THE TOP 150 PR CONSULTANCIES 2001: REPUTATIONS - Who handles PR for all the PROs? Some say it's practising what you preach, some that it's professional suicide. So should agencies outsource their own PR or do the job themselves? Mary Cowlett reports

A quick glance at any national newspaper will show that PR

consultants beaver away managing their clients' reputations so

diligently that their own corporate brand is often left to survive on

its own.



So who is PR-ing the PROs and what are they trying to achieve? Do

consultants really want front-page coverage and a public profile to

match that of Matthew Freud, or do they strive to remain the unseen

power behind the throne?



A random phone poll of the agencies in this year's table reveals that

most prefer to handle their personal reputations in-house. 'We have

recently taken on someone in New York who is solely dedicated to

handling our PR and ensuring that we take a proper global approach,'

says Emma Bowen-Davies, Weber Shandwick head of marketing, Europe. 'Too

often in the past our own PR got pushed to the back of the queue,

because we were so focused on our clients.'



Ogilvy PR Worldwide senior account manager Ben Ruse believes managing

your own PR is an important demonstration of skills for clients. 'We

handle our reputation in-house, because if we're a PR company, we should

be quite confident that we can do our own PR,' he says.



His consultancy has a rather ominously titled Visibility Committee,

which, in the UK, encourages practice heads to feed newsworthy items to

Ruse and his team for exploitation in the media and internal channels.

'We take visibility very seriously,' says Ruse. 'We throw significant

resources at it, in terms of time and money.'



To ensure that their own reputation gets a fair deal, almost all the

agencies who choose to PR themselves say they handle the business in a

similar wa y to that of their regular clients. 'It's easy to sweep your

own PR under the carpet, so we work it as a proper account,' says James

Wright, senior account executive at Leeds-based Sinclair Mason. 'That

means we have a team of three, time-allocation and a budget, covering

media relations, sponsorships, networking and community events.'



However, a small but significant number of consultancies favour

outsourcing their PR, calling on the talents of freelancers, niche

players or marketing sector specialists. 'It usually raises eyebrows,

but we decided to put our money where our mouth is,' says Tariq Khwaja,

UK managing director of August.One Communications which uses marketing

services specialist Eulogy!. 'We're constantly advising our clients not

to do their PR in-house, so we're practising what we preach,' he

says.



Countrywide Porter Novelli UK developoment director Sally Ward agrees

about outsourcing. 'In our experience, clients always come first and

your own PR suffers,' she says. 'As someone else's client, your PR

becomes a priority.'



This approach amazes some in the industry, who reckon that outsourcing

such an integral part of the business is tantamount to professional

suicide.



'How could we look clients in the eye and say 'we'll take your money,

but we don't trust ourselves to manage our own reputation'?' asks Clive

Booth, Lewis PR head of communications.



The outsourcers point to objectivity, momentum and sector expertise.



'We use a combination of internal and external resources because we want

to promote our flexible working culture and our strong research and

development skills,' says John Mahony, Edelman PR Worldwide UK managing

director.



He adds: 'Invariably as a PR agency gets busy, its own campaigns get

forgotten and it loses that point of differentiation. But with a strong

external consultant, you've got somebody who is constantly working on

your behalf, no matter what.'



Then there are those who follow the textbook advice, that you should

always bring in external resources for repositioning purposes. 'As we're

on a path to move beyond PR to a much richer set of communications

consultancy skills, we feel that we have to give our own reputation

priority,' says Crispin Manners, CEO of technology specialist Kaizo.

Twelve months ago, as part of its development of a new methodology,

Kaizo brought in Beehive Marketing. 'After ten years of hiding our light

under a bushel, we knew we wouldn't give our own PR the time and

prominence ourselves, so we went out and hired somebody,' says

Manners.



But the burning question is: how do PR folk shape up in the client

relationship stakes? Having been on the receiving end of some fairly

irrational client behaviour themselves, are PR firms heavenly to work

with, or even more demanding and exacting than the rest?



It will come as no surprise to discover that all of the hired help

PRWeek spoke to claimed that their PR clients are perfect angels. 'They

understand the possibilities and they understand the limitations,' says

Kathryn Coury director of Rock Communications, which works with CPN.

'There are no unrealistic expectations and because they're used to

formulating ideas and programmes for their own clients, they know what

they want,' she adds.



'It's great, because you've got a very informed client and you don't

have to constantly sell the benefits of PR,' says Sheena Horgan, Eulogy!

joint managing director. 'Because they're in the same industry, they

know what they're doing. I would describe August as focused, rather than

demanding.'



A more realistic picture is painted by the PR pundits themselves. 'I

think we're probably a complete nightmare, as we're ill-disciplined when

it comes to being a client,' says Manners.



Khwaja agrees: 'I think we can be extremely difficult,' he says. 'The

upside is that we're realistic about what can be achieved, but the

downside is we're probably harder for them to advise, because we know

the business.'



But what if you are the in-house PR person wearing the reputation hat?

How do your colleagues make out as clients?



Most state that their work-mates are generally quite helpful. However,

Booth claims that while it is a joy to represent one of the best

companies in the PR industry, there are definite drawbacks. 'Instead of

having two or three client contacts I have a hundred,' he says. 'What's

worse is they all think they can do the PR for Lewis better than me.

Worse still, they probably can.'



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