Big firm versus small is not PR's most compelling battle

Business publications are frequently criticized for focusing too much attention on big companies and not enough on small ones, and PRWeek is no exception.

Business publications are frequently criticized for focusing too much attention on big companies and not enough on small ones, and PRWeek is no exception.

Last week, Steve Cody, managing partner of Peppercom, bemoaned on his blog (repmanblog.com) that large firms were featured prominently in last week's Agency Business Report. It's a point of endless debate - do trade titles strike the right balance, tell the right story, pick the right examples?

This is something we constantly wrestle with and not just for the big annual features. Pagination limits being what they are, choices have to be made. And big agencies, no doubt, dominate much of the industry discussion because of their revenues, their employee numbers, and their global clients. There is a certain unavoidable pragmatism that comes into play when considering what firms drive the market in economic terms.

That doesn't mean that we always get it right. But while I'm happy to debate the merits of individual profiles, I have to take issue with Cody's underlying point. His view is, basically, that big agencies are inherently uninteresting and full of untalented employees. "One thing's for sure," he writes. "When we hire, we usually stay away from large agency people because, without a bureaucratic infrastructure to support them, they fail miserably."

Frankly, when smaller firms start to go down the "big equals bad" road, I lose interest. Equally, I have no interest when big firms criticize us for quoting boutique agency CEOs because they are, in their view, "small potatoes."

For example, a large agency CEO once offered a baffled look when I mentioned a small, hot tech firm in the Bay Area. He said he'd never heard of it. Too bad for him - the small firm ended up stealing one of his clients. At the same time, Cody's point that smaller firms are "leading the industry's evolution" is not really explained, though plenty of space is dedicated to poking holes in the large agency mystique. That is a missed opportunity for what is probably a pretty widely read blog.

Meanwhile, the PR industry as a whole is starting to reap the benefits of an unprecedented shift in marketing strategy, much of which plays to the unique strengths of the industry - small and large agencies alike. The debate of big agency versus small is as old as the hills. In today's competitive landscape, the much more interesting battle pits PR against advertising, a contest being played out on a much more even playing field than ever before.

Agencies need to articulate their own merits, as well as the merits of the industry, more precisely than ever before to truly capitalize on the opportunity currently before them.

Don't stop criticizing us and other media. Bring it on, by all means - we can take it. But winning the battle for a page in PRWeek is not the same as winning the war for a larger stake in marketing strategy and budget. At every opportunity, agencies should be ready to explain why they are the best - not just why others are not.

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