We continue our 2016 Review 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, newer posts naturally deliver less traffic compared to older ones.
For now, enjoy our most popular analysis and features from a particularly tumultuous year:
1. Independent Firms Drive PR M&A Activity
A highly influential analysis of M&A activity in the PR industry from Paul Holmes, which revealed that — for the first time — independent agencies are driving the majority of deals. As the pace of acquisition shows little sign of slowing, meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if this trend holds up when Paul publishes his next M&A analysis in January of 2017. Frankly, the suspense is killing me.
2. Davos 2016: 5 Themes For Communicators
Our annual Davos round-up is always a popular affair, not least because it helps to set the agenda for the year ahead. Or so we thought, but after a year that featured the Brexit and Trump shocks, it is worth questioning whether the Davos consensus is actually in touch with the real world. To be fair to the global elite, much of this year's discussion focused on concerns around volatility and populism, and there were some fairly prescient predictions about the popularity of one Donald Trump. "Those polls can’t all be wrong," cautioned Marin Sorrell about Trump’s popularity with voters. "They are saying something about the frustration and the impact of what’s happened in the last five years." How right he would prove.
3. Analysis: What APCO Wants
APCO founder Margery Kraus opened up about her search for new investment at the world's fourth-largest independent PR firm, amid considerable speculation that a sale was on the cards. And yet, 12 fruitless months later, it seems safe to say that, whatever APCO wants, the agency is not quite getting the outcome it desires.
4. SXSW: Brands & Agencies On Content, Marketing & Interactive
An entertaining round-up of some of the top themes to emerge from SXSW, Aarti Shah's analysis also asked whether the event continues to remain relevant. As Kwittken president and chief creative officer Jason Schlossberg noted: "SXSW is 30 this year, which is quite telling. The event has truly matured, for good or bad — depending on your point of view. It seems less like a place where you will stumble upon the next great thing and more like a place where the next big marketing initiative/push finds you."
5. Andy Polansky Profile: The Human Touch
Everyone loves a good Profile. And this one, of Andy Polansky, proved to be more popular than most, reflecting the esteem in which the Weber Shandwick CEO is held across the industry. That respect extends to more than just Polansky's "affable leadership style", as the Profile put it — under his leadership, Weber Shandwick has posted several years of stellar growth, and shows little sign of slowing down.
6. Analysis: Karen van Bergen's Challenge At Omnicom's New PR Group
Karen van Bergen's elevation to the newly-created role of Omnicom PR Group CEO was one of the biggest industry stories of the year. Hence this analysis, which explored the challenges the former Porter Novelli CEO will face in her new position. It is still early days for van Bergen, but the signs since she took charge are encouraging, with Omnicom's PR division again active on the acquisition front and more aggressively seeking collaborative solutions and growth.
7. Analysis: Digital Expansion Sees Management Consultancies Enter Agency Turf
One of the more compelling agency acquisition trails of recent years: the hectic pace at which management consultancies have been hoovering up digital players, in such areas as interactive design, data analytics, customer experience and product innovation. This article analysed this trend in considerable detail, exploring the competitive threat to marketing and PR agencies, amid disruptive pressure in the management consulting industry.
8. The Government Isn't Spending Nearly Enough On Propaganda
Among certain sections of the US media, few topics appear to be as attractive as a banner headline which ridicules the government's PR spend. Paul Holmes elegantly debunks the criticism in this longread, which instead makes the case that the US Government should actually be spending more on its public relations efforts.
9. The Global Trust Crisis: 'Truth Matters More Than Ever'
The election of Donald Trump sparked plenty in the way of soul-searching journalism, including this tour de force from Paul Holmes on the crisis of trust that has enabled the rise of populist politicians. While Trump's victory might help businesses with their government affairs agenda in the short-term, Holmes — with a little help from some of the industry's smartest commentators — argues that the dark downside of Trump's rise must be addressed.
10. Plus Ça Change: 5 Lessons From Cannes 2016
Our annual 'post-match' analysis of the Cannes PR Lions was given some added frisson this year, thanks to the controversy surrounding the PR Grand Prix winner. Beyond that, though, Paul Holmes distilled this year's event into five topical lessons, focusing on the key issue for PR firms at Cannes: "We're in Cannes for the marketers, but awards aren't the only way to reach them. Also, stop submitting your best work."