EDITORIAL: Agency rankings remain relevant even though certain firms refuse to divulge their revenues

This year PRWeek will collect revenue data and publish rankings tables to include every US PR firm that supplies numbers. We will also glean information about agency performance from other sources in order to provide as much detail as possible on the size and state of the industry.

This year PRWeek will collect revenue data and publish rankings tables to include every US PR firm that supplies numbers. We will also glean information about agency performance from other sources in order to provide as much detail as possible on the size and state of the industry.

Some believe the rankings have been fatally compromised by the decision of the major marketing holding companies not to disclose their revenues. While we accept that the rankings will not appear in an ideal form, we respectfully disagree that they are pointless. Attorneys advising the major marketing holding companies believe that if this information is made public, their organizations are vulnerable to litigation under strict interpretation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Most of what we would formally have classified as the top 20 firms did not appear in last year's tables. Nor, if this policy continues, will they appear this year. It is crucial to note that there is nothing legally preventing parent companies or agencies from disclosing these numbers. Nevertheless, we do understand that individual agencies are not responsible for this policy. We also comprehend that this is an era of heightened scrutiny, and that few corporations are willing to take these kinds of risks. But we also believe that we have a responsibility to keep providing revenue data for our readers. As one of our most articulate corporate subscribers (and a former reporter) recently reminded me, the journalist's job is to provide the best available information. We are not choosing to publish truncated rankings tables; this is the situation that has been forced upon us. I have fielded complaints from PR firms over our publication of rankings last year, many of which concerned the improper use of these tables for marketing by small firms that suddenly found themselves 20 places higher in the pecking order. This is not unlike unscrupulous movie promoters pulling out random words or phrases from film reviews to decorate their posters. We don't endorse this practice, and will go to the appropriate lengths in our coverage to put the industry in context. But the owned firms who graced the top 20 two years ago also hold an unfair advantage, as no one can legitimately challenge their positions with any certainty. Though the agencies involved no longer use terms like "top 10" in their boilerplates, the distinction remains part of their brands. But as we see other firms increase in revenues and overtake these historical figures, a new order will emerge and the burden of proof will shift. We are working on a new survey on agency-service excellence as another way of measuring the success of the industry. But it is not intended to replace rankings. If PRWeek did not run rankings this year, we would be tacitly endorsing the indefensible position of the publicly traded holding companies, which are effectively keeping information away from their shareholders. Yes, we can sympathize with the motives for abstaining from rankings. But we cannot endorse the actions. We refuse to be complicit with any decision that limits transparency, and undermines the spirit and essence of ethical communications between companies and their stakeholders.

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