's" supposed unwillingness to report any of the good news that comes out of Iraq. [16]

An email from account executive, Charlie Kondeck, to blogger Donald Sensing:

From: “Charlie Kondek”

Sent: Friday, January 06, 2006 3:17 PM
Subject: Exclusive Contact from the Army
Hi, Donald. I’m writing from a PR firm on behalf of the U.S. Army. We’re contacting a few bloggers to test a new outlet for public information. The Army believes that military blogs are a valuable medium for reaching out to soldiers. To that end, the Army plans to offer you and selected bloggers exclusive editorial content on a few issues you’re likely to be interested in. If you do decide you are interested in receiving this material, whether you choose to write about what we send you is, of course, entirely up to you. (I notice you’ve been on a blog sabbatical for a while so am not sure where you stand there.)

Like I said, we’re only contacting a handful of bloggers at this time. If you are interested, please let me know, and we’ll send you further information as it becomes available. Either way, thanks for your time.

Charlie Kondek
Account Executive
Web Producer

Hass MS&L

Ties to Avandia controversy

Following Dr. Steven Nissen's publication of a study warning that "GlaxoSmithKline's diabetes drug Avandia increased the risk of heart attacks by 43% and death from cardiovascular events by possibly 64%," he was publicly pilloried. "More than one story from ostensibly different sources" derisively referred to him as "St Steven," the "Patron Saint of Drug Safety," and "Saint Steven the Pure," reported Evelyn Pringle in an August 2007 CounterPunch article. [17]

Among the Nissen attackers was FDA spokesman Douglas Arbesfeld. Arbesfeld previously worked at the PR firm Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L), helping Glaxo and other "healthcare clients maximize internet-relations." Former FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who ridiculed Nissen in a Wall Street Journal editorial, also consulted for pharmaceutical companies at MS&L. Two more FDA alums, Peter Pitts and Robert Goldberg, mocked Nissen in a Washington Times piece. Pitts is the senior vice-president for global health affairs at MS&L. Goldberg doesn't have ties to the PR firm, but serves with Pitts as an officer of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI), which Pringle describes as a "nest of ex-moles who served the industry in one capacity or another in the Bush Administration's FDA." [18] CMPI is a project of the Pacific Research Institute, a free market think tank.

Other campaigns

According to the Holmes Report, MS&L "handled the bovine growth hormone controversy" in 1999 [19] and "help[ed] Nike address student protests" in 2001. [20]

Another case study explains, "MS&L saw Hurricane Mitch devastation in early 1999 as its opportunity to commit to the hundreds and thousands of Central Americans that journeyed to the United States with hopes of survival and a better life." More specifically, MS&L saw Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Hondurans and others in the U.S. as people with "an urgent need to rebuild their homelands, and no existing brand loyalty to a remittance company." So MS&L encouraged Western Union to undertake a "global community relations project" called "Helping Hands." The campaign resulted in Western Union "exceed[ing] an aggressive 2000 plan by approximately 50% in both revenues and number of transactions and contribut[ing] the greatest percentage of all incremental transactions from Central America" (emphasis in original). [21]

"The Wrinkle Free Laundry Week program, conducted by MS&L on behalf of Procter & Gamble, utilized a guerilla marketing program and word of mouth campaign to generate a buzz about Downy Wrinkle Releaser among college students," the Holmes Report noted in a case study. Initial outreach was done to a "select group of early adopters on college campuses." Then, for five days in the fall of 2000, "Mom-like demonstrators were stationed in campus laundry rooms during peak laundry hours to provide students with free laundry, general laundry care information," and, of course, product samples. [22]

In October 2004, Publicis folded its Publicis Dialog Chicago office into the Chicago MS&L office. "The firms share Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a consumer marketing and public affairs client, which is a primary reason for the merger," reported O'Dwyer's Newsletter. MS&L/Chicago "is in charge of the merged entity which handles Procter & Gamble, U.S. Army and American Dry Bean Board." [23]

In November 2004, O'Dwyer's PR Daily reported, "Former Vice President Al Gore, who chairs Generation Investment Management, has retained Capital MS&L to handle the launch and ongoing communications for his firm dedicated to investing in socially responsible companies. ... Pension funds, high net worth individuals and endowments are among PR targets." [24]

Client list

  • Aventis
  • BACS
  • Baxter Healthcare Corp.
  • BellSouth
  • Capital One Financial Corp.
  • Chiron Corp.
  • Eisai Inc.
  • Eli Lilly & Co.
  • Forest Laboratories, Inc.
  • Fujisawa Corp.
  • GN NetTest
  • Genentech
  • General Motors
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Guardian Insurance
  • Hasbro Games Group
  • Heidelberg
  • Hewitt
  • Hoffmann-La Roche
  • IDG World Expo
  • Intuit
  • J.P. Morgan Private Bank
  • Krystal
  • LeapFrog
  • Mead Johnson
  • Mercury Interactive
  • Midway Entertainment Inc.
  • Nestle
  • Nike, Inc.
  • Pfizer
  • Pharmacia Corp.
  • Philips Medical Systems
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Staples
  • Sunkist Growers
  • Takeda Pharmaceuticals
  • U.S. Army
  • Western Union [25]


From the MS&L website, their "Corporate Staff" include: [26] (Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter, Vol. 38, No. 24, June 15, 2005)

In December 2004, O'Dwyer's PR Daily reported that Bruce MacKenzie had been hired as MS&L's senior VP/director of entertainment and pop culture marketing. The article noted, "MS&L Entertainment has created a marketing program for Swiffer with Maid in Manhattan and has linked Philips Electronics with the Sundance Film Festival." [27]

In April 2005, O'Dwyer's reported that former MS&L CEO Lou Capozzi had been named as the executive chair of the "newly formed Publicis PR and Corporate Communications Group, responsible for 1,300 staffers in 25 countries" (vol. 38, no. 15, April 13, 2005).

In March 2008, journalist Mike Flagg joined the firm as senior vice-president for financial and public affairs issues. "At MS&L, Flagg will counsel clients such as Renewable Fuels Now, Philips, American Public Power Assn. and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation," reported O'Dwyer's. [2]

Contact information


New York office:
1675 Broadway, 9th floor
New York, NY 10019-5865
Phone: 212-468-4200

Washington office:
Two Lafayette Centre
1133 21st NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-467-5187

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Press release, "19% of Senior Marketers - or One in Five - Say Their Organizations Have Bought Advertising in Return for a News Story," Manning Selvage & Lee, July 30, 2008.
  2. "MS&L Gets Flagg," O'Dwyer's PR Daily (sub req'd), March 27, 2008.

External resources

External articles