LONDON—WPP Group—the parent of global public relations brands Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe, Hill & Knowlton and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide—reported solid revenue growth in 2008, with public relations and public affairs leading the way, but like its competitors experienced considerable softness in the market in the fourth quarter and is predicting a bumpy 2009.
The firm’s public relations and public affairs operations continued their strong growth, with constant currency revenue up 6.9 percent and like-for-like growth of 4.9 percent—the fastest growing communications services sector in that regard. Margins for this sector remained flat at 16.6 percent and public relations now accounts for 10.2 percent of WPP’s overall revenue.
The group singled out Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and Clarion in the United Kingdom as “particularly strong,” and said in a statement that: “New technologies and new media have, once again, demonstrated the power of editorial publicity… In addition, public relations and public affairs have benefitted from the impact of polling techniques, which have provided a more scientific basis for the industry.”
The full year results for the Group showed billings up 16.6 percent to £36.929 billion, or $67.381 billion. Headline earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization rose 20.4 percent to £1.291 billion and 6.6 percent in constant currencies.
According to the company: “2008 was largely a year of two contrasting halves. A strong first half, where organic revenues grew more than 4 percent… and a weaker second half with slowing organic growth of over 1 percent, as the impact of the sub-prime and insurance monoline crises, that started towards the end of 2007, was intensified by the collapse, emergency acquisition and restructuring of financial institutions in most parts of the world.”
The Asia Pacific region, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East continued to be the fastest growing part of the world, while North America saw the slowest growth.
For 2009, WPP says it expects overall revenue to be down 2 percent on a like-for-like basis, although it expects PR and public affairs to remain strong.