Nearly two-thirds of surveyed US public relations firms reported revenue growth in 2008, but projections this year for the industry as a whole are expected to be flat, according to a survey of firm principals conducted by the Council of Public Relations Firms and Kelton Research.
The annual Year-End Firm Survey (pdf) finds that 61% of participating firms grew their top line last year, at an average rate of 4%. This represents a drop off vs. 2007 when the Council estimated that the industry grew 10%.
The best performing sectors in 2008 were consumer products and services (21% of participating firms) and healthcare (19%).
Expectations for 2009 remain tempered, the study found. Public relations firms are almost as likely to predict a decline in revenue (28% of participating firms) as they are likely to predict growth (33%), with almost four in ten (39%) firms simply expecting to match last year’s earnings. The average revenue projection for the year among the 57 participating firms was essentially flat (-0.2%).
Outlook Still Optimistic
Results of a second, broader study reveal that despite the drumbeat of gloomy economic news, more than two in three PR practitioners (67%) remain optimistic for the public relations industry in 2009.
The 2009 State Of Public Relations Survey (pdf) also found that specific PR tactics, such as special events (60%) and celebrity spokespeople (44%) are most likely to be cut from PR campaigns in 2009 because of economic concerns, but social media (79%) and digital content creation (55%) top the list for program items with the most growth potential this year, according to PR pros.
While there has been a noticeable slowdown in hiring vs. last year (30% of participating executives say their firms are currently hiring), and few (19%) believe their new business pipeline will be stronger, firm principals register optimism about opportunities in online media (25%), crisis/issues management (21%), and public affairs (14%).
On the political front, close to seven in ten (69%) PR professionals feel the Obama administration will be good for the PR industry. One in five (20%) predict that government and non-profit organizations will benefit the most from the new administration, with healthcare (16%) and technology (14%) following close behind.
“The public relations industry enjoyed a healthy and steady expansion mid-decade but experienced a slowdown in business toward the end of 2008,” said Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of Public Relations Firms. “We are realistic about what to expect in 2009.”
About the surveys: The surveys were conducted online by Kelton Research between January 15th and February 4th, 2009 using email invitations.