NEW YORK—The majority of U.S. public relations firms reported revenue growth in 2008, according to a survey of firm principals conducted by the Council of Public Relations Firms and Kelton Research. The survey found that 61 percent of participating firms grew their top line last year, at an average rate of 4 percent; a decline compared to growth rates in 2007, when the Council estimated the industry grew 10 percent.
The best performing sectors were consumer products and services (21 percent of participating firms) and healthcare (19 percent).
Expectations for 2009 are even more modest; public relations firms are almost as likely to predict a decline in revenue (28 percent of participating firms) as they are likely to predict growth (33 percent), with almost four in ten (39 percent) firms simply expecting to match last year’s earnings. The average revenue projection for the year among the 57 participating firms was essentially flat (-0.2 percent).
Additionally, the Council of Public Relations Firms and Kelton Research surveyed a broader audience of PR professionals in the 2009 State Of Public Relations Survey, with results demonstrating that despite the drumbeat of gloomy economic news, more than two in three PR practitioners surveyed (67 percent) are optimistic for the public relations industry in 2009.
As for the outlook for specific PR programs, elements like special events (60 percent) and celebrity spokespeople (44 percent) are most likely to be cut from PR campaigns in 2009 due to economic concerns, while social media (79 percent) and digital content creation (55 percent) top the list for program items with the most growth potential this year, according to PR pros.
“The public relations industry enjoyed a healthy and steady expansion mid-decade but experienced a slowdown in business toward the end of 2008,” says Kathy Cripps, president of the Council. “We are realistic about what to expect in 2009. However, our members are continuing to help corporations maintain visibility and manage issues, while also helping them to better communicate with their employees during turbulent times. Helping to navigate these issues is what public relations firms do best, and will continue to do this year despite a difficult economic climate.”
While there has been a noticeable slowdown in hiring vs. last year (30 percent of participating executives say their firms are currently hiring), and few (19 percent) believe their new business pipeline will be stronger, firm principals register optimism about opportunities in online media (25 percent), crisis/issues management (21 percent), and public affairs (14 percent).