LONDON—A significant “optimism gap” is opening up between public relations firms in western Europe and those in the rest of the world, with the agency principals in the United Kingdom and continental European markets significantly less positive in their outlook than those in the US, Asia and other developing markets.

A survey conducted by The Holmes Report among more than 300 public relations agency leaders from around the word—as part of the Holmes Report 250 global ranking process—asked whether those leaders were optimistic about the growth of the public relations market. Overall optimism levels were high (7.70 on a scale of one to 10, down slightly from last year’s survey) but there was pronounced pessimism in both the UK and Western Europe.

In Western Europe, the “optimism index” declined from 7.57 to 7.15; in UK, it declined even more sharply, from 7.52 to 6.68. Those scores contrast sharply with optimism levels in Eastern Europe (7.86), North America (8.06), Asia (8.27) and the emerging markets of Latin America, Africa and the Middle East (8.56).

There were significant regional differences on some of the other questions in the survey. For example, when asked whether they agreed that corporate CEOs were taking reputation more seriously, North Americans agreed strongly (8.28 on a scale of one to 10, up from 8.1 last year), as did those in emerging markets (7.89) and the Asia-Pacific region (7.54).

But in the UK, agreement was just 7.31 (down from 7.8 the year before) and in Western Europe agreement was 7.32.

Similarly, when agency leaders were asked whether companies were taking corporate responsibility more seriously, there was a gap between North America (7.35) and the UK (6.29); as there was when we asked whether companies understood the need to balance the interests of shareholders with other stakeholders (7.39 in North America; 6.34 in the UK; 6.55 in western Europe).

Perhaps most troubling was the gap between the regions when we asked whether “marketers in this market are spending more money on public relations relative to other marketing disciplines.” In North America, respondents reported a modest optimism on this score, with an average agreement of 6.73 on a scale of one to 10. In Western Europe, however, agreement was just 6.08.

And while North American agencies agreed that clients were willing to turn to PR firms for non-traditional services such as advertising, digital communications and word-of-mouth marketing (7.24), respondents in the UK were significantly less optimistic (6.84).

Asked whether there was a “plentiful supply of intelligent, well-educated talent” in their local market, respondents in North America were by far the most confident, with an average score of 7.09 on a scale of one to 10.

In the rest of the world, however, there were real concerns: emerging markets (6.67); Western Europe (6.30); Eastern Europe (5.43); Asia-Pacific (5.30); and most troubling of all, the United Kingdom (5.06).