PR Week’s less-than-excellent agency survey

PR Week provides a comprehensive and value service to the industry. But, they do clients and agencies alike a disservice when they publish a report like their ‘Agency Excellence Survey.’

While it appears fairly comprehensive in scope and was conducted in conjunction with Millward Brown, a serious research player, it focuses solely on the big agencies (and is interspersed with some handsome, full-page advertisements from Weber-Shandwick, Porter-Novelli, Ketchum and Ogilvy).

The problem with the section is its parochial view. More and more clients have sought relationships with smaller, more nimble, agencies precisely because the so-called ‘excellence’ PR Week and Millward Brown are surveying is lacking at many large firms. And, that’s not conjecture. It’s fact.

I’m not saying the big guys aren’t good. I’m merely stating the obvious: PR Week is completely missing the boat with its report. It’s time Julia, Elly & Co. spread the wealth. I guarantee we can find plenty of small and mid-sized firms that could more than match the ‘excellent’ scores given to our bigger brethren.

5 thoughts on “PR Week’s less-than-excellent agency survey

  1. Its so important to know how to construct a great blog to get people interested and you’ve done just that. . Waiting your next wonderfull posting.

  2. Thanks Julia. Your response makes perfect sense. That said, I’d like to see you challenge Millward Brown to find 50 current and former clients of the more established middle and smaller-sized PR firms. I’m sure agencies of the stature of, say, Carmichael Lynch, PSB, Paine and Makovsky would easily qualify for such an audit. In fact, it might be interesting to compare and contrast the client ‘excellence’ rankings by agency size. One last point: I’d love to debate this subject further on one of our upcoming Repchatter podcasts. Would you consider being our guest sometime? We’ll throw in lunch.

  3. Steve – thanks for your feedback. Sorry for the delay in responding -I’ve been away.
    I thought some background might be useful – sorry if it’s a bit long-winded, but it’s complicated.
    As you know, we launched this survey three years ago, but today’s research bears only some resemblance to its first iteration. Over the years, we have sought the input of agency, in-house, and academic leaders.
    In the beginning, we hoped to rank all agencies by reputation among their clients. So we conducted a survey asking clients which firms they worked for and how they rated their performance on a number of attributes. We did not have a set number of agencies – we just invited clients to rate any agency they worked for.
    The problem that we ran into was in the sample sizes. The largest agencies had adequate (if not entirely convincing) sample sizes, while the smaller firms had samples so small they were basically meaningless.
    We also had no idea how fragmented the market was until then. That first year some 600 clients rated more than 400 agencies. This was an interesting industry snapshot, but got us no closer to really understanding trends in client preference and needs. Agencies had no real substantive data that could be used to any meaningful degree.
    Complicating our process was our firm belief – then and now – that in order to have a credible survey, we could not use client lists supplied by agencies, as other surveys have done. That was the case then and that is still the case now.
    Last year we narrowed our research pool to agencies that we believed could achieve adequate sample sizes. But we still needed to crack the model, because the numbers were still inconsistent from firm to firm, especially among current and past clients.
    During last year’s survey process, Millward Brown, our research partner, identified a database called the ERI panel that we used this year in fielding the survey (and used partially last year). This helped us meet our goals of surveying 50 current and 50 past clients for all 14 agencies that participated. These agencies all purchased data packets with their full results.
    Our success in reaching these sample sizes – which is truly a breakthrough for this survey – now gives us hope that we might be able to expand it next year and ongoing. But at the end of the day, we have to have an adequate sample size for each firm for it to be meaningful. By virtue of their size, large firms are at an advantage in this.
    We are, however, not resting there and continue to work with Millward Brown in the hopes of expanding the survey, provided we can reach our sample goals for each participating firm. As we start work on this in the fall, I will give you an update on how that exploration is going.
    Thanks again for the feedback. I’m happy to discuss further when I’m back next week.

  4. Amen. The majority of our clients are Big Agency refugees who quickly became disilliusioned with the reality of entrusting their reputations to the just-outta-college junior account execs that do the bulk of the day-to-day work. Smaller agencies offer invaluable hands-on account involvement by seasoned senior execs — many of whom are disillusioned Big Agency refugees themselves!

  5. Along the same line of this survey you brought to our attention, witness Barron’s recent list of top 100 financial advisors.
    Most of the advisors on Barron’s list have huge amounts of money under management and typically work for a big wire house. In the same issue, within the pages of the story nonetheless, said wire houses were congratulating their advisors for making the list! Why not wait till the next week to place that ad? Anyway, hello Church and State!
    Seriously, just because they have billions in AUM, doesn’t make them the best advisor for someone’s money. However, the more they gain, the better the bank does, and an investor sees that dollar figure and thinks they must be the one for their financial future.
    Sorry for my rant; but I am feeling you, Rep.