Arun Sudhaman 10 Dec 2018 // 5:05AM GMT
Our 2018 Review continues by breaking down our most-read Longreads of the year. As ever, we disqualify awards stories as they always skew the rankings. Beyond that, it is worth noting that our Longreads always get the most traction, even ahead of most of our top news articles, which we will rank later this week. And please do bear in mind that, of course, some of these articles are now gated behind our Premium Content section.
For now, enjoy our most popular analysis and features from another tumultuous year:
1. 11 Talking Points From Cohn & Wolfe's Takeover Of Burson-Marsteller ($)
Appropriately enough, first place went to the year's biggest news story, the dramatic takeover of iconic PR firm Burson-Marsteller by smaller WPP sibling Cohn & Wolfe. This analysis, posted within a couple of weeks of the news, broke down the various questions, lessons and predications raised by the blockbuster merger, and it makes for interesting reading to see which of these 11 talking points still resonate nine months later.
2. 5 Communications Themes From A Revived World Economic Forum
Our annual Davos round-up is always a popular affair, not least because it helps to set the agenda for the year ahead. And this year's version was probably more anticipated than most, thanks to dire prognostications on the collapse of trust. Ultimately, though, the 2018 World Economic Forum ended the week in upbeat mood, buoyed by the kind of economic optimism that helped business and political leaders banish the memories of upheaval that coloured the 2017 version. Not that those issues, nor the populism that underpin them, have disappeared. But the corporate world is nothing if not pragmatic, and the combination of tax cuts, deregulation and economic expansion means they appeared just a trifle less concerned about the decline of trust or jarring inequality that continue to bedevil perceptions of the Davos elite.
3. Global PR Industry Growth Slows To 5% As Networks Struggle
Another annual feature that is keenly anticipated, our Global Top 250 agency ranking this year reported some worrying data about the global PR industry, with major PR networks suffering their worst ever year (in 2017) since the global financial crisis one decade ago. As ever, there were some silver linings, notably the rise of the midsize firm — which performed handsomely in picking up the slack, illustrating how this tier of agencies have come to lead the market in terms of both growth and innovation.
4. Is Public Relations A 'Bullshit Job'? ($)
“Bullshit jobs are jobs which even the person doing the job can’t really justify the existence of, but they have to pretend that there’s some reason for it to exist,” said LSE professor David Graeber in promoting his new book — Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. And public relations consultants, added Graeber, are a classic example of this troubling trend. Enter Paul Holmes to elegantly debunk this claim, while allowing for the possibility that, in some instances, Graeber's view is not entirely unjustified — particularly when organizations are prepared to use manipulation, obfuscation and deceit to achieve their business goals.
5. P&G's Marc Pritchard: Public Relations Can Reinvent Brand-Building
Widely considered the world's most powerful marketer, Marc Pritchard probably wields the biggest global PR budget too, as part of his overarching remit as chief brand officer of consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. Ahead of his headline slot at PRovoke18, we conducted an extensive interview with Pritchard that explored agency challenges, the PR industry's opportunity, reputation management in the fake news era, the changing nature of creativity, employee ambassadors, the fear of failure and much more.
6. Why The PR Industry's Diversity Initiatives Fail
Another devastatingly simple headline that highlighted the latest instalment of our lengthy campaign to improve diversity and inclusion in the PR industry. In this widely-read analysis, Aarti Shah breaks down why the PR industry has grappled for more than a decade with diversity initiatives that have made, at best, modest dents on a longstanding problem.
7. Cannes: Ranking the 2018 PR Gold Lions Winners ($)
Our annual ranking of the Cannes PR Gold Lions winners again garnered plenty of attention, not least for highlighting how Cannes disproportionately rewards advertising (and public relations) people for their work with charities and non-profits, or for work that aligns companies and brands with good causes. That kind of bias may be unsurprising, as purpose becomes more central to modern branding. But what probably raised more eyebrows is how the vast majority of the 2018 Gold Lions provided very little evidence of any benefit to the brand.
8. 'Radical Evolution': Will H+K's Latest Changes Pave The Way For US Resurgence? ($)
One of the bigger agency stories of the year involved the latest leadership reshuffle at H+K Strategies, which saw Richard Millar and Lars Erik Grønntun taking on global oversight in a bid to revive the firm's North American fortunes. This analysis chronicled the reasoning behind the decision, including the personality clash that helped usher in the departure of H+K North America chief Alex Jutkowitz.
9. Martin Sorrell, The Accidental PR Mogul ($)
Martin Sorrell's departure from WPP in April shocked the business world, 33 years after he acquired the company as a vehicle for his global ambitions. In this long read, Paul Holmes analyses Sorrell's impact on the public relations world, a part of his legacy that is often overlooked, and with good reason. As Holmes writes, 'there is a case to be made that WPP consistently failed to add value to the numerous PR agencies that it bought over the years— most of which declined in stature and influence after they were acquired.' We will, of course, be watching closely to see if Sorrell's new S4 Capital acquires any PR firms as part of its expansion strategy, whether accidentally or by design.
10. Next 15 Aims To Embrace Future By Dispensing With Brands Of The Past
It is, perhaps, fitting that the first and last entries on this list concern agency mergers, because nothing typified the global agency industry in 2018 better than the accelerating drumbeat of consolidation. Next15's decision to merge Text100 with Bite was hardly the biggest example of this trend, but it was certainly one of the most interesting, resulting as it did in the departure of CEO Aedhmar Hynes and the end of the storied Text100 brand that she led for so many years.