Danny Rogers: Conflicting trends as PR rides out recession

At least once each day, I get asked how I think the PR industry is doing in this recession. At least once each week, a piece of evidence emerges that changes the consensus view.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

For example, during the past seven days we have heard quarterly figures from the world’s most influential marketing services group, WPP, revealing a year-on-year PR revenue (Burson-Marsteller/ Hill & Knowlton/ Ogilvy) slump of 8.2 per cent – worse than expected.

One day later, Huntsworth Group (Citigate/ Red/ Grayling) announced a similar fall in revenues.

Yet in the same week, the third big London-based owner of PR agencies, Chime, bullishly announced seven per cent income growth, mainly driven by PR (Bell Pottinger/ Good Relations/ Harvard).

So where’s the trend here? Of course, if we take a step back for a moment, there is a similar lack of consensus
on trends in national economic performance, with some observers seeing green shoots, while others talk of an enduring ‘L-shaped’ recession.

What we do know is that most corporates have cut their marketing and PR spend by ten to 20 per cent over the past year, which, without a doubt, has put the squeeze on most people working in PR.

But this is offset by some bright spots of performance. There is still enthusiasm by organisations for digital/social media activity, for example, although even this has been hit – and shared among all sorts of marketing disciplines.

Moreover, there are still some regions of the world keen to increase spend on PR – China, parts of the UAE and former Soviet states. This latter category has provided a definite fillip to Chime, whose boss Lord Bell is well connected in this respect.

However, Chime’s performance also reflects the nature of the group, which is principally UK-based despite its global reach, cutting down on costly network issues. Bell’s strategy of a ‘collective’ of lean specialist PR divisions also seems to be paying dividends.

Perhaps the traditional WPP model of huge, global network brands requires a serious rethink for a new world order, both structurally and geographically?

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