Influence 100 Insights 2021, Best & Worst Communicators & Reputations

Insights: Best & Worst Communicators & Reputations

World leaders

There was a much shorter than usual list of nominees for best communicator among world leaders this year, but for the third year running – again miles ahead of anyone else in terms of mentions – the top spot went to New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who continued to impress with clear communications around the pandemic. 

Coming up just behind Ardern on the best communicator list was a new arrival: US president Joe Biden, something of a breath of fresh communications air after the Trump years, whatever your politics. Not surprisingly – the best communicator list also featured other leaders who have handled the pandemic well, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi. There were also mentions for Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who remained dignified in her communications throughout the mess of Brexit. 

On the list of the worst communicators among the world’s leaders, former US president Donald Trump yet again stole the show, although he was only a couple of mentions ahead of UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, another leader who has had something of a disastrous pandemic in terms of communications and practically every other metric, as well as constantly changing the goalposts around Brexit.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsinaro appeared several times on the worst communicator list again, as did Vladimir Putin. Interestingly, French leader Emmanuel Macron went from being one of the most feted leaders in 2020’s Influence 100, to having multiple mentions on the worst communicator list thanks to very mixed messaging throughout the past year of the pandemic. There was one woman on the worst communicator list: Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam, who presided over another divisive year in the embattled territory and whose attempts to find external support from PR agencies – well documented by PRovoke Media – have proved unsuccessful.


Which company manages its reputation most effectively? 

We asked our influencers to name the companies they think have best managed their brand communications and corporate reputation over the past year. One name was head and shoulders above the rest: Pfizer, which was not only first to market with a Covid vaccine but which has smartly navigated a misinformation minefield.

Another vaccine producer, Moderna, also made it onto the list, and there were multiple mentions for Microsoft and Nike (both perennial names on the list), as well as Tata Group. There were also namechecks for Hyatt, AirBnB, Novo Nordisk, Disney, VW, CVS Health, the England football team (under the leadership of Gareth Southgate), Clorox, Heineken, Twitter, Unilever, Walmart, Patagonia, Delta, Lego and HP. 

Which company has managed its reputation least effectively?

We also asked which company has managed its reputation least effectively over the past year and the result was again unequivocal: sadly for Facebook, for the second year running around half of those who responded named the social media network. There were also repeat mentions for the pharma companies with some of the biggest challenges around Covid vaccine communications, AstraZeneca and J&J, plus – at the other end of the corporate size spectrum –controversial British brewery BrewDog.

Other mentions on the worst reputation management list included Boeing, Huawei, Vedanta, FIFA, Arcadia Group, Cathay Pacific, Wetherspoons, Greensill, Salesforce, Fox, Shell and Apple.

Which public relations agency do you most admire/respect?

Edelman was, as last year, in the top spot after being temporarily knocked off by Weber Shandwick in 2019 after a six-year straight run of being the most frequently-cited public relations agency when our Influence 100 were asked which firm they most admired. Coming in joint second place with equal mentions were Weber Shandwick, Finsbury Glover Hering, Brunswick and Ketchum, and other agencies with repeat mentions included APCO Worldwide and Zeno.

There were also namechecks for other agencies of all sizes around the world, including Adfactors, Farner, Faktor3, Hope&Glory, Headland, H+K Strategies, Freuds, Red Havas, Sling & Stone, Peppercomm, Sard Verbinnen, Group SJR and Hallvarsson + Halvarsson. 

Future of agencies

This year, for the first time, as well as asking our Influence 100 which agencies they admire, we asked them to think about the future of agencies, and the biggest changes they see for PR agencies, from their in-house perspective. 

There was much response based on PR agency models, size, and integration and range of services:

“Large PR agencies that thrive only on media relations and do not adapt to changing customer needs (digital, advance measurement, data and analytics, research, technology in communications, etc.) will be replaced with smaller boutique agencies specializing in contemporary practices.”

“Less silos, more integration across service delivery. Despite this, smaller boutique agencies will also be more attractive than big, one-stop network shops.”

“The traditional model is broken – they are and will need to morph into consultancies covering a much broader skill set. Comms in house now is sophisticated – you don’t really need tactical execution support unless it’s a new market or you’re a start-up.”

“Expanding into creative services and social/digital content development.”

“Critical to build their digital/influence/social capabilities as people's source of news and discovery shifts to online.”

“Build on their core strength and not pretend to do everything that creative or digital agencies do well.”

“Employee comms needs to be on the menu. Have been saying this for years. It's a big strategic miss for most agencies.”

“Ability to harness data and analytics to drive cut through and true engagement.”

“Greater focus on analytics, content and improved measurement.”

“Large organisations are restructuring to be more responsive and agile. Agencies need to be better structured to match this. Gone will be the days of 'retainer' and clock watching.”

“Consulting and IT companies creating design, content and media advisory business could eat the lunch for traditional PR firms .”

In particular, our in-house leaders felt that PR agencies having a deeper understanding of business issues and business context – from policy to ESG – would be critical:

“Deepening of business expertise to remain influential.”

“Need to work with all disciplines and be stronger consultants. They also need to have more diverse team members at all levels.”

“Meet demand of both insights in global challenges, eg increasing geo political tensions and conflicts, with local knowledge.”

“More able to assist with policy advocacy and ESG issues.”

“Greater need for thought leadership and corporate reputation counsel.”

“Focus on measurement and ROI – which has been the traditional weak spot for this industry – will see more pressure from activist investors, boards and growth CMOs.”

“There is no escaping the sustainability agenda, no matter which region one is based in. If agencies haven't already invested in their own sustainability practice (not just communications, but supporting clients through the entire sustainability journey), they will/should in the near future.”