Just what the world needs — bigger and better flacking. But what is being described to me as the largest U.S. entertainment and lifestyle public relations and marketing company will be created on January 1. That’s because, on December 7, the powerful PR brand PMK/HBH announced to its staff that it was merging with the even more powerful PR brand BNC. Both are owned by worldwide advertising and marketing giant InterPublic, which blessed the union when the pair began negotiations about two months ago.

I’ve learned that the combined PR firms will represent more than 160 staffers, gross billings over $70 million and fees of about $35 million. “The idea was that during these transformational times right now we wanted a game-changer,” an insider explained to me. “It will change the PR landscape in Hollywood.” Certainly, it’s a logical fit in terms of skill sets and client rosters, with little duplication — which is why the bigwigs aren’t “anticipating” any layoffs.

But there were defections no one expected.

In a surprise move, two major PMK/HBH founders, Robin Baum and Stephen Huvane, the “B” and the first “H” in HBH, which was a longtime stand-alone firm before it merged with PMK, announced their resignations because they don’t want to be part of the union. (Miscellaneous fact: Baum and BNC’s Michael Nyman — the “N” in BNC — were once married 20 years ago.)

PMK/HBH found out from my post that morning that Baum and Huvane were going to work with Ina Treciokas, the former ID PR bigwig who left in 2008 to start her own agency. Baum’s high-profile clients include Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, while Huvane’s include Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Even with those big losses, the combined PMK/HBH-BNC client roster is large and deep and comprises some 350 clients including, in no particular order: Matt Damon, Katherine Heigl, Courteney Cox, Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Ridley Scott, Sam Mendes, Cameron Diaz, Jessica Simpson, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Eva Mendes, Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, Jimmy Kimmel, Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Serena Williams, Brooke Shields, Shia LeBeouf, Chris Pine, Colin Farrell, Glenn Close, Zach Braff, Tracy Morgan, Shonda Rhimes, Bill Lawrence, House, Community, Mandeville Films and the Emmys as well as Audi, Nintendo, Amazon, Target, Samsung, and M.A.C cosmetics.

On December 4, PMK/HBH president Nate Schreiber announced his resignation in advance of the merger. Also leaving is New York–based publicist Alan Eichorn. But my sources claim that resignation had been in the works for some time and is not related to the merger.

And I’ve learned that Andy Gelb, executive VP for events, is taking his team and following Baum and Huvane. That’s a big loss because Gelb, et al, do the SAG awards, the American Music Awards and the Tonys every year. Clearly, there are birthing pains. But even rival PR companies were telling me, “This merger makes a lot of sense. PMK, while an awesome brand, can use the management expertise that BNC provides.”

Most of Hollywood may be out of work because of lagging production and massive layoffs, but the major and even minor studios are making money like never before. By December 7, 2009’s domestic cumulative had already topped 2008’s yearlong record haul of $9.626 billion. And this Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday movie season hasn’t even released much-hyped Avatar or Sherlock yet. But what has opened has done ridiculously well considering that these top earners are really lousy pics.

Take Sony Pictures’ 2012, a runaway No. 1, which has taken in a staggering $666.2 million worldwide to date even though it’s not a previously established brand or franchise or best-selling novel. Instead, it’s yet another in a long line of Roland Emmerich catastrophe films that received dismal reviews yet an “A” Cinemascore for moviegoers under 18.

And it was expensive: Its production budget ballooned well over $300 million, and Emmerich receives 25 percent of the gross.

The great numbers for 2012 prove once again the irrelevance of movie critics and bad buzz, and the effectiveness of early and relentless marketing. Not to mention everyone’s seemingly insatiable appetite for world annihilation especially when it targets iconic landmarks. Really, how many times can you get away with destroying the White House? But it was okay to take out the Vatican, even with the pontiff on the balcony, but not to demolish a sacred Muslim shrine. (Emmerich’s colleagues freaked out about a possible fatwa — and the latter idea was dropped.)

Then there’s New Moon, the sequel in Summit Entertainment’s campy and trashy Twilight saga. Its worldwide cume is an insane $576 million for a pic with no stars and just a $50 million budget. Hollywood was stunned as night after night the New Moon numbers during its opening weekend kept breaking even four-quadrant Dark Knight and Harry Potter film records. Stephenie Meyer’s vampire and werewolf novels are now as much of a pop cultural phenomenon as comic books and J.K. Rowling for source material at the box office.

Two-quadrant New Moon also has shown that when female audiences support a film, it can absolutely dominate box office. New Moon was selling more than 10 online tickets per second before its opening and became No. 1 on the list of the Top 10 Advance Ticket Sellers of All Time, unseating the Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises.

Here’s how: Although Summit switched up directors from Catherine Hardwicke to Chris Weitz, it kept screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and, of course, the principal cast — the permanently depressed heartthrobs Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart. And, always, the filmmakers pandered to the fans between the time that Twilight left theaters and New Moon began filming. When the New Moon trailer was released online, it scored 5.8 million views in the first 24 hours, demonstrating the fans’ pent-up demand. Right before the sequel was released, Summit marketed New Moon with a 15-city cast tour in shopping malls and NYC’s Times Square.

On opening night, anecdotal reports were streaming in to me about gargantuan lines at U.S. and Canada theaters crowded with female tweens, teens, their mothers and generally women over the age of 25. The Twi-Hards were playing Twilight trivia games, wearing Twilight T-shirts, reading Twilight saga novels, and even doing homework while on line in their Team Edward or Team Jacob sweatshirts and movie costumes.

Speaking of Team Jacob, Taylor Lautner is about to become Paramount’s next big action star. Incapable of original thought, the studio has hired the eight-pack-abs teenager for the lead in Max Steel. In fact, the Summit Entertainment folks predicted to me a year ago that the 17-year-old would end up in demand for this kind of role after he bulked up for New Moon. Based on the hugely successful Mattel property, which is an international best-seller, the movie will be a four-quadrant popcorn movie about a 19-year-old extreme-sports junkie recruited by a secret agency after an accident leaves his body with superhuman powers.

This is yet another big, young action star for the studio under Paramount Film Group president Adam Goodman, similar to the recent announcement that Chris Pine is attached to the Jack Ryan franchise by author Tom Clancy. Then there’s Shia LeBeouf, whom Goodman, as a DreamWorks exec, put in Disturbia, and Paramount cast in the Transformers franchise. Smart to start the youth movement — Sony Pics did that with Tobey Maguire and Spider-Man — not just because the young-uns can play the part for years, but even better, they won’t break a hip doing it.

LA Weekly