Influence 100 Insights 2022, Best & Worst Communicators & Reputations

Insights: Best & Worst Communicators & Reputations

World Leaders

There was a short list of nominees for best communicator among world leaders this year, and really no question who would come out on head and shoulders among anyone else: Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenkskyy, who has rapidly achieved the status of hero in leadership and communications terms in his handling of Russian’s invasion.

Zelenkskyy knocked New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern – the only female leader mentioned on either list – off the top spot after three years running, although she was clearly in second place. The only other leader who received multiple mentions was Emmanuel Macron, who returned to being one of the most feted leaders in 2020’s Influence 100, after having multiple mentions on the worst communicator list last year thanks to mixed pandemic messaging. Canada’s Justin Trudeau was also nominated for best communicator among global leaders.

After being in second place on the best communicator list last year, the relief of US president Joe Biden’s low-key contrast to Donald Trump’s chaotic communications style clearly lost its novelty pretty quickly: Biden has slipped from second place in the best communicator list of world leaders, into the top four voted as worst communicators.

On the list of the worst communicators among the world’s leaders, and with last year’s runaway ‘winner’ Donald Trump out of the picture, UK prime minister Boris Johnson stole the show: no surprise given the continuing revelations around how his cronies partied at No.10 while the rest of the country was in pandemic lockdown and unable to see elderly or dying relatives.

Joint second place in the worst global communicator nominations went to Vladimir Putin – who, interestingly, was mentioned multiple times on the worst communicator list but also got a handful of nominations for best communicator – and the only business leader on the list this year, Elon Musk.

Germany’s Angela Merkel, a regular on the best communicator list for several years, didn’t get a single mention this year. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was nominated for both best and worst communicator, while Brazilian president Jair Bolsinaro also appeared on the worst communicator list again for another year, as did China’s leader, Xi Jingpeng.


Which company manages its reputation most effectively? 

Which company has managed its reputation least 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: Microsoft. Joint second place went to Google and Apple, while Pfizer, which was overwhelmingly voted as the leading company in terms of reputation management last year, after its successful handling of the Covid vaccine introduction, was again on the list this year but with many fewer nominations: it came in on a par with McDonald’s and Nike (both perennial names on the list) and Salesforce.

There were also positive namechecks for Twitter, Amazon, Mastercard, Patagonia, Tata Group, Ben & Jerry’s, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Lululemon, Airbnb, and L’Oreal.

We also asked which company has managed its reputation least effectively over the past year and the result was again unequivocal: sadly but rather predictably for Meta/Facebook, for the fourth year running around half of those who responded named the social media network.

Disney, which was nominated for best reputation management last year, was one of the most-named companies in the worst list this year, thanks to the tone-deaf handling of Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill, which also led to the exit of new CCO Geoff Morell this spring just a couple of months after he arrived.

The British Royal Family, after another year of controversy, featured in both the best and worst lists, along with Tesla, which received one mention on the best reputation management list this year but was one of the most-nominated on the worst list, tallying with the negative assessment of CEO Elon Musk on the list of worst global leadership communicators.

Other mentions on the worst reputation management list included Nestlé, Shell, Vedanta, P&O Ferries, Uber, Starbucks, Boeing and Heineken.

Which public relations agency do you most admire/respect?

Edelman was in unequivocal top spot for the third year running; it was 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 second place was Brunswick, which regularly shows up in the top five mentioned, but this year there was clear water between the strategic communications firm and other agencies.

The only other agencies to get multiple mentions were Zeno, FGS Global (formed by the merger of Finsbury Glover Hering and Sard Verbinnen) and Weber Shandwick, which just scraped into fifth place this year.

There were also namechecks for other agencies of all sizes around the world, from networks to specialists, including: Teneo; FleishmanHillard; Adfactors in India; Farner in Germany; Headland, Freuds, Red Consultancy and Tancredi Groupin the UK; healthcare specialist Real Chemistry; Peppercomm, Harbour Group and Wilder Public Relations in the US; Comin & Partners in Italy; MSport in South Africa; luxury and lifestyle specialist Purple PR; and Hallvarsson + Halvarsson in Sweden.

The future of agencies


This year, for the second 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 challenges and need for change they see for PR agencies, from their in-house perspective.

There is much insight for agencies here as to what their clients are expecting from them now and in the future: many of the – often frank – responses focused on data, ESG, content creation, business knowledge and employee engagement.

  • “Agencies need to truly use data to achieve cut through. So much media coverage is simply wall paper.”
  • “Agencies will need to get better aligned with demand efforts, if marketing and communications will be coming together.”
  • “There is a need for stronger internal comms expertise.”
  • “Agencies need to even better understand the DNA of companies/organizations they work for.”
  • “They need to operate like content creators. Traditional PR that does not engage clients in relevant ways doesn't stand out.”
  •  “With owned media and owned social channels becoming more important, agencies will need to transform themselves into media organizations, that are able to find, create and produce stories inside their client organizations.”
  • “To help companies balance their presence and relevance, especially in ESG.”
  • “Agencies can be used one of two ways: as extra resource to supplement the team tactically or as a strategic partner. To be an excellent strategic partner, they need to learn the business inside and out. I’d like to see that. They need to bring more data, and more relevant unique ideas to the table. I think many will be focused on ESG support.”
  • “PR agencies should be very forward looking and put lots of efforts in understanding what comes next. In addition, they should have a reasonable know how of the respective business.”
  • “It will be impossible to be skilled in every aspect of comms or marketing. And clients probably won't want (or won't be able to find) a one-stop-shop agency anymore. Agencies will have to pick their specialisms, and supplement with a network of partners with complementary skills.”
  • “Operating at the speed at which brands/clients operate today, delivering truly integrated capabilities, and ensuring their firms reflect the diversity brands are increasingly demanding.”
  • “Focus on employee engagement in a hybrid work environment. Reputation management given how much companies are expected to take on with respect to social/political issues.”
  • “Those agencies that can execute well will win far more business. Too many agencies just want to advise without getting stuck into execution.”
  • “They will need more innovation, greater creativity and higher calibre strategists/thought partners to survive.”
  • “The real challenge for agencies will be to infect all modes of communication with ESG and D&I discourse. Visuals and messages will be unable to have gender, identity or race preferences, just as they will be unable not to consider the environmental and social impacts of the message they convey.”
  • “Unless PR agencies up their game on data, analytics, commtech and understanding the levers of a client’s business, they will be out of reckoning. Agencies will have to invest in talent that is digitally savvy and understand business.”
  • “It will be as important to be policy-savvy as it is to be media-savvy.”
  • “The current model of remuneration will no longer exist and they need to adjust to the scenario.”
  • “I think they need to be more nimble and agile. I also think they need to be able to do more for less. I also see more boutiques out there with sub-specialties who laser focus in different areas (eg content, crisis, social).”
  • “Greater digital savviness; business partnering; strategic mindset.”
  • “Deep understanding of issues and speed of response. Recruiting, retaining and training strong talent.”
  • “More need for diversity. Also, large agencies stand to benefit in the next wave of more asset-light teams at larger MNCs.”
  • “Moving away from traditional media management to social media management.”
  • “The continued rise of influencers and co-created messaging will be an opportunity for comms agencies. Deeper data capabilities in tracking, targeting and evaluating earned campaigns. Better integration across agencies and campaigns - comms agencies can lead here.”
  • “Do well within the PR lane, rather than being mediocre on everything, including PR.”
  • “As in-house teams become more integrated, agencies will need to step up to stay relevant and retain budgets.”
  • “More employee comms and engagement (the way we teach this at university level needs to evolve too). Less media relations, more stakeholder management. Measurement and data will become a core part of what agencies (and in house teams) capably manage.”
  • “How sound is the strategic council, given the increasingly complex and fast moving world? I start to doubt my agencies’ judgement on many occasions because execs haven't been inside a company and start to lose touch with key factors in decision making v. staying surface level.”
  • “Why should we pay for their learning curve, given turnover is fierce?”