Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The research that wasn’t – how PR agencies do offer digital PR after all

Most people working in agency PR will know about that story from bigmouthmedia – a re-run of 2008’s research by the SEO company - that a staggering 60 per cent of the top 100 agencies in the UK (as ranked in PR Week’s annual list) don’t offer a range of digital services.

I was pretty surprised by this. A number of people, me included (via a Twitter conversation), queried the research and were told that bigmouth had gone through the websites of each of the top 100 firms to ascertain which of them had a digital offering of some description. Social media, online PR and various other terms were included in the research.

I didn’t really think much more of it, apart from being mildly annoyed – bigmouth is a reputable SEO company, and while I didn’t believe the results, it wouldn’t be the first time that statistics have been massaged for PR benefit. And to be honest, not many journalists are going to sympathise with the PR industry being out-PR-ed.

But then it started appearing all over the place, including Marketing and eConsultancy – which both have real influence in the client world – and I got annoyed again.

So a couple of us at Carrot re-did bigmouth’s research, in the way that it had done it (as far as we could tell from its own response to us, and to the PR Week article). Any agency that didn’t mention digital, online PR, social media, blogs, interactive PR and so on went onto the ‘don’t offer digital’ list.

Guess what?

Eighty-three per cent of agencies from that same top 100 list DO specify digital / online / social media, call it what you will, on their website. We’ll come on to those that didn’t, shortly.

So, I thought, what’s going on here? Did bigmouth just make it up?

Assuming that it didn’t, there’s only one explanation. Its research discounted any agency that doesn’t have a separate digital division. So anyone that integrates digital channels across all their work (you know, the way most people do things these days) counted in the ‘doesn’t do digital’ pile.

So who were the 17 or so agencies that didn’t offer any digital? Because we were doing the research in the way that it had been done before, some pretty big names appeared to fall onto that pile.

Freud, for example. This is the agency that works for Sky, TalkTalk, Sony and Lynx (so it clearly does get online. It just doesn’t see fit to list every service on its site). Another was Finsbury – the agency that, according to its website, advised on three of the top five European deals last year. I don’t imagine they’re going to be very threatened by this ‘research’, either. The rest were mostly heavy-duty financial or pharma companies, so less likely to list every means they use to communicate.

Now, I don’t expect to elicit any kind of response or sympathy from journalists (who didn’t check their facts), or for any corrections to be printed. (Perhaps we in the PR industry should have jumped on this story when it first ran in 2008 – we’re not great at keeping our own reputation.) But what I do hope is that bigmouth doesn’t do this research again next year, when even more agencies should be integrating digital across all their services, not offering it separately. Or at least, do it properly.

UPDATE: bigmouthmedia sent me this tweet last night: "Looks like you used a kinder technique than us; allowing a greater "scope" than us. Glad we've two sets to compare. Good work."

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