Danny Rogers: Is industry slowly coming back to life?

So here we go. As the quieter summer season quickly fades from memory, we enter the critical run-in to Christmas.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

This four-month business period will give us a much better idea of the overall health of the PR industry - and ultimately decide the vintage of 2010.

Before we address the current mood, it is worth examining some of the major indicators that have come in over the past week. The biggest owners of UK PR consultancies - WPP, Chime and Huntsworth - have reported first-half 2010 figures.

The PR-dominated Chime and Huntsworth saw first-half revenues grow by five per cent and 13.7 per cent respectively, year-on-year. WPP, whose revenues are more global, saw 3.4 per cent growth in PR and public affairs. Because of the differing reporting approaches and spheres of operation, comparisons between groups are difficult.

In terms of the overall market, the growth looks encouraging at first glance but, with the exception of Chime, the comparisons are with a pretty dire first half of 2009. Favourable currency movements have also inflated the figures in some cases.

So the wider picture is of PR spend growing slightly, but a far cry from the double-digit growth rates seen from 2004 to 2008.

Seeing Sir Martin Sorrell and Lord Chadlington, the bosses of WPP and Huntsworth respectively, interviewed last week, neither is exactly effervescent. Sorrell said he believed a double-dip recession in marcoms was 'unlikely' but the uncertainty within WPP's statement led to a share price dip. Chadlington said: 'I don't think the recession is over for anybody.'

As we enter September, sentiment appears upbeat. Firms are hiring and there seems no shortage of exciting projects under way. The (admittedly sometimes artificial) atmosphere in London members clubs, restaurants and bars is abuzz. But everyone is aware the economic indicators remain uncertain. The FTSE is tentative. The Government's October spending review could seriously dent confidence.

There is, however, genuine cause for optimism. We should remember the PR industry has avoided going into negative growth despite the past three years of uncertainty and gloom. By now PR professionals have become used to working at lower cost, and most continue to thrive. We can still expect growth - and the unstinting flow of great creativity and content - even if we have to wait a few more years for the double-digit boom times.

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