LONDON—WPP Group, parent of international public relations firms Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe, Hill & Knowlton and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, reported growth in its public relations operations of close to 14 percent in the first half of 2008, providing further evidence that the public relations sector has been surprisingly resilient despite the troubled global economy.
While growth in constant currency terms (adjusting for exchange rate fluctuations) was slightly slower, at around 9 percent, and in like-for-like terms (excluding acquisitions) was about 7.5 percent, public relations was by some distance the best-performing part of the group in the first half of the year. Advertising and media management, for example, was up by just 3.8 percent, and branding, identity and specialist communications was up just 3.5 percent.
Public relations now accounts for 10.8 percent of total group revenue, or £360 million. Reported operating margins for PR and public affairs were up by 1.4 points to 16.1 percent (overtaking advertising and media management margins, at 15.9 percent).
The group attributed PR’s strong performance to “the positive impact on the sector’s growth of fact-based polling techniques and social networking on the web, which demonstrates the increased effectiveness of editorial publicity over paid for publicity.”
Overall, reportable revenue was up 14.3 percent to £3.339 billion. Revenue on a constant currency basis, was up 8.1 percent, and on a like-for-like basis growth was 4.3 percent. Headline earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization were up 17.5 percent to £531.9 million and up 9.1 percent in constant currencies. Headline operating profit was up 18.4 percent to £453.4 million from £383.1 million and up 9.2 percent in constant currencies.