The very best PR programs money can buy

OccupyI'd like to congratulate Ketchum, Weber and Edelman for each receiving more than 20 Sabre nominations this year. They're superb agencies who do terrific work for some of the country's best organizations.

But, as is the case with ALL large agencies, Ketchum, Weber and Edelman have the financial wherewithal to positively flood these one-price-fits-all awards shows. As a result, the large agencies have an exponentially greater chance of having one of their entries selected as a finalist; they also tend to dominate entire categories. At the recent PR Week awards ceremony, for example, the finalists for one category read as follows:

- 'Ketchum, Fleishman, Ketchum, Fleishman and Ketchum. And, the winner is: Ketchum!'

That's not just embarrassing. It's wrong.

The powers-that-be insist an independent panel of judges assures only the best program wins in each category. And, they're right, to a degree. In reality, the judges are reviewing the best programs MONEY can buy.

The vast majority of the 3,000-plus public relations firms in the United States are small and midsized. Most have neither the time nor the financial wherewithal to submit entries that come with a hefty price tag of $900 per. Yet, many of these little guys are doing extraordinary work that deserves to be recognized.

Since PRWeek, The Holmes Report, PRNews, Bulldog Reporter and others depend on the awards programs for much-needed revenue, they refuse to even entertain the thought of a tiered pricing program that would enable more small and midsized firms to compete.

I also think the awards programs publish the total number of entries per firm so that we know how successful the big firms really are. It would be interesting to know if Weber's 20 finalists were among, say, 80, 120 or 200 in total submitted by the behemoth.

In its advertising, Ketchum proudly boasts it's won more than 100 Silver Anvils. That's amazing. But, 100 out of how many total entries? One thousand? Five thousand? Twenty thousand?

It's ironic that the very editors who advocate for transparency refuse to be more transparent about their own awards programs.

And, it's a sad fact that, due to high pricing and limitless big agency resources, the PR industry really isn't recognizing the very best programs of the year. They're merely recognizing the very best programs of the year that money can buy.

11 thoughts on “The very best PR programs money can buy

  1. Looks like a boxing judge’s scorecard. I gave this round to….
    They ought to have awards for different size agencies (small, medium and large based on billings parameters) and then let them compete against themselves at that level. Same way tax returns are prepared. The more you earn, the more you pay.
    It ain’t gonna change Repman. Sad, but true. You know the saying, “Can’t fight City Hall.”

  2. A crying shame. If the changes you suggest were initiated, just think about how many entries these award programs might receive. Even with lower prices, it could potentially raise revenues for each body that throws an award show.

  3. you should change the name of this blog to the RantMan Blog or the RecycledMan Blog- you have ranted about this same topic upwards of 5 times in the last 6 months. we get it- the big guys dominate you in the awards category bc they can afford to. get over it and move on…

  4. Though he’s a bit rough in making it, Isaac has a point.
    My question is whether these awards really help generate business for small- to mid-size firms? Isn’t a solid portfolio of successful, targeted campaigns a whole lot more meaningful to both morale and business development than these gleaming shelf-sitters?
    An Edelman or Ketchum has these costs in their business model. They need to do this to keep their cultural currency, use it as a marketing tool, and to satisfy egos on both the mgmt and client side. They’ll keep up the spending, and the programs will continue catering to them.
    Even if those entry costs were to magically come down for smaller firms, will it then be worth making 20 Sabre entries? After all, the time/expense of preparation will still be there.

  5. I totally agree, Jimmy. But, there’s a very cozy relationship in place that benefits the existing structure and few people are willing to call attention to its inherent flaws. The PR industry needs an Upton Sinclair to shine the light on inequities such as this.

  6. Greg, Greg, Greg. Yes we CAN fight city hall. That’s exactly what the Occupy movement is all about. Even Boss Tweed was eventually ousted.

  7. Awards are an intrinsic part of agency branding, GoToPEngel. We’ve been very fortunate to win many awards over the years and I can assure you they help attract and retain clients and people. That’s why I continue to advocate on behalf of a more level playing field for the small and midsized firms. As for Isaac, he needs to spend more time selling syringes and less time reading PR industry blogs.

  8. Did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stop ‘ranting’ about discrimination after five or six times, Isaac? How about Gandhi? Did he stop ranting about British violations of Indian civil rights after five or six times? Someone needs to speak up and advocate for the rights of small and medium-sized firms, and I’m just the guy.

  9. while its great to stand up for what one believes in and try and fight city hall (as i do many times as well), my point about the blog was of a different nature. you preach about how blogs have to provide a unique take on things and be fresh. well how does writing about the this topic or your other favorite topic of bashing the advertising industry satisfy the “unique” or “fresh” criteria? anyone who reads this blog even casually knows that 1) you feel like the poor step-child to the big boys and 2) you knock advertising and shout from the rooftops to make pr more important. ok, we get all that. now give us something unique or fresh!
    in terms of my time selling syringes vs reading pr blogs, im happy to report that i have a lot of free time on my hands and have the ability to sit back and read blogs or play golf thanks to how fast my business has grown over the last 7 years. and as i have told you personally, the truth is that i owe my success to you in how you taught me the fine art of networking. that one tool has allowed my business to grow as fast as it has and thus i can read blogs and not worry about selling syringes or sheetrock. so at least give me something interesting to read in between holes 9 and 10 as i eat lunch or smoke a cigar….