One critical decision we made when the ranking project began was to define public relations broadly. This decision was grounded in the philosophical approach of The Holmes Report, which believes that public relations includes all of the activities in which an organization engages in order to strengthen its relationship with any public or stakeholder group. Thus, public relations fee income includes not only fees derived from traditional PR activities (media relations, community relations, employee communications, investor relations, public affairs) but also fees (but only fees) related to activities such as research, design, advertising and social media relations—as long as those activities were carried out by a firm whose primary activity is public relations.
We have always considered advertising, for example, to be a perfectly legitimate tool of public relations management. Indeed, many in-house public relations departments have responsibility for substantial advertising budgets, particularly when the advertising is designed to meet corporate or public affairs objectives rather than marketing or sales objectives. It would therefore be illogical to exclude fees related to advertising from a broad and inclusive ranking.
So the precise wording on the rankings form provided to participating agencies was as follows: “The Holmes Report defines public relations broadly as any activity designed to help corporations and other institutions build mutually-beneficial relationships with their key stakeholders, including but not limited to customers, employees, shareholders, legislators and regulators, communities, and the media. “The primary business of a public relations firm for the purposes of this document should involve either strategic, media-neutral counsel or earned media, but a public relations firm may engage in a wide range of activities including but not limited to media relations, sponsorship, advertising, corporate identity, web design, and research. However, firms may include only the fees for this work, not payments related tomedia buys, production, etc.
“The Holmes Report reserves the right to make its own judgment about whether a firm qualifies as a public relations firm for the purposes of these rankings, and to exclude firms it considers not properly qualified.” This is a broader definition than the one used by many other organizations providing local market rankings of public relations firms, which means that several of the firms providing numbers to The Holmes Report will receive credit for income not included in other rankings. The numbers for Edelman, for example, include fees from its StrategyOne research division and its Blue advertising unit, adding between $7 million to the more tightly defined fee income reported to O’Dwyer’s newsletter. There were several obstacles to complete accuracy, the most obvious of which is the decision of the largest publicly-traded holding companies to interpret the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations in the United States in such a way that they preclude the release of information about specific operating units.
In truth, there is nothing in Sarbanes-Oxley that prevents the release of information. Indeed, some publicly-traded communications companies do continue to provide information about individual public relations brands. For the very largest companies, such as WPP, Omnicom, and Interpublic, the issue appears to be one of cost—the expense associated with ensuring the accuracy of published numbers—rather than legal prohibition. Needless to say, none of the Sarbanes-Oxley restricted holding companies or their PR firms co-operated in the creation of this ranking, and so The Holmes Report was compelled to rely on several sources to compile a ranking that it believes to be broadly accurate. Among the information sources on which we drew:
• Publicly-available information (including the last official ranking to pre-date Sarbanes-Oxley, for 2001 fee income, and some information available from the firms themselves related to headcount);
• Information that has entered the public domain despite the best efforts of the companies (specifically, information from former employees relating to headcount in specific offices, supplemented in some cases by directories of agency employees, as well as widely known revenue-per-employee targets); and
• The judgment of The Holmes Report, which covers the field in both the U.S. and Europe and can draw on information about clients moves, office openings and new hires to form a broad picture of the industry. Another obstacle involved data from firms in emerging markets, where definitions of public relations are sometimes imprecise and where firms were not always willing or able to secure verification from a trusted third party (equivalent to a certified public accountant in America). In several instances, The Holmes Report made its own efforts to verify the broad accuracy of information provided, and where it could do so with confidence, the firms involved are included in this report.