This week's Agency Excellence Survey, now in its third year, proves an interesting challenge in the area of benchmarking.
PRWeek operates many annual surveys, and the majority of them make it possible to benchmark attitudes year by year, by approaching a similar sample and asking a small, core group of similar questions within the larger survey.
But what makes the Agency Excellence Survey stand out is that its methodology, in part, allows respondents to shape the way the results are modeled. Not only are these corporate communications pros asked to rate their agencies on a range of criteria; they are also asked to tell us how important each of those 18 criteria are. On the one hand, this means that it's difficult to do a year-on-year comparison of which firms scored higher marks than others. On the other hand, however, we are able to see which agencies are meeting the needs of clients whose priorities are changing.
One area that has increased in priority over the past year is that of having senior-level staff attend to your business. The attribute "ensures that senior staff is involved with your business" has jumped from the "lower priority" category to the "differentiating" category - defined as attributes that carry the greatest potential to distinguish agencies from competitors.
Not surprisingly, it brought out comments from those interviewed that reflect many other recent conversations with this group: They're tired of meeting the grown-ups in the pitch, only to be handed down to junior staffers when the business starts rolling.
It is, of course, ridiculous to expect the likes of Helen Ostrowski and Harris Diamond to write your media plan. But many agencies have focused on the need to bring more senior talent into the day-to-day teams that face clients.
One example is Ruder Finn, who recently made a strategic move to replace several junior staffers with fewer, higher-level pros. Co-CEOs Kathy Bloomgarden and Peter Finn talk often of "staffing an account appropriately," and the push has showed up in the Agency Excellence Survey results, as RF was in the top-three scoring agencies for both "ensures that senior staff is involved with your business" and "has high-quality staff."
Another indicator of clients' shifting needs is that the attribute "understands your business" has moved from the "essential" category to the "cost of entry" one, which is defined as being the skills that clients expect agencies to have at minimum engagement.
Along with the issue of quality talent, this area is another that has dominated many conversations that PRWeek has had with corporate professionals of late. It's certainly an interesting shift now that clients simply will not look at a firm that doesn't display a true understanding of the cogs that drive their business.
In a way, the survey does not reveal any surprises, but what it does is reinforce the utter importance of staffing account teams with high-quality, business-savvy people. We now have proof that clients will insist on nothing less.