I’m out with the In Crowd

bigguy_littleguy_1I recently attended the Spring Conference of the PRSA Counselors Academy.

Since the three-day event was held in San Juan, which was in the midst of a non-stop two-week deluge that would have made Noah proud, we members had lots of time to shoot the tropical breeze.

To appreciate our conversations, though, one must first understand two things:

– The membership of CA is comprised of some 300 owners of small and medium-sized PR agency owners (the entrepreneurs and catalysts of growth and jobs in every industry).

– Alas, we self-made entrepreneurs are consistently overlooked by PR Week (@PRWeekUS), the de facto industry trade bible. In fact, since a new editorial team took the helm a few years back, the editorial focus has undergone a complete 180.

When it was founded, and steered magnificently by then editor. Julia Hood, PR Week truly was the most sophisticated and balanced voice of the entire industry.

Today, though, its tagline should read: “Of, by, and for the elite. Their most recent “Global Agency Business Report” is only the most recent example of hagiographic reporting that focuses almost exclusively on two core audiences: global PR firms and Fortune 500 companies.

I understand that, collectively, the Top 10 PR firms probably account for 80 percent of our field’s billings. And, I also realize that these aircraft carrier-sized agencies derive the bulk of their billings from the Fortune 500 so, I’m guessing PR Week is following the old 80/20 rule of sales.

But, here’s the dark side of their laser-focus on the one-per centers of PR: They’ve completely alienated the hundreds, if not thousands, of small and medium-sized agencies. In effect, they’re purposely ignoring tomorrow’s Harold Bursons, Al Golins and John W. Hills. And, shame on them for doing so.

Now, back to the soggy, San Juan conversation with my fellow PR entrepreneurs. To a person, they said they’ve canceled their subscriptions to PR Week (since the content is totally irrelevant to their needs). They’ve also stopped submitting awards’ entries since at $895 a pop they can barely afford even one (as opposed to the scores of big agency guys for whom the entry fee is a mere drop in the bucket).

And, needless, to say, you won’t find superb smaller firms buying $10,000 tables at the endless industry awards’ programs either.

This is a true shame, and does our industry a disservice in two critical ways:

– The top award winners aren’t competing against the best programs from the hinterlands

– By focusing solely on “la vida global”, PR Week is providing hundreds of thousands of PR undergrads with a one-dimensional view of potential career paths.

Will PR Week listen to, respond or dare I suggest it, even publish my blog? No way, Jose, as say in San Juan.

They’ve discovered a winning, profitable formula, and aren’t about to mess with it.

8 thoughts on “I’m out with the In Crowd

  1. You have made it again and told others that it is not acceptable in various ways and decently. Your way of taunting is also superb I must say. I am going through your blog first time and will follow them always in future. Found them awesome and would like to learn a lot.

  2. Once again, you have spoken for so many of us, Steve. We “little firms in the hinterland” often fly completely under the radar, even though some of the best clients and work are regularly managed by the leaders in Counselors Academy. Keep your voice strong, my friend, and know you have a big chorus singing behind you!

  3. Really appreciate the comment, Julia. Here in the US, it seems the PR industry trades are following the lead of our nation’s societal issues: The rich get richer while we middle class PR agencies are left to fend for ourselves.

  4. I’m not able to comment on PR Week in the UK in terms of a bias such as you describe. However certainly we have a thriving trade publication universe populated by real specialists. However the economics of running them are such that conferences and awards become main money spinners but sadly out of the pocket of many small firms whose profile most likely suffers as a result.

  5. How do you fix such a broken system when the likes of PRWeek survive for these awards programs — oh yes, and the advertising that only the large guys can afford? We know from our own experiences that these awards matter to prospective clients, so not participating is a gamble.

  6. You left out one detail. Big agencies = many more subscriptions per agency. When I was in-house, I noticed how little content was aimed at me. It’s all about the big agencies. Only about the big agencies.