PR shops still playing catch-up on digital

With Omnicom, Interpublic Group, Publicis, Havas, and now WPP all having reported first-half trading figures for 2011, the financial results season is over and it is time to draw some conclusions.

With Omnicom, Interpublic Group, Publicis, Havas, and now WPP all having reported first-half trading figures for 2011, the financial results season is over and it is time to draw some conclusions.

Q2 PR revenues at IPG were up a healthy 9.5% in the year to date, beating the overall group performance. In contrast, Omnicom's organic PR revenues rose a paltry 1.9% in Q2, well below the group's overall organic growth in the period of 7.2%.

Havas doesn't break out PR separately and grew 8.1% organically in H1, but noted that North America was particularly boosted by its advertising, digital, healthcare communication, and media businesses. And Publicis Groupe's organic PR revenue was up 5% in the first half of 2011.

WPP reported year-on-year like-for-like revenues up 5% for its PR and public affairs businesses in the first six months of 2011, excluding currency movements and acquisitions. But advertising and media did better in the same period, increasing 8.1%, with branding & identity, healthcare, and specialist communications up 7.3%.

Encouragingly, the profit margin for PR and public affairs at WPP was higher, at 15.5%, comparing favorably to advertising's 12.3%, consumer insight's 7.5%, and branding & identity, healthcare, and specialist communications' 10.7%.

So, overall, a mixed bag, with encouraging signs and a generally healthy performance for PR, but definite indications that advertising, media, and some other marketing services are growing faster.

It seems marketers are rediscovering their love of TV advertising. But they are also placing some of the big digital work with advertising and media agencies rather than PR shops.

Another interesting development at WPP was its J Walter Thompson ad agency winning a $200 million tourism account with the help of sister agencies MediaCom, The Brand Union, and Hill & Knowlton.

A feature in this month's edition of PRWeek, out today, looks at the efforts of advertising agencies to muscle in on PR's territory and makes interesting reading. It suggests advertising is not making as big strides into our world as some fear, and that they are actually looking to work in partnership with PR agencies.

The JWT deal above and developments such as Fleishman-Hillard bidding – unsuccessfully as it turns out – for the integrated Perdue Farms account also speak to this trend.

There will be much more partnership working ahead, as services converge on a central digital and social space, but the holding companies' first-half financial results suggest PR agencies have to be much more aggressive in targeting digital business and convincing CMOs that they are the people to take this work on.

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