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Companies Of A Century: Harte Hanks’ Pivots And Pivots

Now a global marketing solutions company, Harte Hanks managed to survive wave after wave of change in the media industry.

Editor’s Note: Chief Executive is kicking off a new annual tradition this year by celebrating every sizable (over $100 million in annual revenues) standalone company turning 100 in 2023. Check out the rest of this year’s class for tips, insights and, above all else, the inspiration you need to keep going….and going.

 

MARKETING & ADVERTISING 

HARTE HANKS

HQ: Chelmsford, Massachusetts
Revenues: $206 million
Employees: 2,293 

Global marketing solutions company Harte Hanks almost didn’t make it to the century mark. The company hit a rough patch in 2019, suffering from declining revenue and high infrastructure and fixed costs. The onset of the global pandemic did not help. 

But this is a company that has seen a lot—and learned to survive—over the decades and across wave after wave of change in the media industry. They plan to keep it that way. “Looking forward, we are very enthusiastic about the foundation we have in place and the opportunities ahead of us,” Jack Griffin, chairman of the board, said in a recent statement announcing a new CEO for the firm. “Harte Hanks is a 100-year-old company, and we’re evolving to drive improved results for our shareholders and customers for the next 100 years.” 

Company founders Houston Harte and Bernard Hanks, two young newspapermen, grew the company into a Texas media power over 50 years by buying up newspapers across the state, including the Abilene Reporter-News, San Angelo Standard, Harlingen Star, Corpus Christi Times, San Antonio Express-News (sold a few years later to Rupert Murdoch) and others.

In 1972, the company went public for the first time and used the capital to binge on deals. By 1980, they owned 29 daily and 68 weekly newspapers across the U.S., as well as a slew of television and radio stations in places as far-flung as Jacksonville, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Change, Now Change Again

It was not to last. In 1997, when all signs seemed to portend industry decline, the company managed to exit media and expand into database marketing, CRM and digital marketing in the ’90s and early aughts. Again, they went back to their pivot playbook and went all in on M&A, buying up a string of U.K. based marketing firms, like Mason Zimble, Strange & Dawson and Information Arts.

But the rapid pace of change and increasing competition from online natives made for rough going through the 2010s, even before the pandemic downturn kicked off yet another struggle to refinance and restructure operations. On June 19, 2023, the company announced media-industry veteran Kirk Davis would be its new CEO, succeeding Brian Linscott, who had served as chief since 2021.

“The opportunity to join a company with a 100-year lifespan, that has continued to evolve to meet the shifting needs of its many customers, is remarkable,” Davis said in a statement announcing his hiring. “I’ve dedicated my career to building value and growth in similar multichannel enterprises, and I’m excited to be part of this legacy company’s next chapter.” Stay tuned.


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