Public Relations & Public Affairs

Public Relations & Public Affairs Overview

Howard Paster, Executive vice-president, WPP Public Relations & Public Affairs

Report by Howard Paster (above)
Executive vice-president,
WPP Public Relations & Public Affairs

WPP’s distinguished portfolio of Public Relations & Public Affairs (PR&PA) businesses navigated very well through the turbulent waters of 2008. In last year’s Annual Report we noted that, “…we are all mindful that we will be tested again in 2008.” At that time the economic slowdown was taking hold in the US, but we could not be certain how severe it would be, nor how widely it would spread.

But as we knew a year ago that 2008 would pose challenges, we also knew we had the people to confront those challenges. We also reported “a high degree of confidence our PR&PA firms are as well situated to address those challenges as any in the business.”

The thousands of people working for WPP’s PR&PA agencies throughout the world vindicated the confidence we had in them, with steady growth in the category throughout the year, albeit it slower growth in the fourth quarter.

Our three large networks – Burson-Marsteller, Hill & Knowlton and Ogilvy Public Relations – all grew during 2008. Business opportunities came in different and diverse ways, ranging from major events such as the Beijing Olympic Games to multiple crises spawned by the financial collapse. It was not unusual in 2008 for the clients of these three agencies to dominate the business news on any given day.

During 2008, WPP agencies Cohn & Wolfe and GCI merged, keeping the Cohn & Wolfe name. Already strong in the US and Europe, the expanded Cohn & Wolfe is consolidating its position in those key markets, completing the integration that comes from merger, and looking forward to growth in traditional markets and beyond.

open quoteAll of our agencies are looking for and finding opportunity to help companies cope with economic dislocationclose quote

A number of our smaller agencies distinguished themselves in 2008, including Public Strategies, Finsbury and Penn, Schoen & Berland. As anticipated, the public affairs business in Washington where, collectively, WPP companies lead the market, was weakened by the relative inactivity in a presidential election year, yet Quinn Gillespie and Ogilvy Government Relations both turned in solid performances.

While we finished 2008 in a strong position, the impact of the global recession was certainly felt in the latter part of the year. At the time of writing it is too soon to gauge the impact the severe economic dislocation will have on our businesses in 2009, but logic tells us it will be difficult to continue to grow the top line and profit in such a weak global economy. Nonetheless, there is a great deal of energy and focus among the PR&PA agencies, and as in prior years we remain confident we will again outperform the category.

All of our agencies are looking for and finding opportunity to help companies cope with economic dislocation, while strengthening ties with long-standing clients. And our Washington public affairs businesses should benefit from a dynamic new president with a busy legislative agenda.