Holding company figures can be deceptive

Full-year financials for the main agency holding companies have been released and we can draw some initial conclusions about the 2011 PR year - although top-line figures aren't always quite what they seem.

Full-year financials for the main agency holding companies have been released and we can draw some initial conclusions about the 2011 PR year – although top-line figures aren't always quite what they seem.

WPP's PR and public affairs revenue rose 4.6% to $1.4 billion in 2011 on a like-for-like basis. Cohn & Wolfe and Ogilvy PR Worldwide got particular shout-outs in the full-year results for the group that also includes Burson-Marsteller and Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

Interpublic Group's Constituency Management Group, which includes Weber Shandwick, GolinHarris, and DeVries as well as numerous other PR, events, and experiential firms, grew an impressive 9.8% organically, posting total revenues of $1.1 billion for the year.

Fleishman-Hillard, Ketchum, and Porter Novelli's parent company Omnicom achieved PR revenues of $1.2 billion, growing just 1.9% organically compared to the previous year. Given that all three agencies have reported growth, in certain cases significant growth, in their 2012 Agency Business Report submissions, clearly something else seems to be dragging these figures down.

Omnicom PR insiders grumble about the group's PR division being grouped with properties such as the struggling “PR” arms of advertising groups and the shrinking of one-time star PR performers such as UK-based Fishburn Hedges.

WPP and IPG PR agencies would no doubt point to similar sob stories buried in their own group figures that bring their principal PR firms down, but the difference does seem particularly stark at Omnicom. Until senior executives at the three main firms can persuade their group to report differently, the perception of PR performance will suffer in comparison with the other two main holding companies.

Clearly our Agency Business Report, which publishes in the May edition of PRWeek, will really drill down into the figures and trends on display in the 2011 trading year. But the holding company returns for 2011 suggest the industry is in pretty good shape as we move toward the end of Q1 2012, both in terms of comparison with the performance of other agency disciplines and the wider economy.

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