First, some top line figures. Based on PR Week’s league table, the top 150 UK PR agencies in 2009:
Generated £814 million in fee revenues
Employed 7790 people
Worked on 5683 client accounts and 7154 client projects
Had an average monthly client PR retainer of £6K
In terms of this last figure (and others), I used a rule of thumb that says 80pc of agency fees come from retainer work and 20pc from projects. Clearly this will not apply across the board. Indeed, given the economic climate of the last year, it could be argued that project work should occupy a higher share of total revenue, And looking at the number of projects that some agencies worked on, it would seem that perhaps even the majority of fee revenue came from projects.
Taking all of that into consideration, the 80/20 split at least provides a starting point for analysis.
On that basis, we arrive at an average monthly client retainer fee of £8K. However, it is worth qualifying this. First, given my rule of thumb, one agency skews the results hugely. According to the PR Week league table, Axon Communications only has one client – but on my ROT, this would provide an average PR retainer of around £179K per month. If we remove Axon from the list, then the average monthly retainer drops to £6K per month.
Next, let’s look at some other performance metrics.
1. Fees per earner
Fees per earner has been a standard metric for evaluating the relative performance of PR firms for decades. Looking at the PR Week figures for 2009, the fee per earner leader board clearly shows that financial PR is the place to be:
Agency Fees per earner (£000s)
Financial Dynamics 190
Gavin Anderson 190
Citigate Dewe Rogerson 171
Bell Pottinger Group* 159
Galliard Healthcare Communications 157
WCG is an anomaly (see below).
Of course, profit per earner would be an even better metric, but short of trawling Companies House for the data, the fee per earner ratio is the one that must suffice for the moment.
Here is the bottom of the fee per earner table:
Agency Fees per earner (£000s)
Iris PR 50
Luchford APM 50
Quantum Public Relations 45
GyroHSR/ Woolley Pau PR 41
Radio Relations 40
Finn Communications 29
Kenyon Fraser 28
Some immediate caveats. In a number of cases, PR fees represent only a proportion of total turnover ie the firm makes money from non-PR fee related activity and the staff numbers refer to the business as a whole. So the fee per PR earner ratio is clearly higher. (However, it does beg the question as to what percentage of total turnover devoted to PR should qualify a firm for entry into the league table).
Also, a number of these lower fee per earner agencies are based outside of London – so may argue that a lower cost base allows them a lower than average fee per earner ratio.
2. Ratio of staff to clients/projects
This metric takes the total number of clients and projects an agency works on and divides through by the total number of staff. In theory, it should give an indication as to the average number of clients and projects that each agency employee has to deal with. Again, this comes with a number of caveats. Clearly project type, length and budget will vary enormously from agency to agency. Having said that, it is at least an attempt to provide some kind of indicator on agency workload. Combined with fee revenue, it gives a picture of which firms may be performing better than others.
Agency Client/project staff ratio Change in fee revs 09/08
TVC Group 14.41 -8
Radio Relations 11.25 2
Grayling Communications 6.87 -22
PPS Group 6.71 -31
The Reptile Group* 6.27 -7
The Outside Organisation 6. 2
FWD 5.50 -10
The PR Office 4.8 0
Myriad Public Relations 4. -3
Again, WCG should be treated as an extreme outlier. One thing to note though is that nearly all of the agencies with high client/project to staff ratios saw revenue drops.
WCG (rank 138) employees only 3 staff according to PR Week – which leads to some anomalous results. Namely, its fee per earner figure is 235K. It also means it has the highest client/project to employee ratio of 33.33.
Grayling stands out for the huge number of client projects it worked on in 2009: a total of 965. Coupled with retainer clients of 430, that’s a total of 1395 clients and projects. Based on my rule of thumb, the average Grayling client is paying around £2K per month. If they are paying more than this, then the average Grayling project is going to be around £1 – 2K.
According to the PR Week table, Axon only has one client – but generates fee revenue of £2.6 million. Even allowing for the fact that project work may represent a larger than average share of revenue (41 projects), that still suggests that one client represents a large slug of revenue.
This is only a cursory analysis. As ever, I’m always grateful to PR Week for producing the baseline figures. I’ve no doubt that further insight can be gained into the health of the sector and individual firms with more scrutiny.