EDITORIAL: Agency Excellence Survey is poised to be an industry and <i>PRWeek</i> staple for many years

The Agency Excellence Survey, which was conducted by Millward Brown, landed on desks last week. The only thing that readers, and in particular, the agencies included in the analysis cared about were the tables of results, which is predictable. But the survey report, in its inaugural form, is more diagnostic than rankings, offering a better understanding of what clients say they want and what they say they are getting from their agencies, as well as a clearer picture of agency-service consumption.

The Agency Excellence Survey, which was conducted by Millward Brown, landed on desks last week. The only thing that readers, and in particular, the agencies included in the analysis cared about were the tables of results, which is predictable. But the survey report, in its inaugural form, is more diagnostic than rankings, offering a better understanding of what clients say they want and what they say they are getting from their agencies, as well as a clearer picture of agency-service consumption.

As mentioned in the report, it is a remarkably fragmented industry. Sure, the biggest firms came up most often, but there about 450 firms mentioned in total, by only 601 people. That's twice the number that appeared in the PRWeek 2004 Agency Rankings. To gather and analyze data from such a broad and diverse audience of clients was unique and incredibly valuable. We are committed to evolving and refining this research over the years to come. But in the ever-competitive vanity stakes of PR, there is a discernable hunger for conclusions about individual firms and for recognition of achievement. To be sure, there is a lot in the results for agencies to be proud of, especially when one considers the methodology of the study. It is interesting to note, for example, how well the Omnicom agencies fared overall, with Fleishman-Hillard, Ketchum, and Porter Novelli winning high marks across attributes. Omnicom may play a part, but each of the firms is known to tout its own culture as a key factor in its success, rather than the resources its parent brings to bear. But the consistency of this result may help propel PRWeek's editorial agenda to better understand the evolving role of the holding company. Omnicom should also be very happy that PN had the highest percentage of clients lauding its creativity. Ketchum had the same result for measurable ROI. Those were two of the three "differentiating" attributes which most clients identified as highly sought, but most elusive. Fleishman may also be dubbed winner of the "where the rubber meets the road" category, finishing at the top when clients were asked what firm they'd hire for a crisis, product launch, or promotion. Burson-Marsteller showed strongly among its clients, who were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their firms. Though the firm topped the attribute table for "professionalism," it wasn't the strongest in every attribute, leading one to conclude that clients find the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. MS&L had an outstanding result as well, finishing at the top in five out of 13 categories. Ketchum had the highest percentage of agreement on that most enviable of categories - "offers something truly different from their competitors." Differentiation will continue to be the overall challenge for agencies. As the survey results clearly indicate, focusing on creativity, collaboration with in-house clients and other agencies, and measurable ROI are critical ways for a firm to stand out from its competitors. The Agency Excellence Survey is a work in progress and we're already planning next year's edition. Please send me comments and feedback on the data, so that we can continue to improve this important resource for the entire industry. To inquire about purchasing data from the Agency Excellence Survey, contact Joh Morris at 646-638-6057, or e-mail her at joh.morris@prweek.com.

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