I’ve been overseeing the Top 150 UK Consultancies PR report for the best part of 15 years. Personally speaking, it’s always an exciting moment each year when we reveal the definitive report on the rankings and performance of the most successful comms agencies.
But it’s a strange one in 2020. Because we are talking about a business period – calendar year 2019 – which already seems like ancient history thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, which has gripped the world since.
It does not, however, render the report irrelevant. On the contrary, it only highlights the underlying viability and preparedness of an industry that has just been thrown headlong into this pandemic and its accompanying economic challenges.
In fact, the trends this report highlights are the same ones from recent years and are probably accelerated by the impact of C-19.
For example, we have previously highlighted the comparative success of consultancies specialising in corporate and public affairs, and particularly a hybrid of the two. And yet again in 2019, many of the faster growing agencies – Brunswick, Portland, FTI, Hanover, Headland – are well-equipped in these disciplines.
Interestingly, many of these agencies are not part of the big marketing services groups, whose PR agencies are still struggling to achieve double-digit growth.
Indeed, independently owned consultancies are really starting to dominate the Top 150, with Edelman pulling further away from its network rival Weber Shandwick (owned by Interpublic Group) and Freuds shooting up into fourth place. Elsewhere, indie healthcare and tech specialists such as W20, 90Ten and Brands2Life continue to grow apace.
In recent weeks, the big marketing services groups seemed to be the first to cut jobs in response to the crisis, while independents such as Edelman and Freuds have pledged not to do so (although it should be added that marketing services groups such as Interpublic and WPP have said over the past week their PR businesses are now outperforming other disciplines within their portfolio).
Overall, 2019 was another strong year for PR consultancies, with an aggregate growth rate of 7.6 per cent, very much on trend ever since 2010.
The point is that ever since the last recession in 2008/9 the PR industry has proven itself highly adaptable; able to maintain impressive growth regardless of significant societal and economic challenges along the way.
For this reason – and because the attributes of issues management and multi-stakeholder relations will move up the boardroom agenda - one is confident that the sector will take even the latest crisis within its stride, and emerge even stronger in the end.
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