I've been one of the champions of Jack O'Dwyer over the years. I like a muckraker more than the next guy and I like a character above almost all else, and Jack is no doubt both of those, in addition to being a convincing curmudgeon and an afflictor of the comfortable and of everyone else who pisses him off.
So it was with fondness about a decade ago, when word came that Jack was retiring, and I wrote a tribute in The Ragan Report titled, "Jack O'Dwyer is retiring, and everyone is relieved."
Alas, Jack's retirement, and everyone's relief, was short-lived. Good! The PR industry needs a nag, and it needs a sense of humor. Jack helped it with both.
But this latest thing he's pulling is indefensible. I'm sure he'll clear it up if I've oversimplified it, but as I read it on his blog, it's just this simple:
Jack publishes a directory of PR firms that potential clients presumably use to figure out what firms they want to hire. Jack is telling firms that he knows have deep pockets that they have to pay him a certain amount of money, or they won't be included in the ranking.
Now, Jack: I'm editor of Vital Speeches of the Day (just like you're publisher of O'Dwyer's Newsletter). Say I decided to start a Vital Speeches Directory of Freelance Speechwriters, so that companies looking to hire freelancers could thumb through and see who the busiest, most experienced scribes are, industry by industry.
And then, after publishing that directory for several years and making an institution of it, what if I told the most successful freelancers that they have to subscribe to Vital Speeches and sign up for an audio conference, or they would be eliminated from the list.
Jack, please explain to me how this would be ethically justifiable on my part. Tell me how I could not expect the executive communication community to tag me as just exactly the kind of Sheister Shit-Heel that you've been accusing so many other publishers and association execs of being all these years.
Say it ain't so, Jack O.
Jack O'Dwyer says
Thanks for all this attention. The more ink I can get for this, the better. This sickness (people refusing to subscribe to media and advertisers refusing to advertising, is toppling media all over America.
I’m going to let PR firm owner Greg Matusky of Gregory FCA, Ardmore, Pa., a $7.1 million firm, do the reply. This is pure PR–third party endorsement.
Greg says that as his firm has risen on the rankings which we’ve done for 40 years, “so have the number of unsolicited RFPs we receive.”
Case closed. The rankings bring in business and the firms on them have to help pay for them. Some firms, our sworn enemies, pinch any penny they spend with us while lavishing hundreds of thousands of dollars on our competitor PR Week and the Council of PR Firms (which gets most of its dues from non-ranking conglomerate-owned PR firms).
Nine of these CPRF firms, including Waggener Edstrom with $119 million in fees in 2008, have 11 subscriptions with us at $295 ($3,245) but paid CPRF dues of $112,000 in 2009 for their 1,486 employees.
There’s plenty of money here, they just want us as weak as possible.
Oddly, I bet we get more new biz for CPRF members with our rankings than they get for all their dues.
During one five-year period, CPRF spent at least $150,000 in ads in PRW and gave our magazine one $650 ad. If that isn’t gross favoritism, I don’t know what is.
David Murray says
Jack, thanks for writing. But I’m afraid your reply will confound most of my readers even more than it confounds me.
Understanding your defense of your business practices requires an arcane knowledge of the byzantine relationships and old grudges among PR firms, trade publishers and PR firms ….
Which more than invites, but rather aggressively ushers in, the corollary suspicion that interpreting your list of PR firms requires a similar knowledge of old grudges, perceived slights and “sworn enemies.”
Who but you has the time for that? Certainly not the corporate clients for whom your directory is ostensibly created.
Jack, I’m afraid you’re not on thin ice, you’re under it.
I’m not a PR agency, a PR person, or someone with a big budget to hire a PR agency [at the moment]. However, as someone who has worked as a communicator for more than 15 years in a variety of corporate environments, if and when I am in possession of a PR budget and looking for an agency, I would NOT even consider looking at either that “supposed” ranking, or approaching agencies that are near the top of it simply because they’re on it, now that I know that it isn’t in any way, shape or form based on any sort of successful service provision, or public reputations, but is simply a fact of how much money you spend with Jack O’Dwyer’s organization.
If I was an agency ON that list, I would be seriously considering cancelling any subscriptions I had with them, and immediately distancing myself from O’Dwyers, as any credibility his orgnaization may have possessed just went down a toilet because of this. The worst part is that he’s defending this approach. Enron, anyone?!
David Murray says
I don’t see how anybody on the corporate side could see it any differently from you.
One point in fairness, in case Jack has moved on: Jack says that, of the firms that are included on the list, he ranks them based on his standard criteria, not based on how much money they pay him or anything else.
I know Jack, and I believe him on that point.
But why should you?
Precisely – why should I? And, what if I [as in a potential client of one of these agencies] unlike you, DON’T know Jack?
How does that old saying go? It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, but only a moment to destroy one?
Robert J Holland, ABC says
Oh, the drama!
This is one reason I’ve never paid attention to O’Dwyers. It just takes too much energy.
David Murray says
Yeah, but if you like a good brawl, O’Dwyer’s Pub is the one for you. Sign out front sez:
“Immediate fighting, no waiting.”
Ron Shewchuk says
This is silly. Weekly newspapers and big ciy restaurants figured this out decades ago. Jack, you should do the same thing. Don’t charge for agencies to be rated. Once they’re rated, though, charge them for using your “Top PR Firms” logo on their website, and for linking to the rating itself. You’ll make some money, but you won’t be accused of charging for the rating itself. All I require as payment for my superb advice is a free subscription.