Agencies can't let renewed optimism derail efforts to continually bolster their business

Data released by The Council of PR Firms reflects so-called "renewed optimism" in the market, as many agencies report that they believe they'll see steady growth in 2004.

Data released by The Council of PR Firms reflects so-called "renewed optimism" in the market, as many agencies report that they believe they'll see steady growth in 2004.

PRWeek reporters are hearing the same thing, but have been driven during the downturn to a level of skepticism that many a firm's false bravado engendered.

No, this is not yet another complaint about the impact of Sarbanes-Oxley on industry rankings. Firms large and small, owned and independent, specialists and generalists, have over the past three years been almost universally unenlightening about the true impact of the downturn on their businesses.

In the early days of economic difficulty, the mantra was, "We're doing fine because we weren't exposed on the dot-com business like other firms." However, it was obvious that few agencies were truly insulated and that the dot-com bust was not the only factor undermining the health of the industry.

What is interesting is that now that agencies are feeling more positive, the discussion is turning more and more often to the impact of procurement on the business - so much so that it's starting to sound a little like the tired dot-com refrain.

The Council has a big role to play in helping companies appropriately manage their agency negotiations. There may even be a time when an agency takes a stand against a particularly unprofitable situation. But, like the tech decline, it's an inevitability that should make for stronger businesses - and should not become merely a cliche?cliched excuse for poor performance.

Margaritis to headline PRWeek Forum
Planning for the second PRWeek Forum is underway. Focusing on reputation, the forum will bring together senior communications leaders from a range of industries to talk, in an off-the-record environment, about how they are addressing that challenge in their own organizations.

One of our speakers is Bill Margaritis, SVP of worldwide communications and IR for FedEx. He was featured prominently in The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation: Creating, Protecting, and Repairing Your Most Valuable Asset, a recent book by Ronald Alsop.

Margaritis, who will address the specific topic of "reputation management in action," is one of the industry's most vocal advocates for harnessing reputation. "One big point I've always made about reputation is that it's personal," he says, adding that a strong reputation can be "a life preserver in a crisis and a tailwind when you're company is on the offensive."

For a company like FedEx, which has the potential for a wide variety of crises, the proactive elements of reputation are equally important when integrating an acquisition, as it has been doing with Kinko's. Margaritis also notes that it is wrong to look only to the corporate scandals of the past few years as the primary reason why reputation is on the minds of CEOs. Reputation is both a tool and an asset. When marketing solutions are no longer reduced to silos for media buys and press releases (at least, not in thinking companies), it is an area that is increasingly up for grabs.

The forum intends to help communicators harness this opportunity within their own organizations.

- Julia Hood

The second PRWeek Forum takes place November 15-17 at the LaPlaya Resort, Naples, FL. For more details, please e-mail jennifer.burke@prweek.com.

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