Independent agency networks are worth the trouble

We talk a lot about the top 20 PR agencies here at PRWeek but we are careful not to ignore the great work going on at hundreds of other agencies throughout the US and beyond.

We talk a lot about the top 20 PR agencies here at PRWeek but we are careful not to ignore the great work going on at hundreds of other agencies throughout the US and beyond.

The entries to the Boutique, Small, and Midsized agency categories at the PRWeek Awards are an annual reminder, if we needed one, of the fantastic depth of agency quality in the industry.

This was brought home to me last week when I was a guest of the IPREX agency network at its fall meeting in Columbus, Ohio, which was hosted by Fahlgren Mortine. The Worldcom network also gathered this week, in Vancouver, Canada, for its latest get-together.

Other such independent agency networks include Pinnacle, PRGN (Public Relations Global Network), and PROI (Public Relations Organization International).

Agencies join the networks for a number of reasons, mostly related to a desire to compete with the holding company group agency behemoths. It allows them to increase their coverage across the US and internationally, to share best practice, and to network and support each other.

Critics of the groups say they are just talking shops and that there are few actual business benefits in being part of the networks as agencies ultimately protect their own interests and are reluctant to genuinely share.

I can see this point of view and I'm sure there are big challenges in making a network function effectively for the benefit of all members. But, having seen a network in action at close quarters in Columbus, I believe they can work if they are run properly.

The enthusiasm, expertise, and sense of camaraderie I observed gives a network like IPREX a chance to succeed. The key to making it work as far as I can see is being strict about the quality of agencies that join and enforcing a minimum level of engagement to make sure all members are contributing equally and to their strengths.

If the networks can achieve this, then I believe on balance they are worth investing in, especially for agencies in the sub $10 million billing category.

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