PR Week PowerBook: genuine influence or simply a popularity list?

powerbook2010 PRWeek has published the PRWeek PowerBook 2010, a 106-page A5-size book sub-titled “The definitive guide to the most influential people in PR” in the UK.

The publication was launched at a shindig in central London last week, which I went along to. A good time was undoubtedly had by everyone there, according to the photos.

Afterwards, as I perused the book, I wondered how PRWeek came to decide who would be included (in fact, the first question that came to my mind when I was at the event). There’s no mention anywhere in the publication about this, a key point in my view in determining whether something that claims to be “definitive” has any authority to make that claim and whether you would at least give it your attention and perhaps recommend it to others.

I’d not heard of this publication before although I understand it has been published annually since 2007. I wondered how PRWeek determined the ranking order in the various Top 10 lists in the book. There’s no explanation. I guess my intrigue about this aspect was stimulated partly by the fact that I’m included in the Top 10 Digital list, coming it at number 10. How did PR Week determine my inclusion, I wondered. And a fundamental question: what does “influential” mean in the context of this book?

In the introduction starting on page 5, PRWeek makes it pretty clear that this book isn’t intended to be a scientific exercise. All it really says about how things have been arrived at is this:

[…] We have compiled mini-rankings of the key players in each specific PR discipline. These tables have been put together with the help of senior journalists and leading figures in the media and PR industry. […] We do not claim this to be a scientific exercise. It is based on the opinions of the senior figures we contacted, and incorporates the expertise of the PRWeek editorial team.

Some of the contributors are named on page 5, all in the media by the looks of it. That helps some although it makes it no clearer on how I can gauge whether the book is worth giving any serious attention to and whether I’d agree that it’s a definitive guide on who’s influential in the UK PR scene.

So I asked Cathy Wallace, features editor at PRWeek (and project editor for the PowerBook), a few questions about the book. She’s kindly said yes to my request to let me publish our email conversation in this post.

top10digitalFirst, on the Top 10 Digital list, my inclusion and not being listed in the alphabetical biographies that make up the bulk of the book:

Neville Hobson: I assume the people listed provided the information from a questionnaire or something you asked them to complete. I never heard from anyone, a reason I suppose why I’m not listed at all. I’m ok with that although it seems to me a bit odd to be included in a top 10 and then there’s no further information anywhere in the book. I noticed the same with Marshall Manson and Katy Howell who are included in the digital list – they’re not in the alpha list either.

Cathy Wallace: Like Marshall and Katy, we were unable to include you in the PowerBook listings overall this year. However we felt that as the digital sphere embraces many creative disciplines – not just PR – we were able to accommodate the three of you in the top 10 rankings.  By ‘digital’ we do not just mean PR.  However professionals listed within PowerBook must legitimately be one of the top one per cent in terms of influence and ‘power’ within the entire PR industry.

One of the first points that occurred to me that would undoubtedly affect the value judgement I make about the PowerBook is whether a digital version is on the cards:

NH: Is the PowerBook just that: a printed book and maybe an online version like the 2009 edition I saw? The content not available as a searchable database, maybe via the PRWeek website and for subscribers only? [If it were,] that would make the publication really valuable.

CW: I would love to see the day PowerBook becomes a searchable database online.  I can’t see this happening this year, but it is definitely on our ‘to do’ list.

Then we got into the meat of our conversation – trying to gauge whether this is a publication that’s worth giving attention to and suggesting that to anyone in my various communities:

NH: I’m intrigued, too, by your comment on the overall listings and how people are included. You say they must “legitimately be one of the top one per cent in terms of influence and ‘power’ within the entire PR industry.” Can you expand on that a bit? I’d love to know how you define who’s in that one percent.

CW: I would say PowerBook is an exercise of editorial judgement from the magazine of the PR industry.

You can’t calculate ‘power’ or ‘influence’.  It’s a subjective concept, therefore the exercise is subjective and we are always very open about that.

We aim to be representative too – you are not comparing like with like here. How can you create a methodology to compare Matthew Freud to the head of a regional PR agency with top-tier tech clients, but whose name will never appear in the Evening Standard’s Diary section?  But within their chosen fields, and within the wider scope of ‘the PR industry’, both wield exceptional power and influence.  For us, as the magazine of the PR industry, it is essential those regional players, the in-house people, the heads of super new start-ups that have exceptional clients and have generated a real buzz, are all represented within the PowerBook alongside the Matthew Freuds and the Max Cliffords and Alastair Campbells.

But as you can appreciate, I am sure it would be nigh on impossible to come up with an actual formula or calculation to express this.

The PowerBook is the only ‘who’s who’ of the UK PR industry, published by the magazine of the PR industry.  Individuals are free to draw their own conclusions as to whether it is worth giving any attention to. As a journalist, naturally I believe that editorial judgement still holds clout.  It is up to the individual whether or not he or she agrees.

NH: While I do agree with you in that measuring influence is often subjective, I can hardly agree with a view that then says, therefore you can’t calculate or measure it. That hasn’t stopped many people and organizations attempting to do just that. Advertising Age, for instance, with its Power 150 list ( and where they explain with some clarity precisely how they rank the people who appear in their list ( With such clear explanation, it’s a simple matter for anyone to assess and decide whether the list is something they would give any attention to as a source of authority and influence.

Consider firms like Cision with their rankings of UK social media blogs, usually meaning the people who write the content ( and their explanation of their methodology (

I realize that such rankings aren’t precisely comparable to the PRWeek PowerBook. As you say in the book itself, it’s not intended to be a scientific exercise, as it were. And there’s the first sentence in your previous email: PowerBook is an exercise of editorial judgement from the magazine of the PR industry.

That’s fine, I’m purely trying to get a better understanding of how the publication stands in a field of analytics.

CW: This may help answer your question as to whether the PowerBook is something people take notice of. The complaints from people who have NOT been invited to be included in PowerBook are coming in thick and fast! It is obviously important to them :)

Which of course produced my swift (and tongue-in-cheek) reply:

NH: Ah, so it’s an indication of popularity rather than influence ;)

And Cathy’s equally-swift rejoinder:

CW: If that’s the case PRWeek is very popular with those who are in the book, and not so popular with those who are not!

In all, a good conversation, one that enabled me to get a better sense of the PRWeek PowerBook 2010 and whether it’s something I would regard as living up to its sub-title of “The definitive guide to the most influential people in PR.”

And do I regard it as such? In a word, no. But that’s just my view; as Cathy said in our email discussion, “Individuals are free to draw their own conclusions as to whether it is worth giving any attention to.”

What do you think?

As for my copy of the book, it makes a nice addition to the coffee table. Well, it would if I actually had a coffee table.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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