After more than two years of gloomy predictions about the sector, our in-depth look at PR spend in 2010 throws up genuine optimism. Surveys, analysts and individual PR bosses are noticeably more bullish than they were this time last year.
The consensus is that public relations has survived the recession because clients are regarding it as an essential board-level discipline; they are viewing it as more cost effective than advertising, and because of the huge interest in influencing social media.
We should, of course, put such optimism into context. This has been the worst global recession for 80 years. The first quarter of this year, in particular, was deeply depressed in most sectors.
The PRCA's latest benchmarking report provides insight into what has happened over the past 12 months. Around 50 per cent of PR agencies have shed staff, and more than half have lost revenue. But about one-third of agencies actually saw revenue grow, while half improved their profitability.
It is good to see that, for most marcoms groups, the third quarter of 2009 was a marked improvement on the second. Share prices in PR-dominated groups continue their upward curve.
As ever, our optimism must be cautious. The biggest worry is a 'double-dip' recession because soaring equity markets may have little real foundation other than quantitative easing, and because we still do not know the true balance sheets of big financial institutions.
Another concern is the UK Government's determination to slash millions of pounds from public sector comms budgets, which would cut off a rich seam of funding and resources.
As a result, real growth must come from the private sector, and analysts are eyeing consumer, tech and healthcare PR as the biggest prizes. Above all, growth will come from the new digital channels, where PR professionals will be fought tooth and nail by other marketing disciplines.
So we approach 2010 in a strong position, but with a fresh set of ambitions. With this in mind, all at PRWeek wish you a happy festive season and a successful new year.
Danny Rogers is BSME Editor of the Year