The Council just completed its Q4 survey of public relations firms, and the results are hot enough to warm even the chilliest January board meeting.
First thing’s first: A full 70% of firms report that final 2011 revenues will be higher than in 2010. Only 13% anticipate lower revenues. In the context of a still-uncertain overall economy, the council is projecting about 10% year-over-year industry growth. About half of our members experienced double-digit growth, figures consistent across all revenue categories. Of course, some practice areas did see more growth over others. As has been the case in the past, over half our members reported strong movement in consumer products and healthcare. A new player this time around seems to be energy, with almost a quarter of our members reporting growth in that area.
New business also looks strong, with over 60% of firms enjoying a better new business pipeline than a year ago. The big story here is integration: Almost half of all firms reported that new business opportunities were “more integrated than ever,” with fewer than a quarter reporting that their opportunities consisted mainly of traditional public relations. For most firms, budgets at existing clients seemed about as certain as a year earlier, while about a quarter of firms reported them more certain. Over a third (35.5%) of firms anticipated higher budgets in 2012, up from only 21.8% in our Q3 survey, suggesting a recent uptick in bullishness.
Jobs may be an election year issue, but I’m happy to report that we in public relations are doing our part. Over 60% of firms reported increased headcounts at the end of 2011 as compared to a year earlier. Looking ahead to 2012, a majority of firms anticipated boosts in hiring, while fewer than 10% predicted reduced hiring. Openings are popping up at all levels: Almost two thirds of firms report a swelling in the mid ranks (Account Executive/Account Supervisor), while half reported hiring in the entry level positions and 46% in Vice President/Senior Vice President. A third of all firms planned to increase the ranks of non-traditional hires coming from outside public relations.
We asked a number of questions designed to provide a more nuanced picture of our industry in the year ahead. Not surprisingly, about three-quarters of firms expect growth in social media, while over a third also expected growth in business-to-business, corporate communications, and issues management. Most firms plan to innovate in some way, with about two-thirds launching a new practice, 60.3% launching a new internal process, and 57.1% partnering with outside firms to expand their capabilities.
As 2012 gets underway, we have every reason to feel proud about what public relations has accomplished. Ours is a vibrant industry rapidly evolving to meet the needs of a changing marketplace. While the global economy does pose some uncertainty—over a third of respondents weren’t yet sure how global economic conditions would affect their business in 2012—we seem to enjoy as strong a chance as any to withstand any bumps.
Are these numbers hot enough for you? How is the industry looking where you sit? We’d love to hear about it in our comments section!