Danny Rogers: Sector recovery has yet to gain momentum

In the week that PRWeek publishes the long-awaited Top 150 PR Consultancies report (supplement with this issue), which looks hard at the year just gone, indications are already emerging of the health of PR spend during the first quarter of 2010.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

The Bellwether survey, one of the best measures of confidence within the main marketing sectors, was also published this week. It suggests budgets for most marketing disciplines had been revised upwards in Q1 - for the first time in ten successive quarters.

Unfortunately, the only area where marketing budgets appeared to be falling was in the 'all other' category, made up of PR and events. This category saw a 3.5 per cent decline during Q1 2010.

However, because this measure does not break down PR spend specifically, the fall may well have been down to events that were cancelled in advance during the depths of the recession. The events industry is indeed still emerging from a torrid period.

Certainly the reaction from leading figures in the PR industry (News, p4) is one of surprise at the Bellwether survey, because they have experienced a much happier first quarter this year than last.

Also this week Havas, which includes the Euro RSCG ad and PR agencies, reported a tough first quarter in the UK market. Taking Havas alone - without figures from WPP, Chime, Huntsworth etc - is insufficient to judge, but it does suggest a service sector recovery that has not yet gained momentum.

Indeed, the Ernst & Young ITEM club this week issued a statement suggesting the overall economic outlook for the UK in 2010 was 'dismal' and forecast GDP growth of one per cent or less this year.

Such an outlook is at the bearish end of the current consensus, but all business, and especially PR, would benefit from a little less uncertainty, which may well arise following an unusually tight general election.

The uncertainty does seem to be playing into the hands of the public affairs sector, which has rarely felt so buoyant. At such times, business needs trusted advisers more than ever.

So while marketing-led PR may still be sluggish, other areas of business consultancy are thriving. It is worth reading the thoughts of Matthew Freud in the Top 150 supplement for a wider understanding of PR's role at the highest level of business. This oft-maligned man has an outstanding brain and at times unrivalled insight.

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