Growth & Opportunities | World PR Report 2015
Charting the future of public relations

Research: Growth & Opportunities

  • Digital continues to drive growth

  • Marketing communications outpaces corporate reputation

  • Relatively few firms seeing growth from research/analytics

  • Technology, consumer & healthcare lead sectors

Rankings: Top 10 | Top 250Fast Movers | Holding Groups/Networks
Analysis: Growth | Gender | CEO View

Research: OptimismOpportunities | Challenges

Public relations firms around the world continue to benefit from increased spending on digital and social media activity, with 72% of respondents to our World Report—conducted by The Holmes Report and the International Communications Consultancies Organisation (ICCO)—citing digital and social as one of their top three growth drivers, up slightly from 69.5% last year.
 
Again, digital was the top growth driver in every region, cited by 85.3% in Asia (the highest score in any region) to 70.4% in the UK—which interestingly was the highest score last year (80.3%) and the lowest score this year.

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Social media community management continues to be the strongest driver of growth in the digital and social arena (cited by 55.3% of agency leaders globally), followed by multimedia content creation (39.9%) and digital build and production (28%) but it was interesting to note that traditional media relations continues to be cited by a significant number of firms (28.8%) as a major driver of growth.
 
Media relations was particularly important in developing markets such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
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"There has been a lot of focus—and rightly so—on the opportunities presented by digital and social media," said Paul Holmes, CEO of The Holmes Group. "But it is important to note that many clients still come to PR firms because they want earned media coverage in traditional print and broadcast outlets, and in many markets the ability to deliver that coverage is still a critical success factor."

"The agency of the future will be one that combines cutting edge digital skills with traditional print media ones. Quite simply, there is demand for both," said Francis Ingham, ICCO chief executive and PRCA director general.
 
If there is a single major cause for concern, meanwhile, it is that relatively few firms are seeing growth in either research (cited by just 7% as a major growth factor) or measurement and analytics (12.8%). Similarly, only 5.6% of respondents cited research as one of the critical skills for PR professionals of the future.

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"In the modern world, the agency with the best strategic insight—whether it’s an ad agency, a digital specialist or a PR firm—will be the agency that leads the overall communications effort," said Holmes. "That insight can only come from sound research, and that’s an area where PR firms will need to step up their game if they are going to play a real strategic role."
 
ICCO president and Ketchum CEO David Gallagher added: "As an industry, we need to commit to offering clients greater strategic insight -and that means investing in our research capabilities. We must also make evaluation a priority. To that end, ICCO will be working closely with and over coming years to make sure that agencies and clients alike see evaluation as a code requirement of any brief, rather than an optional extra."

In terms of agency growth, marketing communications (cited by 55.3%, up from 53.6% last year) continues to outpace corporate reputation (44.7%, down from 45.8%). The gap between the two areas is even wider in North America (58.9% to 43.8%).
 
Agency leaders were also moderately optimistic about growth in public affairs and government relations (25.7%) but less so about social responsibility (13.9%), employee communications (9.7%) and financial communications/investor relations (5.8%).
 
Public affairs showed the strongest growth in developing markets: the Middle East (35. 4%), Latin America (33.9%), Asia (33.8%), and Africa (32.6%).
 
In terms of industry sectors, technology—cited by 49.8% of agency principals as one of the three top growth areas—nudged ahead of consumer products (47.9%), with healthcare (39.1%) also making a strong contribution to growth.

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Healthcare made the biggest contribution to growth in Africa (54.3%), Asia (52.9%), and Latin America (50%). "The growth of healthcare PR in Asia is particularly significant," said Holmes. "Historically, agency healthcare practices have been smaller there, but aging populations and increased public education activity is making the sector more important to PR agencies."
 
The public sector (12.1%) and the non-profit realm (10.1%) continued to make lesser contributions to growth.

"While growth varies region by region and sector by sector, what strikes me is that our industry continues, year after year after year to grow. These are excellent times to be in the industry", said Ingham.

Rankings: Top 10 | Top 250Fast Movers | Holding Groups/Networks
Analysis: Growth | Gender | CEO View
Research: OptimismOpportunities | Challenges