Accounting for the numerous firms that reported outside of the Top 250, along with the vast number of smaller firms that do not provide revenue figures, PRovoke Media estimates the size of the global PR agency industry at $18bn, up from $15.8bn in 2020. Meanwhile, the 'floor' for the Top 250 has risen to record levels of $6.4m.
Its constant currency analysis reveals a Top 250 increase of just under 11%, with the PR industry also recording healthy growth of 7% versus the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
It also marks the industry's first double-digit expansion since it rebounded from the Global Financial Crisis more than a decade ago.
“Last year, we commented on the resilience of the public relations industry, even as it declined during the first year of the pandemic," says PRovoke Media founder Paul Holmes.
"This year, the industry recorded robust double-digit growth, more than recouping any losses. This is not just business as usual; this is public relations demonstrating its value across the board as an increasingly mission-critical discipline," he says.
While Top 10 growth was outstripped by midsize and smaller firms, it seems safe to conclude that last year saw the PR industry embrace its potential in terms of strategic counsel, creative innovation and sector-specific expertise.
Indeed, the results suggest a 'pandemic dividend', reflecting the manner in which the Covid-19 crisis has reinforced and elevated the critical value of empathetic public relations across multiple stakeholder groups — a state of affairs that has played to the industry's strengths.
In constant currency terms, fee income jumped by 10.6% compared to a 3.9% decline in 2020, based on a like-for-like comparison of those firms reporting fee income for 2021 and 2020. That also means the Global 250 grew by 6.8% compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
“One big success story was the UK, where growth was better than 20% in both constant currency and US dollar terms," explains Holmes.
"The relative weakness of the euro impacted numbers from continental Europe, masking what was a pretty good year,” he adds.
Edelman was one of six agencies to report double-digit growth in 2021, alongside excellent performances from Brunswick (+36%), Real Chemistry (+32%) and Finsbury (+18%).
After a difficult 2020 in which they declined by 8%, midsize PR firms — defined for these purposes as those within $50m to $250m — reclaimed their position as the industry's growth engine, expanding by 15.4% (constant currency) in 2021 to $3.9bn, and up 19.4% compared to their 2019 numbers.
Smaller firms ($15m to $50m) also performed well — up 16% in constant currency terms.
And while that gap narrowed two years ago, independents restated this argument to handsome effect in 2021, delivering a significant watershed moment in the process.
In 2021, independent PR firms were up 20% in constant currency terms to $8.2bn, marking the first time in the Rankings' decade-plus history that independent PR firms now account for more fee income than publicly-owned players.
Independent PR firms now comprise 61% of the global PR agency market, in terms of fee income.
For the first time, independent PR firms account for more than half the revenue in the survey, while the big four revenue share declined to 29%.
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