Bender/Helper Impact, a West L.A. PR firm, has formed a partnership with agencies in nine countries to provide services for entertainment industry clients looking to expand globally.

Called Surround Group, the venture includes agencies focused on media relations, digital marketing and social media. Potential clients include game publishers, independent film production companies, entertainment-related websites, and manufacturers of consumer goods based on movie or TV licenses.

The general partners are Bender/Helper and Indigo Pearl, an agency in Hamburg, Germany. The alliance also includes agencies in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, India and Mexico.

Lee Helper, Bender/Helper president, said that the common use for networks of independent PR agencies is to refer business to each other. This arrangement goes further, putting agencies in position to collaborate and share their specific PR skills as well as their cultural expertise with new clients over the long term.

“Each company is focused on a region in addition to the best practices of its discipline,” he said. “Several Bender/Helper clients have expressed interest in a centrally managed approach to PR, digital marketing and advertising for global projects.”

For example, an independent movie producer could call Surround Group to coordinate film festival appearances in Europe, Latin America and the United States; game publishers could tap into its experts to launch online campaigns for a new title in multiple languages.

Bender added that the partnership gives every agency a financial incentive to cooperate and perform.

“All partners have skin in the game,” he said.

Bender/Helper clients include THQ, Fox Licensing, Lions Gate and Sony.

Play Responsibly

Tequila brand El Jimador has hired Alexi Lalas, former coach of the L.A. Galaxy soccer team, as its spokesman. Lalas will make appearances at events throughout 2012 and will support the brand’s responsible drinking message.

The Manhattan Beach resident was let go by the Galaxy in 2008 and currently works as a soccer analyst for ESPN.

El Jimador is already the official tequila sponsor of Major League Soccer, and the men’s and women’s U.S. national teams. Those deals provide plenty of pre- and postgame events where Lalas can draw a crowd.

“Every player knows the importance of being responsible on and off the field,” Lalas said in a statement. “I look forward to reaching soccer fans across the nation with this message.”

EKA Expansion

Gary Townsend has become a partner at downtown L.A. lobbying and public policy firm Englander Knabe & Allen.

Townsend recently retired after 22 years as chief deputy assessor for Los Angeles County. Previously, he worked as chief deputy to Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Woo and district director for the late Rep. Marty Martinez.

In his new job, Townsend will lobby for EKA at the local level and also work with non-profit clients on fundraising efforts.

“He has been successfully solving problems for taxpayers and constituents his entire professional life,” Harvey Englander, managing partner at EKA, said in a statement. “Gary will assist our clients with the most effective strategic ideas and direction to ensure successful outcomes.”

Reaching Out

ReachLocal, an online marketing service in Woodland Hills, has hired Kris Barton as chief product officer. He was formerly chief operating officer at software publisher Nero, and held executive positions at Microsoft and Novell.

In his new job, Barton will supervise development of new products and pursue international markets for ReachLocal’s current line of do-it-yourself marketing services.

In its most recent quarterly filing, the publicly traded company reported 57 percent revenue growth for international markets compared with the same quarter a year earlier. Overall, the company had 24 percent revenue growth for the quarter.

Agencies & Accounts

Levine Communications Office has signed a string of media clients including singer Debbie Gibson, who will be a guest on the upcoming season of reality show “Celebrity Apprentice”; TV and radio weathercaster Jackie Johnson; and actor Verne Troyer, famous for his role as Mini-Me in the Austin Powers films. … Phelps Group in Santa Monica has hired Alex Perez as team leader for Hispanic marketing communications. Previously, Perez was an account director for ad agency Lopez Negrete Communications in Houston, where he managed Wal-Mart’s Hispanic national account. At Phelps, he will work with existing clients such as Ikea and Wells Fargo. … LuxeYard, an online home furnishings e-commerce company, has retained PondelWilkinson Inc. in Century City as its investor relations firm. PondelWilkinson will facilitate coverage in the financial media as well as act as a corporate communication consultancy. Braden Richter, chief executive of Marina Del Rey-based LuxeYard, said PondelWilkinson’s expertise in e-commerce and the introduction of new publicly traded companies cemented the account. … Downtown L.A. public affairs firm Fiona Hutton & Associates has hired Alison Joob as account executive. Joob will manage client accounts with emphasis on coalition building and advocacy. She previously worked at Dewey Square Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public issues agency. … VPE Public Relations, a Hispanic agency in South Pasadena, has added Hulu and Valley Presbyterian Hospital to its client list. The agency will handle national and regional media relations, and launch Spanish-language websites for these clients. … Murphy O’Brien, a Santa Monica agency that caters to hospitality clients, has four new local accounts: Seaside Luxe, an L.A. architecture firm that designs boutique stores at resorts worldwide; Westlake Village Inn; Ojai Valley Inn & Spa; and Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa.

Staff reporter Joel Russell can be reached at jrussell@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 237.

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