The Insider’s ‘PR Agency Report Card’ (Part 1)

In the words of a noted scholar, "Let's start spreading the news." 

It is often muttered around the water cooler that the one thing PR agencies don’t do well is…their own PR. Other than awards submissions, corporate communications for most of the touted corporate communications agencies is led by a band of crickets that hold reputation together with duct tape and a few words of prayer.

As we attempt to provide news on our fellow firms by discussing key appointments, unfortunate departures, impressive signings and the occasional case of thought leadership, we have noticed one thing: PR agencies don’t really think about their own public relations. 

That said, it is our public service to help each of the champions of communications with look inward. As what we would like to think is one of the top PR blogs around, we have a few (dozen) insiders. This was a confidential poll taken from people of all levels within each of the agencies in question.

In other words, this was a serious fact-finding mission…but our sources are protected.

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Our goal is to encourage everyone in charge of reputation management at these global agencies to take a look in the mirror and aspire to live up to that mantra about sharing stories and relating to the public. We’re here to help.

burson-marstellar-logo1. Burson-Marsteller

Reputation: If you need crisis communications and public affairs work, look no further than Harold Burson’s agency. When you think heavy business and politics, you get the stereotype that comes with it: very stiff, buttoned-up individuals that speak more jargon than they realize. This is a highly regarded agency that does many things but really only earns accolades for two…so where does that leave the “Burson Persons” who do not major in crisis or politics?

Impression: The firm’s bailiwick is the “oh crap” moment most companies get before they are about to get in BIG trouble. Unfortunately, this feeds the “hired gun” myth about Burson-Marsteller: people go to them when they need good PR, not when they want it. This is not the calling card you want when the industry is trucking along. We’re certain there are people who do not wear tweed jackets with elbow patches at B-M, but ask around–more people think that than don’t.

Recommendation: To escape the myths and stereotypes, Burson-Marsteller should consider hiring experts in other fields of communications — and promoting those hires with industry publications. The AOR announcements that get news are the crisis ones. Feeding the animals at the zoo, much? And the neck ties can be left at home, people. It’s 2015. Lighten up folks … much like your new (and fan-friendly) CEO has done.

fh logo2. FleishmanHillard

Reputation: New-ish logo. New-ish leadership. Old-ish stereotypes. We have heard from many former and current FH folk that this is the company that loves to work people…second only to the most renowned taskmaster on this list. However, it sounds like a job at FH is worth the long hours because FH has some sweet clients to represent. Furthermore, CEO Dave Senay has a near-sterling reputation in this business.

Impression: There could be (and are) much less pleasant places to work in PR. Nice clients and good people make up for what seems to be an asymmetrical work-life balance. In fact, 98 percent of those queried mentioned this issue. Another chief concern was the wide chasm between those below the VP level and those on the other side of the PR tracks…which may contribute to the balance issue mentioned above. Sounds like those “who have arrived” at FH don’t have to deal with that issue.

Recommendation: If FH is as good as it clearly seems, then it would presumably be that much better if everyone felt as if he/she had a voice. Junior staffers in PR firms rarely complain that they have no voice when they didn’t really care to have one in the first place. Apparently, there are many people on the foundational level who love their jobs–and management may want to listen to why that’s the case.

go all in3. Golin

Reputation: A place with great internal community support. In a nutshell, that’s what our PRNewserverse tell us. One of the firm’s key interview questions may say it all: “How would you brand yourself?”