LEADER: Boom time - but the storm clouds gather

It is both ironic and predictable that in the very week we calculate double-digit annualised growth in PR spend, we also start to see ominous clouds gathering on the horizon.

PRWeek's recent Top 150 Consultancies report estimates a 13 per cent increase in PR consultancy spend during 2006, and the chances are that this has continued to accelerate.

All of which comes as little surprise when we look at the wider business and economic context. Marketing budgets are being revised upward, as confirmed by the Bellwether report earlier this week, which also revealed the first upward turn in mainstream media advertising budgets for two-and-a-half years. Indeed, it saw the largest gain since 2000.

This is partly explained by booming consumer spend, which has once again helped retail bellwether Tesco to turn in record profits.

But analysts are now asking whether the economy is overheating? On Tuesday we learned that inflation has hit 3.1 per cent, the fastest rise for 10 years, and that the cost of living for many middle-class families could be growing by as much as six per cent annually.

The media is becoming obsessed with rising interest rates, higher bills and potential home repossessions, meaning the reputation of the ‘Iron Chancellor' - built over a decade - is beginning to look more brittle.

This is not to scaremonger. Instead, it is to highlight the potential dangers for a PR industry which, while enjoying increasing revenues, is also facing spiralling salary bills and hefty rises in office rental.

Smarter PR practitioners are already insulating themselves against a potential downturn by trying to resist short-term gain in favour of longer-term investment in staff and training - and by carefully managed business growth. The industry has made great strides in improving its reputation in the boardroom, which should make it more recession-proof in the future, but there is still much work to do in justifying PR's long-term value to its paymasters.

Click HERE to view the Top 150 PR Consultancies 2007 (PDF)

Click HERE to view the Top 50 INDEPENDENT PR Consultancies 2007 (PDF)

Click HERE to view the Top 50 PR Consultancies 2007 OUTSIDE LONDON (PDF)

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