Someone has finally come out to do public battle with us over our quest to make certain firms in our rankings cough up some money.

A lot of e-mails and phone calls have gone back and forth among members of the Council of PR Firms and Counselors Academy of NANA (nee PRSA) about our challenge to certain PR firms to pay something for our rankings and access to our website or face removal from the rankings.

Compiling the rankings and posting them for a year on is expensive. The site has to be maintained, including stuffing it with news and data all day long. Firms that get business leads from the rankings have got to support this and most of them do so voluntarily.

Ann Subervi of Utopia Communications, Eatontown, N.J., chair of the Counselors Academy, says our insistence on getting paid for rankings "smacks of pay-for-play and is highly unethical."

Her remarks were posted on her blog called "The Ethical Optimist."

The firms we have made this demand to are firms with $2M to $25M and more in fees that give us minimal business.

Not Just a Matter of Money

This is far from just being a matter of money.

Waggener Edstrom, with $119 million in revenues in 2008, 843 employees, and No. 2 on our rankings, has only one web/NL sub at $295. It refuses to pony up a nickel more.

We just don't fit into their "marketing plan," a marketing executive told us. Several other large ranked firms have the same attitude.

So we're booting Wagged and the others off the rankings. They're not "PR" firms.

Rather than having any sense of community, they only have a sense of what's in it for them. They don't like independent media that can challenge them. They don’t live up to the term, "public."

Why are we forbidden reading material at Wagged? What are they afraid of? PR people should not be afraid of news and information about their own industry.

Cutting Noses to Spite Faces

Hardliners are going to be cutting off their noses to spite their faces because the O'Dwyer rankings are epidemic on Google. They're the only ones we find there.

If you Google "healthcare PR firms," you'll see the O'Dwyer ranking of 96 healthcare PR specialists at the top of the unpaid listings.

We searched the next 30 listings on "healthcare PR firms" and there were no other rankings.

This is true for the 11 other specialty PR practices ranked by—our rankings are either at or near the top.

Firms Are Agreeing with Us

Most of the firms we have contacted on this are agreeing with us. We’re asking for a $2,000 budget for those with $2M in fees, $3,000 for those with $5M-$10M in fees, and $5,000 for those with $10M and more.

They get a site license so all their employees can legally access; assurance that their ranking data will be used by us (assuming they follow the rules), and $2,000-$5,000 in the form of O’Dwyer ads during the year at no extra charge.

The future of PR is in the specialties and not social media. Even SM buffs must know SM in the specialties that are now well defined.

PR Orgs Don’t Support Us

We have to get support from the PR firms because we’re getting almost nothing from the PR trade associations.

We don’t expect much from NANA (PR Soc.) but should get a lot from the Council of PR Firms. It’s supposed to support the entire PR counseling industry and not just its 97 members. Our website helps bring business to PR firms so CPRF should be one of our staunchest supporters.

CPRF, which had $822,842 in cash/savings as of Dec. 31, 2008, gives us one $1,000 ad for our Directory of PR Firms each year.

It has shown gross favoritism to PR Week/U.S., which was founded (not accidentally) in 1998, the year of CPRF’s birth.

During one five-year period to mid-2007, CPRF spent more than $150,000 in ads in PRW (one-third page ads once a month). The O’Dwyer magazine got one $650 ad in the same period.

Conglomerate PR firms, meanwhile, spent $307,000 in ads in PRW from November 2005 to September 2006 while we got one $1,400 ad in the O’Dwyer magazine from these same firms.

When we complained about the imbalance of CPRF ad spending to COO Kathy Cripps (2008 salary $277,020; $16,965 retirement), she said CPRF's ad budget was exhausted and she would stop ads in PRW (article, sub req'd). But a conglomerate PR firm could easily have made up any lost revenue.

Well over half of CPRF's nearly $1M in dues comes from conglomerate PR firms. Just about all such firms (16) are in CPRF plus 81 independents. Seven of the 18 current directors are from the conglomerates which is headed by Jens Bang of Cone, owned by Omnicom. Fifty CPRF members were in the 2008 O’Dwyer rankings.

The Arthur W. Page Society ($581,688 in cash and savings at the end of 2008) will not give a nickel to the Directory of PR Firms (PR’s biggest research project each year) nor will the Institute for PR (cash/savings of $305,071). We would never expect anything from PR Seminar, on which about $1M is spent each year. PRS members control Page.

We’re disappointed in the IPR since it claims to love PR research.

CPRF Tried to Steal Our Rankings

One thing that Subervi is completely wrong on is this sentence: “Most of the larger holding company [PR firms] no longer rank because they don’t wish to submit their documentation.”

Those PR operations have not ranked with us since 2001 because their conglomerate owners won’t let them.

We’re sure they would love to be in our general, city and specialty rankings.

CPRF, in early 2000, announced it was too confusing to their members to have to give different rankings info to the O’Dwyer Co., PR Week/U.S., and Paul Holmes.

This was an astounding posture since PR firms ordinarily tailor a complicated story to a dozen or more media. Suddenly, it became onerous to deal with three PR trade publications.

CPRF sent out thousands of its own lax ranking forms to PR firms throughout the nation in a bald attempt to steal from us the rankings that we had built up over 30 years.

More than a dozen of the big conglomerate-owned firms refused to give us any data, forcing us to get such data from CPRF. A monkey wrench was thrown into our data collection.

CPRF rules were pitiful. Commissions on corporate ads, forbidden in our rankings, were allowed up to 10% of the fee total. Profits were allowed from graphics, printing, events and video production—basically anything a PR firm did.

There were no demands for tax documents such as top pages of corporate income tax returns or W-3s. CPA signatures were not required (4% of returns would be checked by a CPA). Account lists were not required.

This was a travesty of a ranking. When Sarbanes-Oxley was passed in 2001, providing for jail terms and fines for false financial reports by public companies, the conglomerates pulled their PR firms out of the rankings.

CPRF immediately stopped collecting data for the independents, again leaving the field to us, Holmes and PRW.

CPRF’s takeover of the rankings, which we had built up over 30 years, had failed.

Subervi Invited to Our Offices

We have invited Subervi to visit our offices where we will give her a brief history of the rankings.

When we started covering PR in a weekly newsletter in 1968 after four years as daily ad columnist for the New York Journal-American and four years as ad columnist for the Chicago Tribune, we were shocked to find no directory of PR firms much less a ranking.

So we published the first O'Dwyer's Directory of PR Firms in 1969, typing the entire directory on an IBM Selectric.

Some big firms including Hill & Knowlton refused to give out client lists. But so many other firms did that H&K and other holdouts relented. Eventually H&K listed about 500 clients.

The rankings became extremely powerful, firms telling us their new business leads doubled when they hit the top ten. There was a mad scramble to get on that perch with agencies gobbling each other up and the conglomerates buying 17 of the 25 biggest firms on our 1998 list.