Danny Rogers: Some reasons for optimism in global PR

The run-up from September to Christmas is always a crucial trading period for PR professionals, the last chance to cement a successful calendar year.

Danny Rogers: Some reasons for optimism in global PR
Danny Rogers: Some reasons for optimism in global PR

And this one is sure to hold surprises, after one of the most turbulent summers in living memory.

What is normally a time for relaxation and reflection has been dominated by international conflict, stock market turmoil and social unrest.

But this is fast becoming the 'new normal' for those of us who work in media and marketing.

After nearly four years of uncertainty, PR professionals are battle-hardened to the latest 'crisis'. This was reflected in reporting from the big PR and marcoms businesses last week.

In more bullish times, the indicators would have been perceived as disappointing. UK-based Huntsworth, a pure-play PR group (Grayling, Red Consultancy, Citigate), saw first half like-for-like revenues grow by 1.6 per cent and pre-tax profits fall by 20 per cent.

Rival Chime even saw operating income in the PR division (Bell Pottinger, Harvard, Good Relations) shrink by five per cent - a rarity for boss Lord Bell, who has enjoyed many quarters of consecutive growth despite the downturn.

Both firms admitted that a major factor in the sluggish growth had been subdued spending by the public sector.

I have written here previously about my concern that growth in private sector PR spend must significantly outstrip concurrent public sector spending cuts, if we are to see notable industry growth.

This is proving an uphill struggle: not only because of anaemic private sector growth - with consumers and businesses under fiscal pressure - but because the public sector cuts are particularly severe. And, importantly, these cuts are now on a global scale.

The Red Consultancy lost about 22 per cent of annual income owing to public sector decline (happily more than making this up through private sector growth), while Bell Pottinger admitted to losing a huge chunk of income from US government spending cuts and turbulent administrations in the Middle East.

Yet despite all this political, economic and social instability, the PR business is achieving growth.

Indeed WPP, another big owner of PR shops (Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe) revealed a five per cent income spike in the PR and public affairs division. Sir Martin Sorrell even talked excitedly about 2012, which will feature an Olympic Games and a US Presidential election.

The UK and Eurozone look tough bets for the foreseeable future, but anyone operating on a truly global scale has more cause for optimism.

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