Arun Sudhaman 11 Dec 2019 // 9:50AM GMT
Our 2019 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. "An Element Of Panic": PR Industry Responds To Bayer/FleishmanHillard
Analysis: FleishmanHillard Suspension Puts Bayer On Back Foot
There is rarely a surplus of sympathy for PR firms, but FleishmanHillard attracted plenty, after the agency’s very public suspension by Bayer for some rather mundane stakeholder mapping from 2016. Fleishman was eventually cleared of wrongdoing but, by then, the damage had already been done, thanks to the affair's high-profile and impact on the agency's existing Monsanto relationship. The complex public affairs issues raised by the case were expertly analysed in two articles by Maja Pawinska Sims and Diana Marszalek.
2. Analysis: Edelman 'Undaunted' Amid Perfect Storm ($)
As the intro made clear "every Holmes Report editor is aware that the mere mention of the world’s biggest PR firm in one of our headlines guarantees the kind of traffic spike that no other industry story can imitate." And so it proved with this deep dive into Edelman's fluctuating fortunes, which also raised legitimate questions about the PR industry’s ability to meet the critical challenge of transformation.
3. What Does The Future Of The Corporate Communication Officer Role Look Like?
How is the corporate communication officer role changing? It is a complex, but critical question, given the impact of corporate reputation on organizational success across a range of sectors and industries. And it was one that was investigated in detail by a project led by the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. The findings made for fascinating reading, as did the consequent roundtable that was conducted in conjunction with WE Communications and the Holmes Report.
4. The PR Industry's FOFO Problem: "Fear Of Finding Out" ($)
After 30 years of covering the industry, Paul Holmes' seminal longread on the lack of measurement and evaluation progress made for a critically important, if sometimes uncomfortable, article. But, in the company of Proof Analytics founder Mark Stouse, the story offered numerous positive suggestions to unpick the measurement quandary, despite the "fear of accountability" that prevents PR firms from proving their value.
5. Global PR Industry Growth Holds Steady At 5%
Another annual feature that is keenly anticipated, our Global Top 250 agency ranking this year reported another year of steady growth, thanks to a rebound from the world's Top 10 PR firms, along with continued out-performance from midsize firms — which have come to lead the market in terms of both growth and innovation.
6. Time For PR To Embrace Its Own Purpose
After two decades of writing about public relations, Maja Pawinska Sims offered some timely advice to the industry, largely focused on addressing its self-confidence issue. "Perhaps at some point in my next couple of decades writing about this industry," writes Pawinska Sims, "we can move on from the reputation of the reputation-makers being quite such a preoccupying question and, with heads held high, just get on with doing the work, secure in its quality, impact and purpose." At a time when public relations has never been more important, it is hard to disagree.
7. "An Extremely Difficult Client To Represent": PR Firms Steer Clear Of HK Government
Our biggest news story of the decade sparked this longread which explored why eight PR firms turned down the chance to advise the Hong Kong government on the protracted protests that have gripped the territory. Above all else, pragmatic considerations ruled the day, reflecting the realities involved in any decision based on 'ethics'.
8. Carrie Lam's Disastrous PR Strategy Steers Hong Kong Into Perilous Waters
A precursor to number seven, part polemic and part lament for Hong Kong's perilous future, in which I analysed the disastrous government PR strategy that brought the city to the precipice in 2019. It is worth noting that, since then, Carrie Lam's administration has not made a single positive move — underlining how protestors are winning a global battle for hearts and minds.
9. The New Generation Of Employee Activism Hits Ogilvy ($)
When Ogilvy staffers raised concerns about the firm's work for the US Customs & Border Protection agency, it aptly symbolised the rise of employee activism — a trend that, hitherto, would have been of more concern at Ogilvy's clients. But agencies, particularly those as big as Ogilvy, are hardly immune to such winds of change — as Paul Holmes examined in an insightful analysis that raised several questions about Ogilvy's attempts to manage the situation.
10. Huawei's PR Lessons For China Inc ($)
No one ever said it would be easy for a Chinese brand to go global. Yet, at a time when the value of public relations is being scrutinised like never before, Huawei's harrowing experiences over the past couple of years provide a salutary reminder of the perils of underestimating the need for a sophisticated PR strategy. That the company has belatedly decided to listen to PR counsel is encouraging; there is much that China Inc can learn from this longread.