Smaller firms merit big attention

The provocateur, machine, rebounder, fighter, and juggernaut - characters in a sequel to Reservoir Dogs? Figures in a just discovered manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer's?

The provocateur, machine, rebounder, fighter, and juggernaut - characters in a sequel to Reservoir Dogs? Figures in a just discovered manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer's?

Au contraire. PRWeek's Agency Business Report gives these monikers, respectively, to Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, Hill & Knowlton, Ketchum, and Weber Shandwick, the only firms to get a full page. Half-page reviews went to APCO, Burson-Marsteller, Chandler Chicco, GCI Group, GolinHarris, MS&L, Ogilvy, Porter Novelli, Text 100, and Waggener Edstrom. What do they all have in common? Size.

Only after PRWeek profiles the "big guys" does it deign to publish one-column reviews of 20 outstanding small and midsized firms.

The big guys may account for most of the billings, but our peers in the PRSA Counselors Academy will tell you big firms don't hold a monopoly on innovation, ideas, or thought leadership.

In fact, the academy is a key reason why our smaller and midsized peers deserve at least equal billing. The academy routinely shares best practices in areas from marketplace trends to business development. We hold teleseminars on subjects from GLBT marketing to maintaining a great client-agency relationship. This year's spring conference in Savannah, GA, is chock full of seminars, panels, and workshops on emerging trends in ethics, technology, and diversity.

Despite recent economic woes, small and midsized firms have kept investing in an Academy membership because it helps fuel their innovation and management development. Unencumbered by the financial restrictions and dictates of parent companies, independent firms are free to focus on producing the ultimate client and work experiences. We don't have multiple offices with separate P&L responsibilities, so we don't battle each other for client dollars. Instead, small and midsized firms either belong to a global network or select top firms with which to partner from among their Counselors Academy contacts. As a result, we can mix and match the best teams to meet clients' needs.

We're also chagrined that other PR publications write that PR has no real thought leaders. Maybe they're too big-agency focused? Or perhaps, in this Sarbanes-Oxley world, most large-agency leaders fear speaking out?

If PR journalists want to meet real thought leaders, let them come to Savannah. There they can hear Eastwick Communications' Giovanni Rodriguez talk about the future of newspapers and PR. Or they can listen to John Deveney of New Orleans-based Deveney Communications discuss disaster preparedness. Or they can break bread with Elise Mitchell, who has built a formidable virtual PR network and will be discussing the qualities of tomorrow's leaders.

We're not putting down the big firms. We just want to open the eyes of the media that cover PR. Afford us the same level of coverage. Come to us for thoughts on the industry. We'll not only tell you what we think, we may also tell you why the small guys are better prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Steve Cody and Roy Vaughn are the 2006 and 2007 chairs, respectively, of the PRSA Counselors Academy.

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