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Manning Selvage & Lee (Ms&L) Business Information, Profile, and History

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Company Perspectives:

At MS&L, we challenge our clients and ourselves to expect more fr om public relations.

History of Manning Selvage & Lee (Ms&L)

A subsidiary of Paris-based Publicis Groupe S.A., one of the world's largest advertising and media services conglomerates, Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) is a public relations firm that concentrates on major corporate clients in four specialties: consumer marketing, cor porate, health care, and technology. Services offered include brandin g, audience insights, message development, and the evaluation of the effectiveness of a public relations campaign. Major MS&L clients include Eli Lilly & Company, General Motors, Hasbro, JP Morgan, N estle, Pfizer, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Western Union, and the U.S. Army. In addition to its headquarters in New York City, MS&L maintains approximately 40 other offices: 11 in North America, inclu ding Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, and Toronto; tw o in Latin America; 16 in Europe, including London, Berlin, Paris, an d Rome; seven in the Asia Pacific region, including Beijing, Hong Kon g, and Tokyo; and a Middle East/Africa office in Dubai, United Arab E mirates. In addition, MS&L has 62 affiliates located around the w orld.

Public Relations Emerges in Early 1900s

The public relations (PR) profession grew out of the work of the pres s agents and publicists who in the main came from the newspaper field , promoting theatrical performances, circuses, boxing and wrestling m atches, and other public spectacles. With the rise of the mass-circul ation newspapers and magazines, progressive reformers around 1900 sou ght to harness the power of the media to shape public opinion. The go vernment followed suit when in the mid-1910s it endeavored to mobiliz e support of America's entry in World War I. The Committee on Public Information that was created for this purpose would serve as a traini ng ground for many of the PR specialists who plied the trade after th e war in the service of corporations. During the war many of the tech niques of contemporary mass manipulation were developed, including th e news release, emotional appeals through advertising, the use of mot ion pictures (albeit silent), the enlistment of local "opinion leader s," and even the manufacture of "grassroots" campaigns. Among these e arly practitioners of public relations was Ivy Lee, credited with the development of the modern press release, but also castigated for his work in rehabilitating clients despised by the public, such as John D. Rockefeller, whose reputation went from robber baron to grandfathe rly philanthropist. A nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, provid e the profession with it first theorist. Borrowing from his uncle's i deas about human behavior, Bernays developed concepts on how the opin ions of the masses could be shaped. In his 1928 book, Propaganda,< /I> he wrote: "Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country." In his work for the tobacco industry in the 1920s, Bern ays was able to persuade a large number of women to take up smoking b y cleverly equating it with a demand for women's rights.

Following the stock market crash of 1929 that ushered in the Great De pression of the 1930s, American business was not held in high esteem by the public, offering public relations practitioners a wealth of bu siness opportunities. In 1933 James P. Selvage (later of Manning Selv age & Lee) became a press agent and later public relations direct or for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which strongl y objected to President Roosevelt's progressive "New Deal" legislatio n. Part of Selvage's mandate was to create a public relations campaig n "for the dissemination of sound American doctrines to the public." To achieve this end, Selvage created cartoons similar to the "Ripley' s Believe it or Not" concept to present amazing facts about private e nterprise and the American way of life; commissioned college professo rs to write newspaper columns criticizing the economic underpinnings of the New Deal; published the You and Industry series of book lets for schools and the weekly school publication And Young Ameri ca, which offered articles that put capitalism in the most favora ble light. NAM also produced material for the movie theaters, such as the ten-minute episodes of America Marches On narrated by Low ell Thomas, portraying America as history's greatest industrial syste m. Selvage also utilized radio, creating a 15-minute program called The American Family Robinson, which centered on the lives of th e Robinsons of the manufacturing city of Centerville, caught up in th e problems of the Depression. With businessmen portrayed as heroes an d labor organizers as villains, the clear message was that the free e nterprise system would set things right. The more overt purpose of th e show, according to Selvage, was to serve as "industry's effective a nswer to the Utopian promises of theorists and demagogues at present reaching such vast audiences via the radio." In all likelihood he cou nted the president himself among that number, since Roosevelt had pro ven adept at using radio, especially in his famous "fireside chats." Selvage would more directly oppose Roosevelt from 1943 to 1944, servi ng as the press agent for the Republican National Committee.

Late 1990s Launch of Selvage & Lee

In 1938 Selvage struck out on his own to start his own PR firm. He wa s soon joined by Morris M. Lee, Jr., information director for NAM and a former public relations executive at International Telephone & Telegraph, and the firm took the name Selvage & Lee. In the mid- 1960s a third partner was added, James Stuart Howard, who had worked in his family's Cleveland PR firm, Edward Howard & Sons for nearl y 20 years before moving to New York City to join Selvage and Lee. Th e firm now took the name Selvage, Lee & Howard, its focus on corp orate and investor relations.

MS&L was formed in 1972 when Selvage & Lee merged with Farley Manning Associates and Howard's name was dropped. Farley Manning Ass ociates was formed in 1954 by Farley Alden Manning, who started as a reporter in 1931, but became involved in public relations after joini ng the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942, working under General James Dooli ttle for the Eighth Air Force. Following the war he became a senior a ccount executive for New York's Dudley, Anderson, Yutzy, Public Relat ions, a position he held until forming his own PR firm.

The merger with Farley Manning Associates added consumer product and science/health practices to the firm. Following the merger, Manning s erved as MS&L's president and chairman and began expanding the op eration. In 1975 an office in Washington, D.C., was added through the acquisition of Rainey, McEnroe & Manning; MS&L/Chicago was e stablished through the purchase of Herb Kraus company; and a Pacific division was created through the acquisition of Paul Spindler & C ompany. The third of what contemporary MS&L considers its three p redecessor companies, Bell & Stanton, was brought into the fold t hrough a 1976 merger, adding an Atlanta office to the firm and furthe r capabilities in consumer products. It had been established by Alan Bell and Edward Stanton in 1956.

While MS&L was expanding its expertise and offices in the 1970s, advertising agencies began to see the value of having public relation s capabilities and began buying the top PR firms. The seventh largest in the industry, MS&L employed some 130 people at offices in New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Atlanta ; and San Antonio. In addition, it partially owned a Toronto office a nd was involved in a joint venture in London. MS&L also had a ste rling reputation as a Blue Chip PR firm, having served 60 of the Fort une 500 companies, making it a desirable acquisition. In 1980 MS& L was bought by one of the world's largest advertising agencies, Bent on & Bowles, Inc. Fanning subsequently retired, and was succeeded by Robert Schwartz, named president and chief executive officer.

Global Expansion Begins in 1980s

With the deep pockets of a corporate parent, MS&L began to expand globally in the 1980s. The globalization trend began in the 1970s as American PR firms began serving the needs of multinational clients. MS&L inherited the Benton & Bowles public relations operation s in West Germany in 1980, giving the firm a presence in Europe, but MS&L's worldwide expansion did not really accelerate until after Benton & Bowles merged with D'Arcy MacManus Masius Worldwide in N ovember 1985, creating D'Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles Inc. (DMB& B) In the meantime, MS&L had beefed up its Washington, D.C. opera tion with the 1984 acquisition of Bill Rolle and Associates. Before t he end of 1985, MS&L added a toehold in Australia by purchasing a 35 percent stake in Royce Australia. Three years the firm acquired a 51 percent controlling interest in the business. In 1987 MS&L op ened a London office and a year later announced that it planned to st rengthened its presence in Europe and looked to take equity positions in affiliated shops in the market. The strategy, in part, was to hav e public relations handled by nationals of a country, and by taking a n equity position in an affiliate rather than buying complete control MS&L conferred upon a shop the kind of autonomy that would allow it to better compete in its local market. Kay Berger, director of Eu ropean operations, told the press, "There is a strong desire on our p art to be a global agency. We have also been requested by clients to provide a global service." Working through a network of affiliates wa s a major part of the plan to develop this global reach.

In the early 1990s, MS&L was especially aggressive in pursuing it s worldwide aspirations. In 1990 it became involved in Tokyo, enterin g into a joint venture with Tokyu Agences Intl. & Kyodo P.R. to f orm Tokyu/MS&L. In that same year, MS&L bought a 25 percent i nterest in a Dutch affiliate, Adviesbureaur en Van Der Mey in The Hag ue. In 1991, MS&L's parent company bought RSL/France to create RS L/MS&L. The firm was also active domestically during the early 19 90s. In 1992 it acquired a Los Angeles-based Hispanic PR firm, Moya V illenueva, which was folded into MS&L's Los Angeles office. Then, the firm beefed up its Washington, D.C., operation, which was in sor e need of an upgrade in order to attract the very important business that was available in the nation's capital. Capitoline International Group Ltd., formed in 1991 by defections from Hill & Knowlton, wa s acquired by MS&L in January 1994, creating Capitoline-MS&L.

MS&L experienced some of its own attrition in the Atlanta office in July 1995 when several executives quit to form their own PR firm, Jackson Spalding Ledlie. MS&L tried to stop the move, claiming th e former employees stole company secrets as well as top clients, but it failed to convince a federal judge to issue a restraining order. J ackson Spalding Ledlie countersued, alleging slander. After 20 months of legal wrangling, on the eve of a trial the two parties reached an out-of-court settlement, both agreeing to drop all claims and counte rclaims. In the meantime, the MS&L Atlanta office had regained so me its lost business by acquiring another local PR agency, which brou ght with it several health care clients and $850,000 in billings.

MS&L's corporate parent changed its name to The McManus Group, In c., in 1996, and took steps to bring order to its far-flung collectio n of ad agencies and PR assets. Three years later MacManus merged wit h the Leo Group, parent of Chicago's Leon Burnett Company, Inc., crea ting an even larger entity in the rapidly consolidating advertising i ndustry. The new company took the name Bcom3. Also in 1999, MS&L completed an acquisition of its own, buying Agnew, Carter, McCarthy, a 20-year-old Boston-based PR firm.

The 2000s saw even more consolidation among communication companies. In September 2002, Bcom3 was bought by France's Publicis Groupe, resu lting in the world's fourth largest communications company, with oper ations in more than 100 countries spread across five continents.

Regardless of who owned the firm, MS&L continued to expand during the 2000s. In 2001 it moved into the investor relations field by acq uiring Los Angeles-based Pondel/Wilkinson Group, which also maintaine d a key office in Washington, D.C. A year later MS&L filled in ot her gaps by adding six affiliates to its network, including Imre Comm unications of Baltimore; Morningstar Communications in Kansas, City, Kansas; Richard French & Associates in Raleigh, North Carolina; S trother Communications Group in Minneapolis; the Workman Company in S t. Louis, and Schroder & Schombs Public Relations GmbH, in Berlin . One area that MS&L had shied away from had been high-tech. That discretion paid off following the burst of the dot com bubble. Havin g avoided taking on the debt that saddled rivals, MS&L in the ear ly years of the 2000s was well positioned to continue its global expa nsion.

Principal Operating Units: Consumer Marketing; Corporate; Heal th Care; Technology.

Principal Competitors: Burson-Marsteller; Edelman; Hill & Knowlton, Inc.


  • Key Dates:
  • 1938: Selvage & Lee is founded.
  • 1972: Selvage & Lee merges with Farley Manning Associates, creating Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L).
  • 1976: Bell & Stanton is acquired.
  • 1980: Benton & Bowles acquires the firm.
  • 1987: London office opens.
  • 1991: Paris office opens.
  • 1996: MS&L becomes part of the McManus Group.
  • 1999: McManus merges with Leo Burnett, creating Bcom3 Group In c.
  • 2002: MS&L becomes a part of Publicis Groupe when the latt er acquires Bcom3; Bcom3 is dissolved but MS&L remains a subsidia ry of Publicis.

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