NEW YORK, April 23—Fleishman-Hillard, which in 1999 surpassed Burson-Marsteller as the largest public relations agency in the U.S. in the Council of Public Relations Firms rankings, became the largest public relations agency in the world last year, with pro forma revenues in 2000 of more than $342 million. F-H was one of four firms, including Weber Shandwick Worldwide, Hill & Know-lton, and B-M, to record revenues in excess of $300 million.
Fleishman was the fastest growing of those top tier firms, with revenues up 60.8 percent, thanks in part to acquisitions including technology PR firms Lois Paul & Partners and KVO and international public affairs consultancy GPC International. But its organic growth was a very healthy 27.7 percent.
“I think it’s important in that it reflects the fact that we have been able to attract great people and do great work for clients,” says F-H chairman John Graham of the number one ranking. “But it has never been our goal to be number one in terms of revenue. And I’m sure the number one spot will change hands again several times over the decade, because this is a very dynamic industry.”
Weber Shandwick grew 26.7 percent on the year, with organic growth of 20.1 percent, while Hill & Knowlton was up 25.9 percent, with organic growth of 22.8 percent. Burson-Marsteller posted the smallest overall growth of any top 10 firm, although its 11.6 percent growth (all of it organic) was better than in recent years, when growth has been limited to single digits.
Still, B-M chairman Chris Komisarjevsky was clearly disappointed that the firm had slipped to fourth in the rankings, particularly since the Council has chosen to emphasize the pro forma numbers over those adhering to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). In a memo to employees, Komisarjevsky said that while “we should congratulate the many other fine companies in our industry that had a strong year last year,” the GAAP numbers “are the most important since they reflect strong business disciplines, fair comparisons and adherence to strict accounting rules.” (For more on this controversy, see related story, page 4).
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the rankings was the emergence of British-based Incepta Group, parent of Citigate Dewe Rogerson, Citigate Sard Verbinnen, and Citigate Cunningham in the U.S., as the fifth largest PR firm in the world—although it operates much more like a holding company in the WPP mode than an agency in the Fleishman-Hillard or Weber Shandwick mode, with the above-named operating units managed by their own leadership teams and pitching accounts separately more often than they do in concert.
Still, with revenues of close to $244 and growth in 2000 of 96.9 percent, Incepta clearly has the potential to become a major international force.
Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, meanwhile, held on to its position as the largest independent agency in the top 10, clinching sixth place in the rankings with revenues of $238 million and growth in 2000 of 28 percent. Porter Novelli International (which suffered from the divestiture of German affiliate Kohets & Klewes during the year), BSMG Worldwide, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, and Ketchum rounded out the top 10.
Among the next 15 agencies, technology specialists Text 100 (65.5 percent) and Schwartz Communications (57.8 percent) recorded the most impressive growth, although the second largest independent agency, Ruder Finn posted an impressive 41.9 percent growth rate—all of it organic.
The only firm to post a worldwide revenue loss was Rowland Communications Worldwide, which saw a decline of 8.7 percent after selling its London, Milan and Sydney offices to Edelman.
Fleishman-Hillard also held on to its number one spot among U.S. public relations firms, with revenues of more than $266 million from its domestic operations, up 49.3 percent. It increased the gap between itself and its closest competitors, Weber Shandwick (which leap-frogged into second place) and Burson-Marsteller, and posted the largest gain of any top 10 firm.
Another big gainer was Golin/Harris International, which benefited from the same restructuring of Interpublic PR operations that saw the creation of the new Weber Shandwick entity. Picking up operations in Washington and then acquiring The MWW Group, Golin climbed from 13th in last year’s rankings to make the top 10 in 2000, with revenues of more than $107 million, up 45.4 percent.
Incepta went from 21st to 13th, thanks largely to its two acquisitions—Cunningham and Sard Verbinnen—while Magnet, formed by the merger of Creamer Dickson Basford and Kratz & Jensen, broke into the top 25 at number 22.