Ex-city official forms her own PR firm

The Baltimore Sun

Public relations veteran Sandy Hillman has started her own firm after leaving Trahan, Burden and Charles, the Baltimore advertising and PR firm where she was vice chairman.

Hillman said yesterday that she left the company because she wanted to focus exclusively on strategic communications and public relations and "not have the responsibilities of the broader agency."

Her departure last week is prompting changes at TBC since some clients and workers are moving with Hillman.

During her 23-year tenure at TBC, Hillman held a number of positions, including chief executive officer. Previously, Hillman directed Baltimore's Office of Promotion and Tourism and was a key adviser to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer when he was mayor from 1971 to 1986.

"One day, you're sort of comfortable in your own skin and you wake up and say, 'You know what? If I had my druthers, what would I do?' I think that's what happened," said Hillman, who called her tenure at TBC wonderful. "I woke up one day and [said] this is what I like to do. I told my partners. Fortunately for me, I was able to do it."

Hillman, 66, said she began talking to her partners about her plans in July.

She expects some of her past clients at TBC to move their business to the new firm, Sandy Hillman Communications.

The new firm is to be run out of a temporary office on Security Boulevard starting today. Hillman named Harrah's Entertainment as one client who moved its business to her new firm.

Hillman declined to specify the others that she expected would follow.

She said 11 of 13 employees from TBC's PR department also will move to her new firm.

Tom Hollerbach, TBC's president, said his agency will stay in the public relations business, formerly run by Hillman, which is being expanded to include events and sports marketing. TBC also offers advertising and media buying services.

Brent Burkhardt, senior vice president of public relations, has been promoted to executive vice president and managing director to oversee TBC's public relations department, Hollerbach said. TBC also hired Howe Burch, a former Reebok vice president of marketing, to head sports and events marketing.

"Once Sandy indicated that she no longer wanted to remain in the partnership, we started thinking about where we wanted to take the company," Hollerbach said. "We wanted to broaden the company and give [clients] more options."

Hollerbach acknowledged some clients and employees are expected to join Hillman but said it's too early to say how many.

Clients such as the Maryland State Lottery and TBC's largest public relations account, health care provider MinuteClinic, are expected to stay with the advertising agency, Hollerbach said. And less than 10 employees have resigned to work for Hillman, he said. TBC has 100 employees.

Hillman's contract allowed her to solicit TBC clients but prohibited her from pursuing employees, Hollerbach said.

Jayme Wood, formerly an account supervisor at TBC, said she resigned yesterday morning to join Hillman at the new firm.

"I really have a great affinity to TBC as an agency but I worked for Sandy for almost 10 years and I have a great loyalty to her," Wood said. "I have a lot of friends back at the agency and have only good feelings about it."

TBC has won a number of awards, including top honors from the Public Relations Society of America for its work on the launch of Port Discovery in 1999.


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