Baltimore-based Warschawski Public Relations has landed the job as guard and shaper of the corporate reputation for adidas-Salomon AG, the world's second-largest sports apparel and equipment manufacturer.
The eight-person agency will be responsible for counseling adidas' German headquarters on how to strengthen its internal public relations structure and for strategic planning and implementation of initiatives for the sporting goods company. Warschawski also will be responsible for handling all U.S. corporate reputation activities.
"We've always positioned ourselves as a company based in Baltimore, proud of our Baltimore roots but able to provide the quality service that a New York agency can provide," said David Warschawski, founder and president of the firm. "This is further validation that we are able to compete with global agencies, and we win."
Warschawski will lead the local agency's team and report directly to Herbert Heiner, chief operating officer of adidas, and the heads of global marketing and corporate public relations. He said more employees will be hired to handle the increased workload but would not specify how many.
"adidas is a goal-oriented company that is passionate about sports," Heiner said. "We value energy, excitement, expertise and performance at the highest level. It was clear that Warschawski Public Relations shared these qualities with us, as well as an outstanding track record for success."
adidas has turned to the likes of worldwide Hill & Knowlton in the past, so the account is a big win for a small Baltimore firm.
Terms of the contract with adidas, based in Herzogenaurach, Germany, were not disclosed, but industry observers estimated that it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"It may be one of the biggest public relations accounts ever landed in this town," said Bob Leffler, president and owner of the Leffler Agency in Baltimore. "It's a very big deal. I can't remember anyone here ever getting a worldwide public relations account."
"It's unusual for a company of that size, with that kind of high profile to pick what is clearly a boutique agency," said Paul Holmes, editor in chief of the industry publication Inside PR, in New York. "There are certainly those clients who believe that smaller, entrepreneurial firms are more adept at thinking creatively than the multinational agencies. The second reason is that some clients really like to know that the senior management is working on their account."
Nike spends "seven figures" on what he described as an impressive portfolio of top 10 national agencies. Holmes said adidas might spend "six figures."
"adidas' brand profile in this country is nowhere near as high as Nike's except in some narrow categories like soccer," Holmes said. "My guess is that they're trying to increase brand visibility."
Holmes said he was not aware of any controversies involving the sporting goods company. "I don't think they've had the same kind of sweat shop issues that Nike has had," he said.
But Gregory Sherry, president of the Sherry Group, a Parsippany, N.J., public relations firm, said that because of the publicity about Nike, the entire industry has to be cautious about where its products are made.
"Image management is a very important issue for the entire footwear industry," he said. "If you look at the cost of producing the product and what the products sell for, you can see the incredible effort these companies are putting into marketing and advertising."
Warschawski, founded in 1996, counts among its clients: STX, the world's largest lacrosse equipment and apparel manufacturer; the National Jewish Outreach Program; and the Restaurant Association of Maryland.
Warschawski, who was born in Basel, Switzerland, and speaks both Swiss German and High German, already has several European-based clients including: Innoventis, an international management development and education company, and Synergen, a manufacturer of sports nutrition supplement products. Both are based in Switzerland.
Although Warschawski had met an adidas executive board member five years ago, his relationship with the company solidified in April with a call from a top executive asking for help in solving a minor media crisis. It was the break Warschawski needed to prove what he and his small Baltimore agency could do.
The adidas win is part of Warschawski's strategy of making a name for himself in the sports public relations arena by year's end. The adidas account, along with the recent winning of STX, allows Warschawski to check off two of the clients on his short wish list, he said. He declined to reveal the name of the single remaining client on his list or the status of his dealings with that potential client.
adidas' North American subsidiary has its headquarters in Portland, Ore. adidas-Salomon has more than 100 subsidiaries and employs more than 12,000 people worldwide. A sponsor of many athletic events, adidas is an official sponsor of the Olympics.
Warschawski as a privately held company does not release financial information or details of its contracts with clients.