Proper disclosure has to be more than revenue numbers

The 2008 Agency Business Report found that the PR industry had another successful year. These gains can be attributed, at least in part, to increased digital revenues, the improving stature of PR pros in the eyes of C-suite executives, and global companies seeking expertise in multiple countries

The 2008 Agency Business Report found that the PR industry had another successful year. These gains can be attributed, at least in part, to increased digital revenues, the improving stature of PR pros in the eyes of C-suite executives, and global companies seeking expertise in multiple countries.

A recession may loom, but agency leaders profess that the industry is well-positioned to weather any economic turbulence. Of course, PR's overall health is assumed but unknown, as the major-agency CEOs and their holding companies have chosen - for the sixth consecutive year - to invoke a Sarbanes-Oxley argument for why they cannot disclose their earnings.

Despite the glaring holes in the actual agency rankings, due to the lack of participation from many of the largest PR firms, it's always interesting to match up agencies with their performances to see if the results were on par with the rhetoric.

This column, running with the Agency Business Report, has recently become a call-to-action of sorts, where PRWeek's editor-in-chief chides those holding-company agencies that fail to report their revenues. While that chastisement remains important, it is only fair to note that there is a lack of disclosure that can be found throughout the industry. A shocking lack of transparency pervades the profession, which becomes galling when nearly every quote about PR invokes the need for that very word. In fact, few in the industry are willing to speak on the record about how they are using communications tactically to solve overall business goals.

Agencies point to taciturn clients, while corporate PR departments fear unveiling the recipe for communications success. This is not the way for an industry that purports to care so deeply about ascendancy in the marketing function to win the minds of the C-suite. This is not a good strategy to win the hearts of the next crop of talented professionals who see an industry solely in its historic terms of media relations, combined with a crumbling traditional media establishment.

We do not delude ourselves; this is a highly competitive industry. And many firms likely are confident that their clients see them as strategic partners and that their employment pipeline is flush. But are they as honored as much as possible? Is the incoming talent pool as diverse and amazing as the industry desires?

To be sure, there are numerous corporate and agency pros who see the benefit in loudly broadcasting their expertise. The Arthur W. Page Society - and other professional entities - are pushing hard to place the industry in front of the C-suite. But it is not enough.

We hereby ask that all PR pros retire the phrase "the cobbler's children" and its many permutations to describe why it is that they are unable to further the profession by promoting the work they are doing. If no one sees the value in promoting what the PR profession is doing, we don't see how the industry can make a compelling case to the C-suite or clients.

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