The annual agency rankings for tech PR firms in the UK was published last week by PRWEEK UK [subscription required]. It’s come under a lot of criticism by the PR blogerati. I’ve just had time to look it over online (since rather oddly PRW UK has decided no longer to give copies to advertisers – hmm).
I’ve long been a supporter of the league table, it’s a great way for clients to see which agencies are performing well, for agency principals to benchmark performance and for staff to pick which shop to join. Even when LEWIS was a new entrant at position 22 seven years ago we supported it with straight-facing advertising. And we’ll continue to do so, as long as the table remains valid.
When Sarb-Ox gave a convenient excuse for the conglomerates to duck the leagues back in the recession, I was vocal in PRWEEK US that this was a retrograde step. It doesn’t give a fair picture of the market, but in today’s paranoid environment, we’ve come to expect it. To give an insight to the extent of this angst, I was recently told that Ernst & Young had to refuse Edelman’s continued sponsorship of the Entrepreneur of the Year award, since E&Y is also its auditor and it didn’t want the kickback to appear as foul play. Nevermind that the auditing fees for Edelman make the sponsorship dollars look like small change.
This year’s UK leagues make interesting reading. At number two in the rankings is an agency called Write Image clocking £4.1m in UK tech PR fees. Who are these guys? I ran our UK new business for six years and I’ve never heard of them or pitched against them. I’ve interviewed hundreds of PR staff – not one has come from there or ever worked there, yet they have 126 staff? I think this must be their website. But looking at the client list – it’s a bit misleading. LEWIS UK and Fishburn Hedges run BT’s PR. The Microsoft account? Isn’t that Red and AugustOne/Inferno? Of course, I might be out of touch with UK tech PR, and this firm may be truly excellent and have rocketed up into the number two slot in the last three years, but it’s risen without a trace if so.
Then where’s Firefly? Mark Mellor, its head honcho, has time to comment but no numbers to submit? Surely it’s the responsibility of respected firms to be transparent about performance? Fortunes will wax and wane – we all know that (LEWIS UK only reported 1% growth in 2003) – but I don’t think the response should be to yo-yo in and out of the tables at a whim. Does this mean that Firefly will be a new entrant next year? Like Noiseworks seems to be in this table?
Really PRWEEK UK should exert more pressure on agencies if it wants the leagues to survive. Why give airtime to agencies in the editorial which snub the table in the same instant? Perhaps this is more indicative of PRWEEK’s influence as a whole? The rise of other sources of PR news (and gossip) are perhaps having their toll in PR publishing too.