Something’s rank

October 26, 2012

The absence of this year’s annual ranking of PR firms turns up some troubling truths

For years, the Philadelphia Business Journal has published a ranking of Philadelphia PR firms by revenue. And for years, our entire staff has looked forward to its annual publication.

This year, though, the Business Journal has had enough. Instead of ranking firms according to their self-reported revenue numbers, the publication decided not to publish the list in its previous form because of past abuses from local PR firms that simply refused to report accurate numbers. The Philadelphia Business Journal had tried before to rein in the local industry, requiring the agencies’ accounting firms to certify numbers, and at one point threatening to expose any cheats that they uncovered.

But it evidentially was all for naught. Business Journal Editor Craig Ey told me in a phone conversation that abuses and finger pointing had simply become unmanageable. It’s a position shared by other Business Journals around the country, whose editors are equally disappointed in our industry’s inability to tell the simple truth, and are considering discontinuing their own local, revenue-based rankings of PR and advertising firms. Ey also said that the Journal has no such problems with self-reported rankings from other professional services providers, such as law, accounting, and architectural firms.

All this is disconcerting for a number of reasons, some of which are purely self-serving, while others raise serious issues about the state of our industry. As the largest PR firm in Philadelphia for eight straight years, we benefitted greatly from topping the list and had used it as a measuring stick of our own progress (as well as an excuse for a celebratory happy hour). Such was our naivety that the list was fair and honest. The rankings also drew new business to us, particularly when companies from outside the area consulted the list to find PR firms to handle a local issue or publicity campaign.

That’s now gone. Frankly, my firm’s marketing should be of little interest to the Philadelphia Business Journal, with one exception. We are a net importer of work and jobs to the Philadelphia area. The absence of the ranking hurts our future prospects as well as the prospects of other local firms that benefitted from its publication.

On a broader sense though, the situation is even more troubling because trust is the ultimate currency in the business of public relations. The dance we do with the media is an open and transparent one. They know full well that we are paid advocates for our clients and that our job is to tell the best possible story. We don’t lie. And we don’t deceive. Instead, we rely on the media to vet our hypotheses and assure the validity of our claims and those of our clients. In fact, it’s exactly that process that makes public relations so valuable, the facts the media authenticate before publishing. Perhaps, if we all remember the value of that process, then the media would be a little more willing to continue practices that have served us so well in the past.

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