Analyzing the Big PR Agencies' Presence on the Web
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Analyzing the Big PR Agencies' Presence on the Web

For years, any analysis of the way big public relations firms market themselves has been replete with “shoemakers’ children” analogies. But a quick examination of the way PR agencies present themselves on the web reveals that while some firms are on the cutting edge, others have neglected an important part of their interaction with the outside world.

Paul Holmes

For years, any analysis of the way big public relations firms market themselves has been replete with “shoemakers’ children” analogies. But a quick examination of the way PR agencies present themselves on the web reveals that while some firms are on the cutting edge, others have neglected an important part of their interaction with the outside world, including the media, potential clients, and prospective employees.


Home Page: News headlines, plus links to Harold Burson’s blog and some thought leadership on the firm’s “mon-fluentials” research.
News: The newsroom includes press releases, regularly updated; a speakers’ bureau; and the ability to receive updates.
Thought Leadership: The “insights” section of the Burson website is its greatest strength, packed with information on the firm’s research into CEO reputation (as well as a link to the separate site), and e-fluentials; and its insights series of articles, with subjects ranging from food safety to nanotechnology, to litigation to corporate social responsibility.
Capabilities: Links from the home page to a wide range of capabilities, from advertising to crisis and issues management to organizational communications, each of which provides basic information about the practice, an exhaustive list of contacts, a few case studies, and links to relevant thought leadership pieces. There are also links to sector expertise on aviation, energy, obesity and more.
Human resources: In addition to the usual information about career opportunities and the firm’s commitment to developing its people, the site includes two interesting features: Meet a Burson person offers comments from real Burson employees around the world; the alumni center provides a place (password protected) for former employees to network with each other.
Blogging: In addition to Harold Burson’s own blog, infrequently updated by marked by Harold’s trademark wisdom and good humor, BM’s site offers an e-fluentials blog, which provides updates (about once a week) on social media and online influence topics. Recent posts examine the lonelygirl15 phenomenon on YouTube and the ways social networking sites can impact a company’s brand.
Overall: Burson’s site is content rich, and the decision to eschew bells and whistles—graphically, the site is somewhere between functional and austere—seems to be deliberate. It sends the message that Burson is all business.
Grade: A

Cohn & Wolfe

Home Page: A series of graphic images, linking (not particularly intuitively) to various sections of the site, from “Our Heritage” to services and specialties to news.
News: According to this, the last interesting thing that happened at Cohn & Wolfe was in December of 2004, when the firm “swept” the Los Angeles PRSA awards.
Thought Leadership: The tools section provides some information on parent WPP’s Brand Asset Valuator tool and Cohn & Wolfe’s in-house research group Intellisights, but there’s not much of the firm’s own thinking on display.
Capabilities: Links from the home page provide information about the firm’s four major practice areas—consumer, healthcare, corporate affairs and technology—and a little boilerplate information about each. No case histories (though there is a single case history elsewhere on the site) and no contact information.
Human resources: The talent section of the site provides some boilerplate about culture, but nothing more.
Blogging: None.
Overall: It’s pretty obvious that no one at Cohn & Wolfe is paying attention to the firm’s website. No depth, no content, but the graphics aren’t hideous.
Grade: D-


Home Page: A series of images provides links to the more interesting content, while a menu bar provides easy access to every part of the site for those with slower connection speeds and without the patient to wait for the graphics to load—which can take a while at slower connection speeds.
News: All the recent news, including a wealth of new research.
Thought Leadership: The “Insights” section of the site is incredibly content rich. There’s plenty from the firm’s Trust Barometer series of studies, which looks at changing attitudes to government, corporations and the media around the world; a wealth of research into blogging and social media; and issues of Strategic Intent, a publication of the firm’s change management practice.
Capabilities: From the home page, prospective clients can learn about Edelman’s practices, its industry expertise, and its specialty units focused on advertising, medical education, research and more. There are mini case histories (“we’re the firm that…”) and contact information, but it would be nice to have a little more depth.
Human resources: The careers section of the site includes basic information about Edelman’s culture and a list of current openings (which also appear in a crawler on the home page) but some of the most interesting information is in the About Us section rather than under careers: the firm’s commitment to diversity (it’s one of only a few that emphasize this) and its “Living in Color” initiative, which focuses on the firm’s efforts to encourage employees to enjoy “a culturally rich and rewarding life outside of work.”
Blogging: Edelman surely has more blogs per capita than any other large agency. Richard Edelman is among the industry’s best-read senior bloggers; Steve Rubel is a respected expert on the blogging and social media world; and there are individual blogs (in the site’s “Speak Up” section) focused on issues ranging from employee engagement to multicultural communications and created by Edelman people in every region.
Overall: This is a cutting edge site, and it’s not just the blogs. There’s plenty of content, and it’s media rich—including an EdelmanFilms section.
Grade: A+


Home Page: There are links to featured items—right now, those include a forum on the business implications of a flu pandemic and the firm’s Next Big Thing initiative—and prominent links to information about FH culture, news and career opportunities, as well as all the standard navigation tools.
News: Not updated quite as frequently as many of its competitors, but fairly comprehensive.
Thought Leadership: There’s more than there used to be, via the “Featured Items” section of the home page, which provides links to articles addressing some current issues. But there’s no easily accessible or indexed archive of the firm’s best thinking.
Capabilities: Information on each of Fleishman’s practice groups provides basic information, including contact details, but no case histories.
Human resources: Fleishman is proud of its culture, and that section of its site goes into greater depth than most of its competitors. The careers section, meanwhile, provides information on career opportunities, internships and scholarships, and allows prospective employees to search current vacancies and submit their resumes. There’s also a link to the firm’s ethics hotline on the home page and virtually every other page too.
Blogging: None.
Overall: All of the basic information is there, and the site is especially good when it comes to HR issues, but it’s not as comprehensive as some of its competitors’.
Grade: B+

GCI Group

Home Page: A scrolling montage of GCI employee photos links to employee testimonials. There’s also the latest agency news, and links to the major areas of the site.
News: The most recent news is spotlighted on the home page, and the news section of the site contains press releases going back to 2003. There’s also the opportunity to subscribe to an RSS feed for agency news, and another for news of the agency’s clients.
Thought Leadership: Under “The GCI Difference” the firm talks about its positioning “industry-recognized thought leader” and there’s a link to a 2003 issue of the firm’s Intelligence Quarterly that talks about research and evaluation. Under “What We Do” there are more issues of IQ online, although the most recent seems to date from the winter of 2004.
Capabilities: There’s information about the firm’s areas of expertise, from community relations to healthcare to youth marketing, and a number of case studies.
Human resources: The “Working at GCI” section includes client testimonials (also featured on the home page), information about the benefits of working at GCI, and current openings.
Blogging: None.
Overall: There’s good content here, but a lot of the thought leadership and case study material seems quite dated.
Grade: B-


Home Page: There’s an opening page of nothing much to get through before a visitor finds anything useful, including links to other sections of the site. The second index page is currently full of material related to the firm’s 50th anniversary, including Al Golin’s blog and some of the thought leadership material produced to examine the next 50 years.
News: The news section includes recent press releases and “perspectives” from some of the firm’s practice leaders.
Thought Leadership: The “perspectives” articles look at issues ranging from avian flu to the reputation of women in corporate leadership to Indonesian politics and economy—a more eclectic selection than is to be found at most PR sites. But the centerpiece of the firm’s thought leadership activity right now is the study it produced examining the big issues of “the next 50 years,” which is available in PDF format and discussed in a new blog.
Capabilities: There’s information on Golin’s work in about half a dozen practice areas, with a brief description, contact information and a handful of case histories.
Human resources: There’s everything you would expect here: information about development and training, benefits, and current vacancies. And there’s also a section about the firm’s community involvement and corporate giving—something few of its competitors spend any time on.
Blogging: Founder and chairman Al Golin has a monthly video blog (“After 50 years, you’d think I’d have learned something”) and a new communal blog, which includes posts by everyone from CEO Fred Cook to Golin’s marketing exec Zandra Zuno and addresses some interesting issues from NGO activity surrounding the World Bank meeting in Singapore to the potential for “biting the weenie” in the blogosphere.
Overall: Some of the navigation is not as intuitive or as straightforward as it might be—getting back to the home page can be a pain, for example—but Golin’s site has added a good deal of content and improved dramatically over the past few months.
Grade: B+

Hill & Knowlton

Home Page: The major image on the home page asks the question “What Does Success Look Like to You?” and links to a recent case study—right now examples include the firm’s work for Baidu, Boots, and HP—with a focus on business results. There’s also information about the firm’s thought leadership activities, as well as links to the major areas of the site. 
News: The news page is updated frequently, and also includes an RSS feed, as well as media contact information.
Thought Leadership: The “Intellectual Capital” section of the site provides links to the firm’s Corporate Reputation Watch research, conducted , and there is also information about other studies on Tech Decision Makers and Consumer Influences (though no links to the studies themselves). The firm also makes its Ampersand newsletter—with thought leadership articles from various employees—available online, along with several other more specialist newsletter. And there are numerous case histories, highlighted throughout the site.
Capabilities: There’s basic information about the firm’s major practice areas, with contact information and case histories.
Human resources: Good information about training and professional development, and contacts for prospective employees to send resumes.
Blogging: Hill & Knowlton’s Collective Conversation blog is, as the name suggests, a communal blog with at least a dozen regular contributors, from Niall Cook in the U.K. to Ted Graham in Canada to Leo Bottary—whose focus is on client service—in the U.S. Recent posts cover subjects from transparency in newspaper advertising to corporate reputation and the CEO.
Overall: One of the best PR agency websites around, with a wealth of contact and a lively blog. But what really sets this site apart is the emphasis on case studies, and their focus on business results—making this one of the few sites that seems to have been designed with prospective clients top of mind.
Grade: A+


Home Page: A recent revamp of the home page has put the emphasis on thought leadership, including the Perspectives online magazine, articles and speeches, and the firm’s series of podcasts. The home page also features recent news headlines and important links.
News: The “Media Center” includes news releases, an online press kit, biographies of agency leaders and practice heads, a list of awards, and downloadable logos. From a media perspective, this might be the most comprehensive of the big agency websites.
Thought Leadership: Insights articles showcase the firm’s thinking on topics from avian flu to new media to return-on-investment. Speeches include a presentation by Ray Kotcher in China and senior counsel John Paluiszek’s thoughts on global development from a speech in India. And under “Trends,” there’s information on nanotechnology and an archive of reports on metrosexuals and the rise of India.
Capabilities: In addition to perspectives from practice leaders on trends in their respective fields, there’s some original research—into women 25-40 in the branding section, for example—and a “Day in the Life” section that provides some insight into how each practice actually works.
Human resources: Under “Join Us,” Ketchum provides information on its values and its professional development program, as well as opportunities and internships in the U.S. and the U.K.
Blogging: No blogs, but a series of podcasts on subjects from organic foods to the rise of Chine to the blogging boom.
Overall: Another site that has added a lot of content over the past few months and provides terrific insight into the firm’s thinking.
Grade: A-

Manning Selvage & Lee

Home Page: An image designed to convey Manning’s “Change Minds” positioning, a few news headlines, and links.
News:  Press releases, updated slightly less frequently than some other sites, and links to stories about MS&L in the media.
Thought Leadership: Not much. Some information about the firm’s Belief Dynamics methodology (“a workshop like process that uncovers customer insights”).
Capabilities: Basic information about each practice area, including practice leadership. No case studies.
Human resources: Career development, benefits, and current opportunities. A section on the firm’s community programs sounds promising, but offers just a single vague line about the “collegial culture” extending to the “the communities in which we work and live.”
Blogging: None.
Overall: A disappointment. A rudimentary site which provides most of the essential information, but very little flavor of what makes MS&L different.
Grade: C

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

Home Page: A busy home page includes a featured care history—currently the firm’s high-profile work on The Heart Truth campaign; news headlines; an article about the firm’s performance in the PR Week “Excellence” survey; and a link to government relations subsidiary The Federalist Group.
News: The pressroom features news releases, an archive dating back five years, and the opportunity to receive quarterly updates from the firm.
Thought Leadership: The “Expert Views” section of the site includes articles—most of them in PDF format—on subjects from AIDS prevention to blogging to the Medicare prescription drug bill. There are several case histories, also.
Capabilities: The practice group sections provide a little more depth than average, including a few case histories. The site also provides links to areas of expertise, including the 360-degree Brand Stewardship approach, and to special units such as the BWR entertainment PR group and the Feinstein Kean healthcare unit.
Human resources: The careers section is buried under the “About Us” tab and offers only the most basic information, although there is a searchable job opportunities section.
Blogging: None.
Overall: What’s there is well presented, but the site falls short in a number of areas, particularly in the careers section.
Grade: B

Porter Novelli

Home Page: A series of images—also used in Porter’s current advertising campaigns—designed to reinforce its “Many Minds. Singular Results” approach, plus links to the major areas of the site.
News: A simple list of press releases, updated frequently.
Thought Leadership: Disappointingly sparse. Very little of Porter’s thinking finds its way onto the site, except for perspectives on the individual practice areas. And no case studies.
Capabilities: There are links to sections dealing with the firm’s industry expertise (consumer, healthcare, technology) and disciplines (corporate, marketing, public affairs) and for more depth its specialties (crisis, interactive, sports marketing and strategic planning). But again, there’s not a lot of depth.
Human resources: The careers section of the site provides information about the firm’s professional development activities and a career finder section that allows prospective employees to search available opportunities.
Blogging: None.
Overall: A good looking site that includes all the basic information, but very little depth.
Grade: B-

Ruder Finn

Home Page: No real content, but links to Industry Moves (healthcare, technology, finance, etc.), Speciality Moves (reputation, crisis, ethics) and Creative Moves (design, interactive, broadcast). It’s not as intuitive as it might be.
News: No link to the news page from the home page, but you can find one under “About Us.” It hasn’t been updated for a while, though.
Thought Leadership: There’s no a lot of thought leadership content on the site, with the exception of the ethics section.
Capabilities: There’s a brief introduction to the firm’s capabilities in each practice area and industry sector, but not much in the way of case history material.
Human resources: One interesting feature of the careers section of the site is an explanation of what RF is looking for in an employee: a passion for PR, entrepreneurial spirit, people who want to make a difference. There’s information about the firm’s executive training program, and a few recent opportunities.
Blogging: None.
Overall: Another site that provides all the basic information, but very little that distinguishes the firm from its competition.
Grade: C+

Weber Shandwick

Home Page: A succinct statement of Weber Shandwick’s positioning—“The Power to Influence Outcomes”—as well as news headlines and viewpoints from agency leaders.
News: The newsroom features recent press releases, updated regularly and including news from around the entire Weber Shandwick network—it’s not as U.S.-centric as many of its competitors.
Thought Leadership: The viewpoints section includes a dozen or so articles—fewer than you might expect—on subjects ranging from avian flu to PR trends in Japan to the differences between European and U.S. corporate social responsibility.
Capabilities: There’s basic information on about two dozen practice groups, specialty teams and industry sectors, with contact details. There are no case histories, though.
Human resources: There’s in-depth information about the firms career and professional development approach and benefits and career opportunities, including a searchable database of current openings.
Blogging: None.
Overall: A very solid site, but it doesn’t quite communicate the breadth of Weber Shandwick’s leadership, including its thought leadership.
Grade: B

In two weeks—after a report from the ICCO World Congress in New Delhi—we’ll be looking at the best practices in PR agency websites from smaller and more specialist agencies. If you believe your firm’s site is among the best, let us know.

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