PRWeek spoke to 15 of the UK's leading public affairs firms to gauge levels of activity during this year's party conference season.
The firms sent a combined total of 117 consultants to the Tory conference in Manchester and 80 to last week's Labour conference in Liverpool, but only 68 from the top 15 consultancies attended the recent Liberal Democrat event in Birmingham.
The findings suggest that most public affairs firms are sceptical about the influence of Nick Clegg's ministers in the coalition Government. But one agency lobbyist said there was another reason for the low turnout.
'We threw a lot of resources at the Lib Dems last year,' he said. 'We found it was fine - but not essential. The ecosystem is not very large, so you end up speaking to the same people. There is a limited number of people to meet.'
The consultancies surveyed were: Bell Pottinger Public Affairs; Connect Communications; Edelman; Fishburn Hedges; Fleishman-Hillard; Hanover; Insight Public Affairs; Interel Consulting; MHP Communications; Open Road; PLMR; Portland; TLG; Westminster Advisers and The Whitehouse Consultancy. The firms employ a combined total of 369 consultants doing public affairs work.
MHP Communications sent the most consultants to each of the party conferences, with 11 going to the Lib Dems, 13 to Labour and 20 to the Tory conference. Other consultancies with a large conference presence were Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, Connect Communications and Portland.
MHP public affairs MD Fiona Holroyde said: 'Our party conference presence is very much client-led and so our numbers reflect client activity at the conferences.'
Only two agencies - Fleishman-Hillard and Open Road - sent more consultants to the Lib Dem conference than they sent to the Labour event.
One of the 15 firms, The Whitehouse Consultancy, did not have a presence at any of the party conferences. MD Chris Whitehouse described party conferences as 'a drain on resources'.