OPINION: Global client trends bode well for PR

Amid some currency market turmoil over the past week, and a worrying slide in share prices, there were more encouraging words from those at the tiller of the global PR consultancy business.

In full-year preliminary results, marketing services behemoths WPP and Interpublic Group (IPG) both announced strong performances by their PR arms.

Indeed, IPG - owner of Weber Shandwick and Golin Harris - pointed out that, in 2006, organic revenue growth ‘was led by PR' alongside digital and direct marketing services.

Meanwhile, WPP supremo Sir Martin Sorrell - whose portfolio includes Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller and Finsbury - said PR and public affairs had continued to show ‘significant improvement' on the previously strong year of 2005. The figures themselves showed a 12.4 per cent revenue leap from PR services, and operating margins smashing through the 15 per cent barrier.

Most significantly, Sorrell told PRWeek that there had been a ‘secular change' in the PR industry, with networking sites such as YouTube, Flickr and MySpace emphasising the power of editorial publicity in clients' minds. This put firmly on the record what many agency bosses have been saying privately for a while now.

Even if the current tech and financial services boom peters out, one senses that the shift towards social and interactive communication is a permanent one.

And the outlook is positive. Sorrell's forecasts suggest below-the-line marcoms will continue to grow faster than traditional ad spend, for 2007 at least.

While much of this growth will admittedly come from the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China), there is a recognition that, even in mature markets, ‘intangible' factors such as ethical reputation and environmental performance will make the biggest difference to clients' long-term success. These are marketing challenges that lie happily within PR's heartland.  
danny.rogers@haymarket.com

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