Danny Rogers: Progressive PR will survive tough times

The quarterly Bellwether Report, which measures client marketing spend, sent a sudden shiver through the marketing sector this week, despite the otherwise balmy climate.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Budgets for nearly all the main Bellwether categories were revised downwards during the second quarter of this year. And the 'all other' category, which includes PR and events, saw a downward revision of almost eight per cent (more than twice the downward revision in the first quarter of 2010).

Such gloomy predictions reflect the broader economic and business context. With the economy pretty much flat, VAT set to increase and swingeing cuts already biting into the public sector, it is difficult for marketing departments to sound upbeat.

In a special Bellwether essay this week, WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell said the 'laggard nations' of Western Europe were 'in danger of a double-dip recession and permanently diminished status' if their governments did not 'deal with their debt vigorously'.

On the brighter side, Sorrell said overall marketing spend was now growing. Even more encouragingly for PR professionals, he said TV and newspaper advertising were declining in favour of consumer insight, public relations and public affairs, and specialist comms.

PRWeek talks to PR business leaders every day and the consensus is far from the gloom emanating from the Bellwether survey. Many PR bosses acknowledge the jitters caused by the UK's politico-economic environment, but few sense a double-dip recession. Indeed, many have seen double-digit growth in fees in the first half of 2010.

Certainly those businesses that have relied on lucrative government comms programmes in recent years are now suffering. But those that are fleet of foot are seeing bright spots. Public affairs and consumer PR in particular continue to feel buoyant.

However, there will continue to be downward pressure on fees. Clients are certainly demanding higher ROI from their marketing enterprises.

This should play into the hands of comms departments and PR consultancies, as long as they are constantly improving their consumer insight, their grasp of new media and their ability to evaluate campaigns.

The future, as Sorrell now acknowledges, is in the integration of creative disciplines. Only those forward-looking PR operations can drive us forward through these difficult and complex times.

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