How long before PR people have no daily print media to pitch?

Personally I think we are decades away from the complete death of the daily newspaper in the paper format. Not least because of the large number of commuters that quite like having something to swat their fellow travelers with. However, today’s news that the LA Times has followed the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in making significant layoffs does to me at least signal how close we are getting to the end of the daily paper as we know it.

The new PR economy

Not long ago PR Week carried a news piece on the growth of the PR industry. This was based on a survey by the private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS). VSS’s survey says that US PR industry produced revenues of $3.41Bn in 2004, a 12% growth over the $3.05Bn in 2003. The survey went on to say that Technology remained the largest sector, with 27.4% share. Tech PR posting its first growth of any year since 2000, with a 5.8% rise over 2003. Meanwhile the consumer sector posted a hefty 20.7% increase over 2003 now accounting for 25.5% of the PR market. The last, and perhaps most interesting point in the survey, was the view that the PR industry has a relatively bright future, forecasting a 10.1% growth rate in 2005 and an 8.9% growth rate for the next five years, on average.

At first glance this is great to read. It certainly matches what I think most agency heads are experiencing when it comes to market opportunity. In our case we far exceeded these growth levels in our last year, with our US business posting a 23% gain in revenues. These kinds of growth numbers are of course reminiscent of the dot com boom years and we all know what happened after that. While I’m still seeing a great climate for PR in the US I wonder if the growth curve is even. I suspect it is not. I suspect that what we are seeing is some agencies growing rapidly while others are in decline. The net effect being solid industry growth. I also suspect that within sectors we are seeing some very uneven growth.

The good news overall is that our industry is growing though. That growth is sparking new firms to appear, for example I noticed a new Tech firm being launched in Boston last week. The emergence of new firms is also a sign that people are seeing an opportunity to capitalize on a weakness in the market for a certain type of service. The current ‘weakness’ that seems to be on the lips of the founders of these new firms is ‘senior counsel.’ I’ll be blunt here, I think the real weakness is not senior counsel but value for money. Of course it doesn’t sound as appealing to say you are launching a new firm based around value for money but that is where the market is. The growth of the PR market post the dot com boom is different. In the boom it was a simple supply and demand problem. Now we have the same problem BUT we have both an experienced client base and the procurement factor. By procurement factor I mean that for most large clients that agencies not only have to convince marketing communications professionals of their credentials but they also have to persuade procurement departments of their value.

Welcome to the new PR economy.