Arun Sudhaman 11 Jul 2014 // 2:30PM GMT
In an industry that sometimes seems a little too focused on defending itself from critics, rather than celebrating its accomplishments, it should come as genuine good news to find that global growth has cracked the double-digit barrier for the first time since the recession took hold in 2008. This, after all, is what this week’s World PR Report uncovered. The global PR agency industry grew by 11% in 2013, up from 8% in 2012, spurred by accelerating digital and social media budgets; the return of growth in Europe; and, continued innovation, particularly from independent and midsize agencies. The Report, which is produced by the Holmes Report in conjunction with ICCO, is based on an extensive survey of more than 300 agencies, 250 of which are ranked according to their fee income. More cheer for the UK, meanwhile, comes from the fact that four British firms rank among the top 10 fastest-growing from around the globe, led by last year’s fastest mover, Newgate Communications. Newgate grew almost 149% in 2013 to rank 2nd among the world’s fastest-growers. Other UK firms in the top 10 are We Are Social (4th), Threepipe Communications (7th) and Hanover (10th). This was not an outcome that many would have predicted. The UK’s reputation as a mature PR market often suggests that the halcyon days of double-digit growth have been usurped by a grim struggle to cling on to market share. Yet the presence of four UK firms within the top 10 fastest-movers indicates that this picture does not tell the whole story. Yes, the UK PR industry as a whole is probably not growing as fast as emerging markets elsewhere, but it is clear that the best agencies are seeing eye-catching growth in revenue and profitability. Much of this is down to the innovative mindset that the best UK PR firms — entrepreneurial, edgy and reassuringly ambitious — bring to their work. Threepipe grew by 59% because of its unconventional decision to merge with digital agency Blowfish. We Are Social has expanded dramatically (+70%) around the world by focusing on social media in a manner that other agencies often describe but rarely deliver. And Newgate, of course, demonstrates that a set of hungry, veteran entrepreneurs should never be discounted in the country’s vibrant PR industry. Specific market conditions undoubtedly help. The UK is an advanced digital market. It is a global hub, especially for corporate, financial and public affairs work. It is also highly creative and rewards those agencies that take risks, particularly when it comes to making inroads into bigger brand-building and marketing budgets. And, it is brimming with the kind of PR talent that can turn good agencies into great ones. Clearly, challenges persist. Competition is fierce and budgets remain under pressure, in an overall economy that is not exactly setting the world alight. Yet, fast-growing UK PR firms — a group that also include the likes of Iris (+42%), PLMR (+39%) and W (+34%) — demonstrate that agility and innovation can enable agencies to bypass the status quo in favour of eye-catching growth. And there’s really nothing we can criticise about that.