John W. Hill: Builder of an Enduring Legacy
Like his fellow pioneer and longtime friend, Pendleton Dudley, John Wiley Hill was born and reared in agricultural America (the 1900 census was the nation's first to show more people employed in industry than in agriculture) and like Dudley, Hill built a successful career as a public relations counselor to corporate giants of industrial America. Unlike Dudley's agency that faded from the scene in the late 1980s, Hill's public relations firm, Hill and Knowlton, Inc., continues as one of the world's largest public relations firms. Of all the major firms started by the innovative band of men in the post World War I era, only one other still survives -- Ketchum that Public Relations, Inc., which had its genesis when Carlton and George Ketchum opened a publicity office in Pittsburgh in 1919. The brothers split in 1923, Carlton going on to build a highly successful fund-raising firm and George an equally successful advertising and public relations agency.
John Hill's career reflects the growth of public relations from an uncertain shaky publicity vocation into the large and vital field of endeavor that today employs some 150,000 persons in the United States and exerts a powerful influence on American society and on international relations. When John Hill opened what he defined at the time as a "corporate publicity office", in 1927, he rented an office for $100 a month and paid for one tenth of the time of a secretary in a joint office arrangement. In July 1980, the Hill and Knowlton firm he built was sold to the J. Walter Thompson Group for $28 million. Reflecting the growing internationalization and merger of advertising and public relations firms, the J. Walter Thompson Group was brought by the England-based WPP Group for $585 million in 1987. If he were alive, John Hill would boggle at these numbers.