Thursday, August 25, 2005

Agency rankings

I have been trying to do some research on other PR firms so I can better understand the market we all operate in. Currently such research is a thankless task. It used to be quite easy. Until a few years ago you could look at league tables produced by people like the Council of PR firms and PR Week and it was easy to tell which firms were growing, which geographies were doing well and also what different sectors of the industry were fairing best. Not anymore. Thanks to the moves of the larger PR holding groups such as WPP and Omnicom to consolidate their PR revenues under one line in their annual reports (they use Sarbanes Oxley as the reason) we no longer have any meaningful tables.

Am I the only one that thinks this is bad for our industry? I believe it would benefit the industry to make public the performance of all the significant PR businesses that operate in the industry. Clients and potential staff would benefit by seeing which firms really were growing. Agencies would benefit by being able to see how well they were performing relative to their competitors.

I'll be honest I don't really understand the reasons why WPP et al are withholding their numbers. They say it is because of Sarbanes Oxley but I'm not sure I follow that logic trail. Having trawled through the various key sections of the act such as sections 302, 404 and 409, I can't see any good reason why an agency's revenues should not be reported. Indeed the only real requirement I can see under SOX that is perhaps an issue is that agencies would need to have good internal controls to ensure revenues were accurately being applied to the various subsidiaries. In truth given all agencies I know of, base their bonus programs to some extent on the revenue each agency generates, then unless they have bogus bonus programs, the revenue recognition is very likely recorded with great accuracy.

I'm willing to have someone tell my why SOX really does require WPP et al to report agency fees as one big number instead of breaking them out by agency but until someone does, I'll continue to hold the view that SOX has provided a fig leaf for holding companies to hide behind.

I'm I the only one who'd like to see that fig leaf be removed?


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