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Our History


Anthony (Tony) Franco founds Anthony M. Franco Inc., a public relations counseling firm operating out of the historic Book Building. The firm opens with three employees serving four accounts.


Anthony M. Franco Inc. gains momentum and lands Stroh’s, a Detroit institution and one of the agency’s most prominent clients throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Other notable clients of the time include Domino’s Pizza and Kmart, homegrown brands that the agency helps expand in their formative years.


Anthony M. Franco Inc. signs Touche Ross & Co. (now Deloitte), signaling the start of the agency’s longest client relationship.


Anthony M. Franco Inc. is the first Michigan public relations firm to be recognized among J. R. O’Dwyer Company’s top 40 independent national firms. The agency remains fully independent to this day.


Anthony M. Franco Inc. departs the Book Building for the newly constructed Detroit Renaissance Center, becoming one of the building’s original tenants. Soon after, the agency begins representing the building’s property management group, the Westin Hotel and the national law firm Dykema. Franco represents the GMRENCEN to this day.


Dan Ponder, who currently serves as Franco’s chairman, joins Anthony M. Franco Inc. as its chief financial officer, beginning a period of expanded services and growth through new collaborations, acquisitions and ownership changes for the firm.


Tony Franco personally signs a consent decree with the SEC agreeing that he would not engage in insider trading of publicly traded securities. Because Tony had just become president of PRSA – National this big news cast a shadow on Tony and the firm for years to come.


Franco forms Covideo, a video subsidiary of Franco. Steve Friedman becomes its president. During the same year Ross Roy Communications, a Detroit based Advertising Agency, invests in Franco. Over the next few years Franco opens satellite offices in New York and Cleveland. By 1990 Ross Roy Communications completes 100% acquisition of Franco.


Dan Ponder leads a management buyout of Anthony M. Franco Inc. from Ross Roy Communications including shareholders Chuck Ragains, George Sepetys, Steve Friedman and Lisa Vallee-Smith. The company’s name changes to Franco Public Relations Group – emphasizing a team approach. Tony Franco retires from Franco.


Franco Public Relations Group helps launch the first Starbucks location in Michigan at the Somerset Collection in Troy. This is one of many retailers the agency will help launch in Detroit. Among the many other well-known food and beverage brands the agency has supported are Applebee’s, Buddy’s Pizza, Granite City, Hard Rock Café, Jolly Pumpkin, Miller Lite, Olive Garden, Panera Bread and Punch Bowl Social.


Franco Public Relations Group signs the Detroit Auto Show (now the North American International Auto Show) as a client and positions it as a world class motor show on par with Geneva, Paris and Frankfort. This is a highlight of the agency’s robust automotive client practice, which has included such firms as DENSO, Alpine Electronics, Brembo, Haartz Corp., the Steel Market Development Institute and Yazaki North America.


As the world enters the new millennium, Franco is at a crossroad as to whether it should remain a full-service generalist agency focusing on a broad portfolio of accounts and industries or become a high-tech agency focusing on high-tech clients like Microsoft. Franco makes the decision to remain true to its mission as a full-service generalist agency and spins off its high-tech clients, including Microsoft, to Franco’s then-president Lisa Vallee-Smith.


Franco Public Relations Group plays a key role in organizing Detroit’s pitch for Super Bowl XL. Maria Leonhauser becomes Franco’s president and a shareholder in the company.


Franco Public Relations Group acquires longtime competitor PR Associates.


Franco Public Relations Group assists DTE with the unprecedented spinoff of its transmission business to form ITC Holdings Corp. Just months later, the second most widespread blackout in U.S. history occurs, impacting more than 50 million people across the U.S. and Canada. With Franco’s assistance, ITC gains national attention by helping the media and public understand why the power grid failed. ITC Holdings Corp. remains Franco’s client to this day.


Franco Public Relations Group welcomes The Salvation Army as a client, continuing the agency’s dedication to nonprofits that enhance the community, dating back to Tony Franco’s long-term support of the Boy Scouts of America. Franco has proudly supported a variety of nonprofits including the Belle Isle Conservancy, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, Hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice, Life Remodeled, Justin Verlander’s Wins for Warriors and Metro Detroit Youth Day.


As the economic downturn creates an automotive industry crisis, Franco Public Relations Group’s diverse client base – including Comerica Bank, ITC Holdings, Inc., DatafactZ, Panera Bread and The Salvation Army – helps it remain strong.


Franco Public Relations Group welcomes Buddy’s Pizza as a client to help grow their brand awareness. Today, the Original Detroit-Style Pizza creator is an iconic and nationally celebrated name in the food industry.


Tina Kozak succeeds Maria Leonhauser as president of Franco. Like Tony Franco and Dan Ponder, Kozak’s dedication to the community is reflected in her charitable work with organizations like the Belle Isle Conservancy, the Detroit Regional Chamber and Life Remodeled.


The North American steel industry partners with Franco to reinforce steel’s position in the auto industry. This evolved into an ongoing partnership that leveraged Franco’s integrated communications approach and included strategic partnerships with automakers and media associations. Program results surpassed established KPIs.


In his 30th “Francoversary” year, Dan Ponder is honored with Michigan State University’s Executive MBA Alumni of the Decade Award. Dan’s longtime commitment to community service includes serving as vice chair of St. John Providence Health System, chair of the Michigan Chamber, treasurer of the Detroit Regional Chamber Executive Committee and chair of Crime Stoppers of Michigan. He also serves on the advisory boards for The Salvation Army and the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command.


Franco Public Relations Group rebrands as Franco to highlight the company’s full-service capabilities beyond public relations while maintaining the well-known Franco name. A new visual identity created under the guidance of artist Dominic Pangborn reflects this change as well as Franco’s evolving full-service focus that includes social media, marketing, graphic design and video production.


With bubbling optimism for Detroit and the people who call it home, Franco launches the “Detroit Inspires Me” campaign to capture and share Detroiters’ passion for the Motor City.


In 2019, Nikki Little re-joined Franco as director of strategy to lead integrated communications efforts for the agency and clients. Nikki previously worked at Franco from 2007-2010. Nikki’s hiring was part of CEO Tina Kozak’s strategic vision of evolving Franco from a PR agency to an integrated communications agency. 


As part of Franco’s evolution to an integrated communications agency, leadership initiates a program to have employees obtain the PESO Model™ certification. This initial investment later expands into a scholarship program for students to complete the certification. Franco’s investment in integrated communications education for its team and clients results in more business and industry recognition through awards for successful integrated programs.


Franco moves closer to its 2025 strategic vision with two key executive appointments: Tina Kozak is promoted from president to chief executive officer and Tina Benvenuti Sullivan is promoted from executive vice president and chief operating officer to president and chief operating officer. Dan Ponder continues to serve as an active chairman and remains the firm’s majority shareholder.

Kozak becomes third person, and the first woman, to serve as CEO in Franco’s 57-year history.


Franco strengthens its auto/mobility practice with the addition of Brent Snavely as VP of media relations. Franco’s growing auto and mobility client programs include Tier 1 suppliers, like Nexteer Automotive, along with software and solutions companies like automotiveMastermind and Envorso.


Franco celebrates 60 years in business and remains Michigan’s longest-standing PR agency. The company remains rooted in PR, but has evolved to become an integrated communications agency that builds strategic programs for clients in a variety of industries with a local, national and global reach. 


In early 2024, an ownership transition was completed from former Chairman Dan Ponder to CEO Tina Kozak, who became the majority shareholder and owner of Franco. Tina Sullivan and Nikki Little remain minority shareholders in the business. With the completed ownership transition, Franco became a women-owned organization.