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The future of PR worldwide: The Global Top 50 PR firms by fee income

The future of PR looks bright, if you are to believe the optimistic predictions of agency heads around the world who expect increased profitability this year compared with last year according to the latest International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) World PR Report.

Global top 50 PR agency ranking

Key findings

  • On a scale of 1-10, the global average for optimism is 7.7, around the same as last year (7.8). The most optimistic markets are Africa (7.9) and Asia (7.8). The least are the Middle East (6.6) and Eastern Europe (6.6).
  • In terms of expectations of profitability, the global average is 6.9, compared to 6.4 last year. Asia came in highest with a score of 7.7, followed by Western Europe at 7.2. Africa came in lowest at 6.1.
  • Corporate reputation work looks set to grow over the next year. 44% also predict growth in digital/online communications; with 39% citing social responsibility as an area of growth. 
  • Social media community management tops the list of areas that should expect increased investment over the next few years, at 43%. This is followed by multimedia content creation (41%), and digital build and production (35%).
  • Looking at measurement, 48% of global respondents do not ever use AVEs, up from 44% in 2017. The main global reason given for the continued minority’s use of AVEs is that it is expected by clients (26%). The existence of AVEs is highest in the Middle East, where only 15% report that they do not ever use them.

 Greater investment

Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA and chief executive of ICCO, believes there are four factors that are driving the success of the PR industry around the world: “First, CEOs continue to increase financial investment in their corporate reputation. Investor activism and social media transparency have intensified the focus on not just delivering good numbers, but doing so with integrity; and helped fuel a demand for senior counsel. Allied to, but separate from this, is a renewed emphasis on corporate social responsibility, a driver of growth in many regions. These factors play to our strengths, and to our industry’s confident belief that an organisation’s most valuable asset is its reputation.

Agility is strength

“Second, the blending of disciplines is being met by an industry willing and able to diversify its offering into new areas. PR’s agility is proving its strength. Our ownership of storytelling is allowing us to outpace other marketing rivals. Many worried that the consequences of blending would be damaging for us - quite the reverse has proved to be the case.

Migration towards PR

“The third factor is that marketing spend continues to migrate away from big budget advertising campaigns and towards PR activity - and this trend is even more pronounced than we reported last year. The decline of traditional print media seen in so many areas of the world is core to this change, though is very far from being the whole of it.

Digital expertise

“The final factor is pervasive in every region of our industry and in pretty much every discipline within it. Put simply, PR is excellent at digital. A clear majority of respondents in every part of the world report that they are meeting clients’ digital needs well. Digital is growing as a function and as a practice. And encouragingly for the future, agencies are investing further and deeper in their digital capability.”

Talent shortage

Not everything in the PR garden looks rosy however, and the report concludes that the biggest challenges to the industry are clients not committing sufficient funds (38%) and being too short-term focused (34%). Last, but definitely not least, Retaining key staff is a problem, with nearly two-thirds of respondents citing this as a concern (61%). It appears the talent issue in PR continues to be an obstacle to the industry achieving even greater success.


For the past five years, the ICCO World PR Report has surveyed agency heads to take the temperature of the global PR industry, and to identify areas of growth; expectations for investment; and future challenges. The findings are reported both as global trends, but also region-specific results.

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