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An alternative look at the PR Week Top 150 League Table

PR Week published its annual top 150 rankings of UK PR firms a few weeks ago. Adam Parker at Realwire has already produced a good analysis of the figures. I thought I’d throw in some further analysis to try and draw a clearer picture of the state of the UK PR industry.
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)
Brunswick 280
Finsbury 280
Maitland 280
WCG 235
Financial Dynamics 190
Buchanan 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
Wolfstar 50
Bellenden 50
Luchford APM 50
Quantum Public Relations 45
GyroHSR/ Woolley Pau PR 41
Radio Relations 40
Finn Communications 29
Kenyon Fraser 28
ICE 22
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
WCG 33.33
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.
Odd curiosities

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.
Axon Communications
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.In my opinion an Cheap Ambien excellent medicine, in order to fall asleep in the evening and normally wake up in the morning.
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.
Digital marketing digital pr General PR online pr tech pr Technology PR

Video: PR Week’s Search Box

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After my PR SEO presentation at the CIPR last week for Glide Technologies, I had discussions with a few people regarding video content. It made me realise that many blog posts could convey the same message but done in a video format. To show that I do eat my own dog food, see above for a video version of my recent blog post regarding what PR Week’s search box says about the PR industry.

Digital marketing digital pr General PR online pr tech pr Technology PR

PR doesn’t care about business outcomes: what PR Week’s internal search function tells you about the industry

PR Week’s web site has a very useful search box that tells you which articles contain certain keyword phrases. It also helpfully breaks out what kind of article the phrase was contained in and the year.  As a result, it provides a useful measure as to how the interests of the PR sector are reflected in the actual words used by PR Week journalists. And perhaps indicates why PR still isn’t taken as seriously as it might be.
For example, the word “pitch” has appeared in nearly 8000 articles since 1995. Unsurprisingly, the number of articles about pitching or pitches rises in line with a recessionary year eg 2001 and 2008.
Phrases such as raising, boosting or building awareness appear in over 5000 articles. The number of articles on this subject peaked in 2004, dropped for a few years and rose again through 2008 and 2009. A total of 83 articles this year have referred to this subject.
The phrase “media relations” appears in nearly 5600 articles. However, having reached a peak in 2004, the term seems to have lost currency in recent times.
The term “Online PR” has 180 articles, with “Digital PR” following closely behind with 168. Interestingly, both of these phrases have been used for nearly 13 years. In fact, a PR Week article from 1997 credits Matthew Ravden, ex-MD of Bite Communications with coming up with term “digital PR” (I’m quoted in the same article saying that “by the end of 1997 the majority of the press will want to receive information in an electronic format.” I was only a decade out).
However, it is curious to note that the phrase “behavioural change” appears in only 62 pieces – and most of those in the last 2 years. Perhaps even more damning, the term “business outcome” appears precisely 3 times in 15 years.
If PR Week is a reflection of the industry, then it shows that the PR sector needs to start using language (and developing services) that better reflects genuine – and quantifiable – business benefits.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see a PR agency talking about how it is helping clients to deliver an improved business outcome rather than simply raising awareness?
Useful links
  • The SBS Interview: Lee Odden – An interview with Lee Odden about how small businesses can take advantage of new opportunities in public relations and social marketing online.
Current Affairs

Tony Blair’s Information Diet

Looks like Tony Blair was an early adherent of Tim “4-Hour Work Week” Ferriss’ Information Diet – at least if this PR Week story is to be believed.

According to David Hill, Blair’s former communications director from 2003 to 2007 (and now a director at Bell Pottinger)”

‘His attitude was always that he had people working for him whose job it was to keep in constant touch with stories and he was not going to allow a story to deflect him from his strategic approach unless absolutely necessary. So, he did not listen to a single edition of the Today programme from 1998 until he stood down last June – and I’d bet my bottom dollar he still doesn’t. As far as I am aware, he never watched a TV news bulletin – or listened to a radio bulletin – during the four years I was at Number 10.’

A shocking revelation? Or simply sensible time/resource allocation?