AGENCY REPORT 1999: Quality Control - The criteria are getting tougher, but the agencies which took part in this year’s Agency Report met the extra challenge admirably

The consultancies which entered the 1999 PR Week Agency Report have responded to the tougher standards we set them with aplomb.

The consultancies which entered the 1999 PR Week Agency Report have

responded to the tougher standards we set them with aplomb.



Fearing that gaining a five star rating had been just too easy after

last year’s fantastic showing, we tightened our criteria a couple of

notches in this year’s questionnaire to reflect higher industry

standards in a number of areas. These tweaks reflect changes in

attitudes towards staff retention and development, and the greater

familiarity with technology.



The star ratings are not wholly comparable with those in previous

surveys, to reflect higher standards. A two-star agency has between 60

and 69 points this year, instead of 60-64 points. A three-star agency

now has to earn 70-74 points, instead of 65-69. A four-star agency score

is now between 76 and 79, instead of 70-74; and a five-star agency now

has to achieve 80 points or above, rather than 75-plus.



The PR industry rose to the challenge, however, and the results speak

for themselves. Of the 30 agencies who entered the survey, all turning

over fee income of more than pounds 1 million, 14 were five-star rated,

representing the same percentage as in the 1998 survey.



Nine agencies this year were four-star agencies, and the rest were

either three or two-star, with the lowest mark a very respectable 68 out

of 100.



For the second year running, there were no one or zero-starred

agencies.



This made the average total mark for the survey a four-star 79

points.



The specific areas that we felt needed greater weighting in terms of

points were the staff section, which this year included questions about

staff turn-over and staff appraisals, and the quality section, which

reflects the importance of thorough in-house measurement and evaluation

programmes as laid out in the Research and Evaluation Toolkit.



Industry recognition is worth slightly more than last year as we

recognised the value of industry awards made by PR practitioners’ peers.

The infrastructure section this year yields slightly fewer points. When

we first carried out the survey in 1996, staff access to e-mail and the

internet was an issue, but now technology of this level is part of daily

usage for most people.



There were a number of agencies in this year’s Agency Report which have

not entered the survey before, with Portfolio Communications the only

newcomer to come straight in with five stars. Other newcomers Key

Communications, Kinross and Render, and BGB Associates were rated as

four-star agencies; and Nelson Bostock and EMC Euro PR were in the

three-star group.



The highest scoring agency in the whole report was Cohn and Wolfe, which

increased its mark from 64 in the 1998 report to gain a near-perfect

score of 91 points. Cohn and Wolfe suffered from some very tough marking

by clients last year. This year, by contrast, the agency was the highest

scoring in the client survey.



The highest scores in the agency credentials section of the survey came

from Grant Butler Coomber and Lansons Communications, which both netted

a very solid 36 out of a possible 40 marks.



Many agencies kept the same star rating as in 1998, despite the tougher

standards, but there were some exceptions. Sinclair Mason went from 77

to 68, enough to make it a two-star, instead of a five-star agency.



Other agencies which dropped stars were Band and Brown, Profile PR,

Countrywide Porter Novelli, and Fishburn Hedges, which all missed out on

their previous five-star status, under the new star rating by just one

or two points.



Staniforth, Keene Communications, Companycare, and Nexus Choat, on the

other hand, scooped those precious points to move up to five stars this

year.



The questions we asked clients remained unchanged this year, and as

always the responses provided interesting commentary which reflects on

the industry as a whole.



There were many areas of strength, and most clients said good things

about their agency’s performance. Average scores in all areas were good,

particularly in the section on relationships, where the average score

was 8.6 out of 10.



Perfect scores were few and far between, though, and were only bestowed

by clients on The Red Consultancy for living up to pitch promises; and

Staniforth, Portfolio, and Cohn and Wolfe in the area of client/agency

relationships.



On the agency credentials side, business performance, the area which

carried the most points, varied widely, from four out of 12, scored by a

number of agencies, to 11 for a couple of agencies.



One of the main areas of weakness in the surveys of agency credentials

and clients was in evaluation. This tended to drag quality scores down

on the agency side when consultancies had not invested in a wide spread

of in-house evaluation systems, and clients also felt agencies could do

better in terms of research and planning and in evaluating their own

work.



There were no perfect scores in the area of evaluation, in the client

survey, and only Countrywide Porter Novelli managed to score 10 for

quality on the agency side.



Also on the negative side, many clients doubted the influence their

agencies held over relevant opinion-formers, and a high score for

writing skills was worryingly rare.



But overall, it was a good show all-round for the agencies which took

part. The creativity of the consultancies was praised across the board,

and client satisfaction overall was even higher than last year, with an

average score of 17.6 points out of 20. Four agencies scored an amazing

19 - Nexus Choat, Cohn and Wolfe, Portfolio, and Grayling - double the

number with this score last year.



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