Last month, PR Week published its annual list of the Top 150 PR Consultancies, based on fee income earned in 2010. Interesting reading and, given the 9% average growth rate, cause for optimism. But it made us wonder: are the top consultancies – presumably the ones that gain the best press for their clients – as successful at generating coverage for themselves?
We focused on the top 25 consultancies and used our free monitoring tool Pickanews to identify mentions of each in the UK media (print, broadcast, and online). We looked at the two weeks before and two weeks after the publication of the top 150 (on May 4th) to see if we could discern any “PR Week effect”, and compared the coverage generated in this period with 2010’s fee income, to get a complete picture of each company’s success.
We found that, in the broadest terms, the top consultancies secure the most media coverage. Combined mentions of the top ten exceeded that of the next 15, and, within the top ten, the first five – led by the Bell Pottinger Group – generated over 2 ½ times as many mentions as numbers 5-10. However, the relationship between income and coverage is not straightforward, so we used Pickanews’ in-built graphical reporting to see in which contexts the different consultancies were mentioned.
The PR Week number one, Bell Pottinger Group, earned more than twice the fee income of the third-placed Weber Shandwick. However, in the Pickanews results, the reverse was true: Weber Shandwick generated double the coverage of Bell Pottinger. The source and topic breakdowns show where the difference was made – not in the trade press, or in the context of marketing or related topics (e.g. business and management), but online, in the news and miscellaneous categories.
For these consultancies, and the rest of the top 25, the PR Week results generated no coverage outside of the magazine’s own supplement and accompanying news story. The increase in mentions after the top 150 was released (up 47% across the board) seems purely coincidental, with industry news, analysis and guest articles accounting for just 11% of the top ten’s combined coverage.
Our results agree with Lansons Communications CEO Tony Langham, who explained why his agency received the most UK mentions during 2010, according to research from Dow Jones. He told PR Week earlier this year, “We have an involvement in arts and charities and carry out research so have received coverage for this”. Our results differ from Dow Jones’, because of differences in our methodologies – they only searched for “top-tier” companies in the headline and lead paragraphs, whereas Pickanews allows for full article searches of both editorial and advertising – but Langham’s reasoning stands. His consultancy was mentioned in terms of its research, for example, a study of Independent Financial Advisors, and one about the childcare costs incurred on bank holidays.
Another of Langham’s comments chimes with our research: “The only problem is when it [coverage] is at the expense of the client. When the news became about Alastair Campbell, he was no longer useful.” Allegations that Burson-Marsteller helped Facebook to “smear” Google meant the consultancy received the second-highest level of coverage, most of it far beyond trade media.
While the long-term effect of negative articles about what the New Statesman calls a “deeply embarrassing” incident remains to be seen, this underlines the fact that not all PR is good PR. It may be that the top consultancies generated the most helpful coverage; it is more likely that other factors like awards, good pitches and great work all play a part in building reputations, and bringing in fees.
And how does social media contribute to the success of the top PR consultancies? One of PR Week’s headline figures was the 190% increase in fee income posted by Top 150 newcomer We Are Social; for broader-based consultancies, the impact is unclear. The PR Week figures don’t break income down by channel, and anecdotal evidence suggests that while more clients are buying into social campaigns, many expect to spend less for what they perceive as free, or at least cheap, media.
What is clear is that We Are Social is better placed to demonstrate its expertise in social than its competitors. Comparing the social media presence of this 86th-placed consultancy with those of its rivals in the top ten shows it has far more Twitter followers than any of them, and is only bested on Facebook by Edelman’s global page. While other consultancies may argue that these platforms work for B2C, not B2B, marketing, or that their key personnel represent them in social (for a good rundown, see the 72 Point blog), we expect to see more agencies moving into this space and considering themselves what We Are Social calls “a conversation agency”.
No matter what the future holds for the top PR consultancies, it is clear that they need to keep an eye on their own coverage as well as that of their clients. Check out Pickanews for a free, flexible way of doing so.
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