'Recession-proof' sector is coping with downturn

Marcoms giants Interpublic and WPP have posted impressive annual growth figures, bolstered by a robust PR market.

London Stock Exchange: City facing tough times
London Stock Exchange: City facing tough times

The results have led many to suggest a predicted downturn has not yet arrived for PR. Industry analysts went as far to say PR could ride any financial storm altogether.

‘PR is benefiting from the need for information - we are paying Brunswick to help us right now, for example,' said Numis Securities analyst Lorna Tilbian. ‘If global interest rate cuts work then there is a chance PR will get through scot-free. It is robust at the moment.'

WPP's 2007 end of year results, released this week showed currency growth of 12 per cent and like-for-like growth of more than eight per cent for its PR agencies. It singled out Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller and Finsbury among others, as performing particularly well.

Interpublic surpassed analyst expectations, reporting its first profitable year since 2002, with an organic revenue growth of 3.8 per cent year on year. Sources close to the group said this was due to the success of its PR agencies, which include Golin Harris, Weber Shandwick.

Last week WPP chief exe­cutive Sir Martin Sorrell said: ‘I can't recall a time when PR has been as strong.'

VIEWPOINT: INDUSTRY VETERAN SPEAKS OUT
Bob Leaf
Chairman, Robert S Leaf Consultants, former Burson-Marsteller international chair

‘In the 40 years I was with Burson-Marsteller we were very rarely hurt by a recession. In reality we often did quite well. I was also in charge of Marsteller, our ad business, and they sometimes suffered. But clients who cut advertising dramatically nearly alw­ays increased PR activities to compensate. In some cases when they red­uced adv­erts to specific audiences, or for specific products, their only promotion was PR.

Also, in reality there is a great need for corporate PR to let key markets, including the financial community, know you are weathering the storm effectively during the recession.

This is the case at any time when a client is facing problems; the real key is for the consultancy to be creative in coming up with approaches.

We found most clients were willing to listen, act and provide the necessary funding. It often strengthened our overall relationship with them as well.'

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