The Top 150 PR Consultancies 2004: Editorial

Anecdotal evidence on the state of the public relations industry during the last 12 months is backed up by hard data this week, with the publication of our annual Top 150 survey.

Just as agencies that were thought to be bucking the trend and putting on fee income turn out to have been outperforming their peers, so it is that those repeatedly rumoured to be facing difficult times turn out to be facing difficult times in a quite unambiguous way.

Likewise, the general tenor of 'how's the market' conversations over the last year is underlined by the fact that of the top 20 consultancies in our ranking, a dozen saw their fee income decline on their 2002 figure - itself typically down on the already low numbers of 2001. Of the top three in our table of 150 fully audited sets of fee income data, none managed to achieve fee income growth on a like-for-like basis.

In common with the generally downbeat tone of the 2003 table, it also bears another key resemblance to last year's ranking. This is a result of that irritating piece of US corporate legislation, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which has once again prevented many of the biggest agencies in the country from submitting accurate fee income figures for the 2003 calendar year.

From WPP, Omnicom, Interpublic, Publicis, Grey and Havas, companies that between them own more than 15 of the largest PR consultancies in the country - including seven of the biggest ten - the numbers we have to go on are their publicly available Companies House results. These normally run up to the end of 2002, and have been sifted through for us by marketing services specialist accountancy firm Willott Kingston Smith.

Despite this, it is still, of course, possible to discern certain trends across the industry as a whole, and the main one is that 2003 was not a great deal better than 2002 for the majority of those in the upper echelons of the league table.

On the upside, all of the anecdotal evidence emerging at the moment is pointing to a market that is slowly regaining its confidence. The hope now has to be that just as that evidence was borne out by the hard numbers of this year's table, next year's Top 150 will reflect the return of growth in a more pleasing fashion.

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