Global comms chiefs believe this person is the most influential PR in the world

We asked entrants in the new PRWeek Global Power Book who they thought was the most influential PR professional in the world. This is what they said.

Global comms chiefs believe this person is the most influential PR in the world

The individual cited by the most people is not actually a PR by profession - but he does share a job title with the second-placed candidate.

The Global Power Book 2017 is out today - click to see the full listings

The ranking of those who got five or more mentions is as follows. See further down for choice quotes from the nominees.

  1. Donald Trump, president, the United States (37 nominations)
  2. Richard Edelman, president, Edelman (19)
  3. Sean Spicer, press secretary, White House (18)
  4. Pope Francis (14)
  5. Everyone/the consumer/similar (10)
  6. Harold Burson (9)
  7. Sir Martin Sorrell (7)
  8. Mark Zuckerburg (6)
  9. An unknown individual (5)

Voting for one's own

To counter partiality, votes have been discounted where people nominated someone working at their own company. For example, five Ketchum staff voted for its global CEO Rob Flaherty. Burson received six votes from his staff. Michael Frohlich of WPP-owned Ogilvy PR voted for Sorrell.

Four of Edelman's votes were from people working at Edelman or Zeno Group - although this does not affect his ranking. And, as it happens, Richard Edelman boldly nominated... himself.

This was sometimes done seemingly in jest - or semi-jest. Kevin Bell, Burson-Marsteller's worldwide president voted for its CEO Don Baer, saying: "My boss, Don Baer. Can I get a pay rise now?" Baer, incidentally, voted for Burson.

John Saunders, the boss of FleishmanHillard, took a contrary approach, with a shout-out to a rising star at the agency. He wrote: "No-one is blazing more trails for the future of PR than our own Mike Cearley from FleishmanHillard’s Dallas office. He is our industry’s ultimate explorer."

Donald Trump

He may not be a PR professional per se, but plenty of comms leaders felt he was worthy of their vote - in this election, at least.

James Wright, the APAC CEO of Red Agency, said: "Like it or not, his administration is re-writing the rules of communication."

Nelson Fernandez, North America chair at APCO, concurred: "First, the standard I would use to answer your question: who is the individual who has most effectively used traditional and emerging communication channels to influence and mobilize global communities? My answer: our President."

Beth Balsam, until recently US CEO for H+K Strategies, suggested the profession was indebted to POTUS. "It kills me to say it, but Donald Trump. He validated our profession by using earned media to his advantage while spending very little on campaign advertising," she said.

Richard Edelman

While simply being the boss of the world's largest agency is presumably the reason for a number of votes for him, Didier Lagae, CEO and founder of Spanish agency Marco de Comunicación, was one of those who expanded, saying Edelman had been "on the forefront" of working "to change the perception of our industry positively, especially compared to the advertising industry".

Why did Richard Edelman nominate himself? He didn't elaborate, although running the world's biggest PR agency is arguably a good reason.

Sean Spicer

John Carroll, CEO of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, reflected many respondents' answers with his grounds for voting Spicer, saying: "Unfortunately, it is Sean Spicer, more than anyone else, who is shaping the popular perception of our profession at the moment."

Golin co-CEO Matt Neale voted for Spicer in his comic form, answering the question: "Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer."

A number of other respondents would evidently like to see Spicer take a training course or two.

FleishmanHillard's Dubai chief Lucy O'Brien said: "It seems to be Sean Spicer – but he has a lot of areas for professional development."

Pope Francis

Guto Harri, MD of external comms at media giant Liberty Global, said his holiness had been "gripping a vast range of huge audiences with a narrative that has been consistent for two millennia". H+K global healthcare lead David Bowen's answer was divine, saying Pope Francis has "a God-given talent for reaching, inspiring and persuading millions".

Everyone/the consumer

Several people gave answers equating to the man/woman on the street, the average social media user, or similar. APCO founder Marjery Kraus said: "The answer is all of us. Technology has brought people closer together like never before, and has democratised our individual abilities to drive a message, create a brand and influence audiences."

Ketchum chief Flaherty answered: "The citizen consumer: they have more impact on brand and company reputations than anyone."


While Burson colleagues commended his hard work and drive to learn and innovate. Ketchum non-executive chair Ray Kotcher called him "one of our remaining founding fathers".

MSLGroup chief influencer strategist Erin Lanuti wrote: "I would chose living PR legend Harold Burson. Early in my career I had the distinct pleasure of working with Harold and have always been impressed with him as a person and what he has accomplished in his storied career."

An unknown individual

Jim Donaldson, CEO of FleishmanHillard Fishburn, gave this reply: "The most truly influential are those behind the scenes." Ogilvy PR global boss Stuart Smith concurred, saying: "The one no-one knows about."

Honourable mentions

Many other business people, politicians and their advisers who are not full-time PR professionals were also nominated, including Elon Musk, Michelle Obama, Steve Bannon, KellyAnne Conway, the late Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.

'Software engineers, 'PR educators' and industry pioneers such as Stephen Talents, Edward Bernays and Arthur Page were also mentioned.

Apple comms maestro Steve Dowling got two votes.

The late Al Golin, who died earlier this year aged 87, received four votes in total, including from Golin's chief creative officer Caroline Dettman, who said: "As respected as Al Golin was, the most influential part is how he went about his life - he made everyone feel respected and important. This man was not only respected, but he was and is beloved."

  • View the Global Power Book here

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