It’s been a while since I have published our global league table of PR agencies. I did in the early days, because no-one else would and I believed that it was important that clients understood an agency’s scale in order to properly assess their ability to deploy resources to get a job done. That is even more the case in the era of global campaigning and as more and more agencies seem to claim a ‘global footprint’ often based on a handful of offices with a couple of people in each. However, I am happy to say that a few commentators have taken up the baton (take a bow Arun Sudhaman and the Holmes Report) and the true picture is emerging despite the claims that Sarbanes Oxley forbids disclosure. See here for the view of PR Week US on this issue.

So here, again, is the Edelman take on the rankings. As usual this is collated by the senior people in our business comparing notes on what we have heard from competitors, commentators, analysts and increasingly clients. We don’t pretend it is bang on accurate and I am happy, as always, to be corrected by any agency I mention as long as they provide their own real figures. As has been proven over the years though, we think it is a pretty good approximation.

It is broadly for the period ended December 2011 and so differs a little from the numbers Arun and the Holmes Report have published which report the same period 12 months before.

1. Edelman $615 million up 14% *
2. Weber Shandwick $570 million up 9%
3. Fleishman Hillard $500 million down 2%
4. Burson-Marsteller $450 million up 7%
5. Ketchum Pleon $430 million up 15%
6. Hill & Knowlton Strategies $370 million flat
7. MSL Publicis $370 million up 5%
8. Ogilvy PR $250 million up 5%
9. FTI and Brunswick between $150-200 million
10. Golin Harris, APCO, Waggener Edstrom , Porter Noveli between $100-120 million

* 14% is fixed currency, actual dollar growth is 15.7%

It shows a pretty good performance for the top 8 with an average growth of 7.12% in what in many markets remain uncertain times. Certainly, given the fact that the bulk of these fees will have been earned in EMEA and the US, it does prove the PR agency world has learned to manage the business of its business much better and weather economic storms. That can only mean we have been able to demonstrate value to clients. I wonder how much of that was due to the success of digital however? It’s a big part of our growth as it has meant we get to trade marketing solutions directly to CMOs as well as media and opinion former relations to Communication Managers. Budgets are bigger and competitors are Ad’, Digital and Integrated agencies rather than other PR firms.

Public Affairs and strategic stakeholder management programming seems to find more and more willing ‘C suite’ buyers too, boosting revenue as well as margins.

The other big contributor of course has been Asia and the developing economies. We will grow around 22% in Asia Pacific this financial year (July 1 – June 30) and managed nearly 30% the year before. I know our competitors have also been growing well in the region (though hopefully not that well). And growth is important if you want to hang on to your best staff, because growth fuels careers for the ambitious and talented and in many ways talent is the front line battle in Asia Pacific.

For the top four PR agencies in Asia Pacific, our scale here is beginning to become a strategic asset. By that I mean that when a network of offices in a region gets to around $70 million they begin to see real economies of scale in terms of overheads and margins, but more importantly, as individual offices scale they can develop properly differentiated practices. Bigger practices mean deeper specialisation. Deeper specialisation means better client service which leads to higher fees and stronger retention and client loyalty as well as more rewarding careers for people who want to get expert in one discipline. I experienced this running Edelman’s EMEA business for seven years and it is a big reason for our rush to scale in this region. Size really does matter.

I am hopeful with a little more data to publish my Asia Pacific League table very soon. It seems the right thing to do in an industry that preaches transparency to its clients.