By Chido Nwakanma
For the third consecutive year, the global public relations industry grew by around eight percent in 2012, with independent firms out performing large multinationals. While publicly owned multinational firms grew six percent, independent PR firms went up by eight percent with the public relations agency industry now worth $11bn and employing more than 75 000 people globally.
These are among the disclosures captured in the World PR Report 2013, jointly authored by respected industry analysts The Holmes Report and the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), the voice of PR consultancies across the world representing over 1700 PR firms. Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria is a member of ICCO.
The report ranks the Top 250 Public Relations firms globally, as well as providing regional rankings of PR firms. With seven slots, US firms dominate the Global Top 10. Edelman PR, an independent –meaning it does not belong to the Top 5 global marcom groups- grew 8.2 percent to revenues of $666m to top the rankings. Following are Weber Shandwick ($628m), and FleischmanHillard ($546m). Other Top 10 players are the MSL Group of France, Burson Marsteller, Ketchum PR, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Ogilvy Public Relations, Havas PR of France and Brunswick of UK.
Variations in regional growth show that firms headquartered in the Asia-Pacific region grew by an average of 13.5 percent, slightly faster than firms from the US (11.8 percent) and those from Latin America, Middle East and Africa with growth of 10.4 percent. Firms from the UK grew an average of 8.8 percent; Western-Europe based firms were up 8.2percent and firms from Eastern Europe saw their fees increase by just 3.2 percent. According to the report, “What these numbers show is that well-managed public relations firms can grow in almost any environment or market condition.”
The rankings take a broad view of public relations revenues to include any fee incomes derived from traditional PR activities (media relations, community relations, employee communications, investor relations, public affairs) as well as fees related to activities such as research, design, advertising and social media relations. They count so long as firms whose primary activity is public relations carried out these activities.
The World PR Report 2013 notes that “The digital and social media revolution –with its emphasis on transparency, authenticity, credibility and dialogue, all traditional PR strengths- presents and unprecedented opportunity for public relations to take market share from other communication disciplines, and to play a leading strategic role in corporate reputation and brand building.”
However, Holmes Report editor-in-chief Paul Holmes says the industry has recorded only partial success in taking advantage of the opportunities presented. He posits, “If there is one take-away from this research it is that those firms without the requisite digital and social skills need to develop them- and quickly. And those firms that do have those skills need to do a much better job of explaining to clients that PR agencies can take on a broader and more strategic role than in the past.”
ICCO executive director Francis Ingram lauds the progress of the public relations industry and the opportunities that beckon. “Over the past five years, as many industries around the world struggled, ours grew and did so strongly. Our goal now must be to build on the progress made over those past years, and entrench PR as the strategic tool of choice for every organisation that takes itself seriously. If we can do that, then our industry’s future will be even brighter tomorrow than it is today.”
Challenges remain. Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria identified inadequate work force at entry and senior levels as a major challenge and instituted the Public Relations Masterclass® Training series. The World PR Report validates this finding. Across Africa, as PRCAN had noted about Nigeria, government remains a drag to growth of public relations by not paying attention to it or engaging quacks when it does.
“Overall economic conditions” was one of the key challenges cited globally as constraint to the industry. Others are the need to grow capacity in digital to take advantage of the opportunities as well as building capacity at higher levels.
While corporate communications is a big driver of growth in Africa and the Middle East, the West is turning emphasis to digital. Seventy five percent of their respondents said they experienced most growth in digital and online communications last year, followed by corporate reputation (49.7%) and marketing communications (46.4%).
In between, public affairs remained an important source of growth in Australia (45.5%), Asia (45.5%), the Middle East (33.3%) and Western Europe (31.6%). In terms of industry sectors, consumer products, technology and healthcare were key drivers of PR agency growth, improving in nearly every region when compared to 2012. Unsurprisingly, the public sector fared much worse, while non-profit and financial/ professional services (except in Australia) also performed poorly.
Public relations is also growing in Nigeria, both in patronage and in the increasing number of professional firms certified to render service. PRCAN now has 46 member firms, with many firms on the queue to join. As PRCAN states in their “Engage a PRCAN agency” advocacy campaign, “The growing diversity of stakeholders, audiences and media requires nimbleness in creativity and message delivery. Public relations offers astounding results in audience-specific messaging and versatility.” The discipline is also most suitable for democratic governance, as Ekiti State Governor Dr Kayode Fayemi averred at the inaugural Public Relations Gold Medal Lecture. With the backing of the law (NIPR Act 16 of 1990), PRCAN and public relations agency practice would grow in tandem with global trends.
–Nwakanma is President of Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria.