In the third report of its kind, senior executives also signalled a lack of confidence in their own consultancy's financial performance – only half were optimistic about their agency's prospects, compared with 74 per cent in Q2 and 53 per cent in Q3.
Although 36 per cent described the market as 'busy', 39 per cent said it was 'quiet'. In Q3, 49 per cent reported a busy market – the figure was 71 per cent in Q2.
'It is an unfortunate fact of life that people tend to become less optimistic towards the end of the year,' commented PRCA director-general and MD Patrick Barrow. 'But these results are quite surprising, and probably a reflection of an uncertain economy.
'The downward spiral in consumer spending is bound to have an effect on PROs' thoughts about their own business, particularly in the consumer sector.'
But there was some encouragement from the poll – 33 per cent of respondents said client budgets had increased – down from 44 per cent in Q3 but above Q2's 31 per cent.
The barometer is based on returns from senior executives in the PRCA's 52 member agencies.