The consultancies which entered the 1999 PR Week Agency Report have
responded to the tougher standards we set them with aplomb.
Fearing that gaining a five star rating had been just too easy after
last year’s fantastic showing, we tightened our criteria a couple of
notches in this year’s questionnaire to reflect higher industry
standards in a number of areas. These tweaks reflect changes in
attitudes towards staff retention and development, and the greater
familiarity with technology.
The star ratings are not wholly comparable with those in previous
surveys, to reflect higher standards. A two-star agency has between 60
and 69 points this year, instead of 60-64 points. A three-star agency
now has to earn 70-74 points, instead of 65-69. A four-star agency score
is now between 76 and 79, instead of 70-74; and a five-star agency now
has to achieve 80 points or above, rather than 75-plus.
The PR industry rose to the challenge, however, and the results speak
for themselves. Of the 30 agencies who entered the survey, all turning
over fee income of more than pounds 1 million, 14 were five-star rated,
representing the same percentage as in the 1998 survey.
Nine agencies this year were four-star agencies, and the rest were
either three or two-star, with the lowest mark a very respectable 68 out
For the second year running, there were no one or zero-starred
This made the average total mark for the survey a four-star 79
The specific areas that we felt needed greater weighting in terms of
points were the staff section, which this year included questions about
staff turn-over and staff appraisals, and the quality section, which
reflects the importance of thorough in-house measurement and evaluation
programmes as laid out in the Research and Evaluation Toolkit.
Industry recognition is worth slightly more than last year as we
recognised the value of industry awards made by PR practitioners’ peers.
The infrastructure section this year yields slightly fewer points. When
we first carried out the survey in 1996, staff access to e-mail and the
internet was an issue, but now technology of this level is part of daily
usage for most people.
There were a number of agencies in this year’s Agency Report which have
not entered the survey before, with Portfolio Communications the only
newcomer to come straight in with five stars. Other newcomers Key
Communications, Kinross and Render, and BGB Associates were rated as
four-star agencies; and Nelson Bostock and EMC Euro PR were in the
The highest scoring agency in the whole report was Cohn and Wolfe, which
increased its mark from 64 in the 1998 report to gain a near-perfect
score of 91 points. Cohn and Wolfe suffered from some very tough marking
by clients last year. This year, by contrast, the agency was the highest
scoring in the client survey.
The highest scores in the agency credentials section of the survey came
from Grant Butler Coomber and Lansons Communications, which both netted
a very solid 36 out of a possible 40 marks.
Many agencies kept the same star rating as in 1998, despite the tougher
standards, but there were some exceptions. Sinclair Mason went from 77
to 68, enough to make it a two-star, instead of a five-star agency.
Other agencies which dropped stars were Band and Brown, Profile PR,
Countrywide Porter Novelli, and Fishburn Hedges, which all missed out on
their previous five-star status, under the new star rating by just one
or two points.
Staniforth, Keene Communications, Companycare, and Nexus Choat, on the
other hand, scooped those precious points to move up to five stars this
The questions we asked clients remained unchanged this year, and as
always the responses provided interesting commentary which reflects on
the industry as a whole.
There were many areas of strength, and most clients said good things
about their agency’s performance. Average scores in all areas were good,
particularly in the section on relationships, where the average score
was 8.6 out of 10.
Perfect scores were few and far between, though, and were only bestowed
by clients on The Red Consultancy for living up to pitch promises; and
Staniforth, Portfolio, and Cohn and Wolfe in the area of client/agency
On the agency credentials side, business performance, the area which
carried the most points, varied widely, from four out of 12, scored by a
number of agencies, to 11 for a couple of agencies.
One of the main areas of weakness in the surveys of agency credentials
and clients was in evaluation. This tended to drag quality scores down
on the agency side when consultancies had not invested in a wide spread
of in-house evaluation systems, and clients also felt agencies could do
better in terms of research and planning and in evaluating their own
There were no perfect scores in the area of evaluation, in the client
survey, and only Countrywide Porter Novelli managed to score 10 for
quality on the agency side.
Also on the negative side, many clients doubted the influence their
agencies held over relevant opinion-formers, and a high score for
writing skills was worryingly rare.
But overall, it was a good show all-round for the agencies which took
part. The creativity of the consultancies was praised across the board,
and client satisfaction overall was even higher than last year, with an
average score of 17.6 points out of 20. Four agencies scored an amazing
19 - Nexus Choat, Cohn and Wolfe, Portfolio, and Grayling - double the
number with this score last year.