The numbers game
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The numbers game

Arun Sudhaman

Regular readers will know that this blog is partial to a little number crunching, so this week's flurry of PR network rankings is very welcome. I tried a similar exercise last year, ranking PR agencies in China by revenue. This time, David Brain and AdAge have both published their estimates for what the global PR networks are worth. It is easy to criticise these efforts but I think they should be applauded. They promote transparency in an agency world that remains overly enamoured with the obfuscatory potential of Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. Brain's effort has already attracted sniping from competitors. Some of it, I must admit, rather amusing. Rather than clarify the numbers, for example, Ketchum Pleon's David Gallagher has chosen instead to explain how his firm can ally with its siblings to offer genuine global scale. H&K, meanwhile, notes that it is larger than Edelman outside the US. And F-H's Kevin Bell has left a nice riposte on David Brain's blog. PR industry observers may not find much to surprise them in Brain's numbers, though. H&K's revenues look on the low side to me, as do MS&L Group. Instead, it is the AdAge agency rankings that are likely to raise more eyebrows. The big shock from AdAge must be Weber Shandwick at $360m which is  $100m less than Brain's estimate. Meanwhile, for reasons best known to them, the magazine has also left Ogilvy PR - worth $225m according to Brain - off its list. In the interests of fairness, I've compiled the following table to compare the two sets of revenue estimates.
Agency

AdAge

David Brain/Edelman
Edelman $440m $448m
Fleishman-Hillard $405m $425m
Burson-Marsteller $385m $325m
Weber Shandwick $360m $460m
Hill & Knowlton $330m $200m
MS&L $237m $300m
Ketchum $217m $300m
Porter Novelli $195m $125m
FD $180m NA
Grayling $140m $148m
Ogilvy PR NA $225m
Some of the discrepancies between the two sets of figures are easy to explain. AdAge's figure for MS&L, for example, does not include the rest of the MS&L Group agencies, most notably Publicis Consultants. Similarly, I can only assume that AdAge's numbers for Ketchum do not include the addition of Pleon. Other are less easy to decipher. There are major differences for Hill & Knowlton and Weber Shandwick, for example. And where has Ogilvy PR disappeared to? Is it really worth less than $140m? Other bits I've noticed:
  • Brain estimates GolinHarris' global revenue at $125m. AdAge puts its US revenue at $109m. The two figures might explain why the firm is - as I understand - hungry to expand outside its home market.
  • Both estimates indicate what many in the industry have been saying for a while - 2009 was a tough year for Porter-Novelli. Brain has them slumping 25 per cent in 2009, which would help explain Omnicom's awful PR numbers last year, while  AdAge opts for a more conservative 15 per cent drop.
  • According to AdAge, FD shed a remarkable 20% of its US earnings in 2009.
I will ask for comments but, as I've learned, there are few agencies willing to stick their necks out where numbers are concerned. If these rankings help to change that mindset, that can only be a good thing.
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