Edelman figures offer insight for overall PR industry

It's a measure of how much Edelman is a bellwether for the whole PR industry that organic year-on-year global growth of 10.8 percent and US growth of 6.4 percent in FY 2011-12 is even worthy of comment.

It's a measure of how much Edelman is a bellwether for the whole PR industry that organic year-on-year global growth of 10.8 percent and US growth of 6.4 percent in FY 2011-12 is even worthy of comment.

Let's keep this in perspective, those are growth figures with which most every other network would be happy - indeed, extremely happy. But, for Edelman, they are not as impressive as the previous 12 months.

In the FY 2010-11, from July 1 to June 30, Edelman achieved global and US organic growth of 15 percent and 14 percent respectively. So while the FY 2011-12 figures are outperforming the rest of the sector, they represent a slowdown in growth of 28 percent globally and 54 percent in the US compared to the previous 12 months.

The numbers also illustrate the increasing impact of global operations in driving growth, with the overall figure significantly outpacing US growth for the first time.

Edelman boss Richard Edelman attributed the softer growth to overall economic worries that caused clients to keep a tighter hold on budgets last summer and a drop in spending by pharma and healthcare clients of more than 30 percent in some cases. In May, it was announced that Edelman's former global healthcare practice chair Nancy Turett would be leaving the firm.

Of course, it is much more difficult to measure the growth of Edelman's rivals in the holding company networks over the same period because they hide behind Sarbanes-Oxley to avoid having to provide a detailed breakdown of their agencies' performance.

Interpublic Group reported Q2 figures on Thursday and, to its credit, told PRWeek the group's PR firms, which include Weber Shandwick, GolinHarris, and DeVries, grew organically by 4.2 percent year on year in the first half of 2012. At IPG, PR is significantly outperforming advertising in terms of growth.

It was a different story over at Omnicom, where the PR division – which includes Fleishman-Hillard, Ketchum, Porter Novelli, Marina Maher, Cone, and Mercury Public Affairs – grew just 2.9% organically in the first half of 2012, nowhere near as much as the group's ad firms.

It is difficult to draw conclusions about Publicis' PR performance, as the French-based holding company doesn't break out the figures, although MSLGroup CEO Olivier Fleurot told PRWeek for our 2012 Agency Business Report that PR grew organically by 9 percent globally and 6 percent in the US in the 2011 calendar year – not far shy of Edelman's fiscal year growth.

WPP is the only remaining large network still to report Q2 figures. To be honest, the Sarbanes situation frustrates many network agency CEOs because it doesn't allow them to spread good news about growth when it comes up. Omnicom bosses in particular complain about items included in the group PR segments that drag the figures down for the core PR shops. No doubt other holding company senior execs have similar tales to tell.

The various agency financial information referred to above spans different periods and different groups of companies and divisions and so is not strictly like for like. But, from what is available, it seems Edelman is still outperforming the sector and is still the agency to catch.

But at current growth levels there is still some way to go before that elusive $1 billion PR agency appears on the horizon.

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