David Singleton: Do not underestimate the big guns

This week sees the PRWeek Global Agency Report Card - a comprehensive attempt to evaluate the performance of global agency networks over the past year.

David Singleton
David Singleton

The report reflects the rising importance of multi-market agencies in an environment where clients are making more of their decisions on a global or regional basis.

In the continuing (and unnecessary) absence of accurate agency revenue figures, networks were rated according to a range of criteria. By next year, PRWeek hopes to have an even more robust scoring system in place.

It is perhaps no surprise that some agencies have emerged from the global economic storm in better shape than others. Among those singled out for commendation are Weber Shandwick, Edelman and Fleishman-Hillard.

But digging beneath the headlines, there are two other points worth dwelling on.

First, and fundamentally, there is a clear disparity between the big networks with outposts in every market, and the smaller firms that have built leaner networks to service their global clients. Over the past three decades, the big six (H&K, B-M, Ogilvy, Edelman, F-H and WS) have expanded their networks across the globe. If they were to start the same process today, given the shifts in technology and thinking, would they opt for the same approach?

It is a moot point. There is a lot of cost associated with managing huge networks. Some would argue it leads to big, bureaucratic structures that feature patchy network quality, where commoditised PR rules the day.

The second observation, though, is that a big presence in emerging markets is beginning to count for much more, given the growth rates in those markets. The big beasts tend to have much more developed offerings in these countries.

This helps to explain why four of the agencies that scored highly in our feature were big players. The behemoths may bring their own problems, but as things stand it's too early to talk up David and write off Goliath.

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