LONDON—Public relations and public affairs enjoyed the largest like-for-like revenue growth of any discipline at communications holding company WPP Group last year. While overall revenue growth was around 5.3 percent, the firm’s public relations operations—including Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe, GCI Group, Hill & Knolwton and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide—were up 8.2 percent compared to growth of 4.5 percent in the company’s advertising businesses.
Constant currency growth in public relations was better than 12 percent, and the PR businesses continued to improve operating margins to more than 16.5 percent, an improvement of 1.5 margin points over the previous year. The company singled out international agencies Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller and Ogilvy as well as Finsbury and Clarion in the U.K. and Public Strategies in the U.S. as firms showing particularly strong growth.
Overall, WPP billings were up 5.1% at £31.7 billion, around $63.5 billion. Like-for-like revenues, excluding the impact of acquisitions and on a constant currency basis, were up 5.0 percent. On the same basis, gross margin was up 5.1 percent. Headline earnings before interest, depreciation and amortisation rose 7.1 percent to £1.072 billion and 9.2 perrcent in constant currencies.
“Despite the severe financial crisis, the 'real' economy continues to grow and our clients continue to expand, particularly in the BRICs and the Next Eleven markets, addressing the twin opportunities of geographical expansion and technological change,” said the group in a statement. “However, it seems inevitable that the 'real' world will at some point in time be affected by the private equity, sub-prime, and housing market crises… In our view, this seems more likely to be in 2009, when a slow-down in the United States will be hard to avoid.”