O’Dwyer’s is currently working on its ranking of PR firms, requesting documents in order to list agencies according to net fees and other categories.
Maryland PR firm IMRE sent O’Dwyer’s its info to be included. According to emails PRNewser received from both O’Dwyer’s and the firm, IMRE was then asked to advertise with O’Dwyer’s. The firm agreed to a $600 ad package. O’Dwyer’s then told IMRE it would have to advertise at a higher rate to be on the list.
“Thanks for your entry and congratulations on your great year ($10 million) but it’s not going to be used if you’re only going to do $600 worth of business with us,” reads an email O’Dwyer’s sent to IMRE, which was then forwarded to PRNewser.
“You can’t go into an expensive restaurant with white tablecloths and just order a cup of coffee,” that same email goes on to say. “Firms that benefit from our rankings must support the $500,000 website on which the ranking reside[s].”
Instead, O’Dwyer’s wanted a $3,000 ad purchase.
“The 93 firms doing $3 million and more have been asked to do anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 in business with us to help support our website,” Jack O’Dwyer, publisher and EIC of the site, told PRNewser in an email.
“We also tell the firms that if they have a problem doing $1,000 to $3,000 in business with us (they get web, magazine and newsletter subscriptions, logo/statements and ads on our website and in our magazine to the limit of their payments) then do the best they can and they will still be ranked. No firm of good will and understanding will be dropped from the rankings no matter what they pay us,” his note to us continued. He said nearly all of the 150 firms listed last year paid less than $500 and most have agreed to a similar purchase for 2012.
O’Dwyer took a different approach with IMRE.
“Thanks for your entry but as I told Julia at Imre today we are only ranking firms that help support our website which costs us at least a half million a year,” reads an email from O’Dwyer that was sent to three IMRE execs, including Dave Imre, the firm’s CEO. “We have billed all 150 ranked firms about one-thousandth of their revenues and almost all of them are paying what we billed ($1,000 to $3,000).
“If you don’t want to pay the $3,000, at least pay $2,000,” the email continues.
“As I told you,” Imre wrote in a response, “we reject that there should be a quid pro quo for industry rankings.”
Over the course of a number of emails that were addressed variously to Imre, to us, and to a number of reporters and officers at organizations including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Ad Age, and the PRSA, O’Dwyer countered with a number of arguments:
-(Almost) everyone else is fine with it. “Virtually all the firms understand that and praise us for the work we’ve done for the PR counseling industry for 43 years. You’ll see our rankings very shortly which will prove you are in a very tiny minority in expressing anger with us,” O’Dwyer writes in an email to Imre.
-O’Dwyer’s is “only a small company and not part of Haymarket like PRWeek is,” O’Dwyer writes. PRWeek publishes a number of rankings lists and charts throughout the year.
-Imre is mad because he has ties to O’Dwyer’s enemy, the PRSA. Imre has served as a director with the organization and, of course, according to O’Dwyer, if you’ve ever had anything to do with the PRSA, you’re biased against him. “Those associated with the PR Society are always knocking themselves out trying to plaster some negative on us,” he wrote to PRNewser.
-Imre is paying more in dues to be a part of the Council of PR Firms, so the firm should also pay O’Dwyer’s. “We are competitors,” writes O’Dwyer, referring to the Council. “Imre is favoring CPRF to which the firm belongs.”
In a phone call with Imre, he told us that his firm has indeed appeared on the ranking list — the firm was number 41 last year — but it has never advertised. Nor has he ever had a run-in with O’Dwyer like this.
Curiously, in yet another email to Imre, O’Dwyer talks about his work as though it’s a charitable service to the industry. ”The firms in our rankings are grateful for all the missionary work the O’Dwyer Co. has done for the counseling industry over the years and quite respectful if not in actual awe of us,” he writes.
O’Dwyer’s has used his position as a journalist, not a missionary, to file complaints against the PRSA with the National Press Club. No one is saying a publication can’t approach companies for advertising. But put simply, as a journalist, demanding money in exchange for editorial coverage is wrong and unethical. Companies don’t have to “support” a media outlet with advertising in order to make an editorial appearance (hence all of the financial problems print publications are having these days).
And finally, yes, you can actually go into a fancy restaurant and just order a cup of coffee. It would piss off the restaurant owner, but it’s the customer’s prerogative.