Whilst the Bursons, Fleishmans and Edelmans of this world are busy building mammoth global businesses, a new breed of exciting small and medium sized agencies are attacking them in their own backyard - and that's good news for the whole profession.
Last week Gary Myers' Morgan & Myers picked up the $1 million California Raisin account. Myers was pitching against Publicis/Evans and Ketchum public relations, both of which would have loved to win the 'dancing raisin' contract. We also saw Castrol hand its first ever consumer public relations account to Alan Taylor Communications - again selected ahead of bigger rivals - and California-based Fischer & Partners beat out GCI and Sciens Worldwide to win Ernst & Young's healthcare account.
Of course, small and medium agencies have always managed to steal the occasional account from under the noses of their bigger brothers. But since Patrice Tanaka & Company won the Microsoft Windows 98 account last year, there has been a flood of victories for the fast-growing, 'new generation' of firms.
As public relations has grown in stature and gained increasing recognition in corporate boardrooms, the tendency to select a big agency, partly because it seems a safe option, has given way to a more adventurous approach.
This trend is great news for everyone. It provides an important challenge to the top 20 agencies, which will have to develop fast to maintain their position. It drives the development of new and inventive ways of working.
And it also spawns a new generation of public relations heroes and icons.
The ones-to-watch list is excitingly long: Laer Pearce in Orange County; Peppercom's Steve Cody and Ed Moed in New York; the four Stratacomm partners in DC; Tom Gable in San Diego; Elliot Sloane in New York; Maura Fitzgerald in Cambridge (see related story on p 12). The list could go on and on.
These people make for great news stories because they challenge accepted logic and go after big business with verve and aggression. This enthusiasm - whilst it may sound the most basic of a modern agency's tools - is still a key element in the pitch. But it is precisely because they make great news that PRWeek is digging hard to find out about these smaller agencies.
But we want to hear more from more of you. The big agencies get a lot of coverage partly because they are big (the Top 10 have annual fees in excess of $1.3 billion; and employ tens of thousands of employees); partly because they are changing and merging at the moment; but also because they spend more time pitching us, sending press releases, getting to know us. Big or small, however, companies that do most to court journalists tend to get the best coverage - but then, you're in PR, so you knew that.