Danny Rogers: We need to restore confidence to grow

As we enter the third, and for many of us the most crucial, business period of the year - September to December - there is really only one word summing up the challenges facing the Government and the British PR industry: growth.

Danny Rogers: Growth is the key challenge for PR
Danny Rogers: Growth is the key challenge for PR

Growth, whether in terms of national GDP or PR budgets/revenues, has become an obsession precisely because it is currently so hard to come by in mature Western markets.

That bellwether of PR and marketing services, WPP, last week revealed its PR revenues were close to flat for the first half of 2012. The group's PR and public affairs revenues rose from £221m in the first half of 2011, to £234m this year.

This growth represents 6.3 per cent on a constant currency basis, but just one per cent in terms of like-for-like growth.

These figures are similar to those that have been reported by WPP's rivals, such as Publicis and Havas, this summer. Most worryingly, growth in Q2 2012 was significantly down even on the first quarter on the year.

Even Chime's CEO Chris Satterthwaite, who reported fairly bullish interim results last week, admitted growth in its PR businesses was only six per cent in like-for-like terms, with the bulk of its 19 per cent growth in operating income derived from sports marketing and specialist healthcare services.

This sluggish growth in marketing and PR spend is a result of a confidence deficit among the businesses that normally invest in it.

This is not because they doubt the value of these creative disciplines. Indeed, as oft noted here, revenues have held up remarkably well for what has been the longest recession for 80 years. Rather it is because business leaders are nervous about the longer-term economic outlook.

And this is where the Government comes in. This week David Cameron and George Osborne have attempted another relaunch of their administration.

They recognise that after the reputational disaster of the spring Budget, they urgently need to restore confidence in both the economy and their stewardship of it. The word they have tried to get into the first paragraph of every newspaper article: growth.

Opinion will be divided over whether this Government has the right answers, but we all bear some responsibility for improving business and consumer confidence in the pre-Christmas period. If we fail, the efforts of a world-class PR sector and the feelgood factor of a great Olympian summer will count for very little.

Danny Rogers is PRWeek's editor-in-chief.

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