Eleven of the top 25 and 22 of the top 50 had double-digit gains, a contrast to 2009 when 32 of the top 50 had downturns.
Soaring past the half-billion mark was top-ranked Edelman with an $81.8 million gain to $521.9M, a jump of 18.6%.
APCO Worldwide, second largest firm, added 13.1% to its fees for a total of $113.4M
Healthcare specialist WCG (formerly WeissComm Group) grew 37.6% to $37M while financial specialist ICR grew 20% to $26.5M.
MWW Group came on the list for the first time since its acquisition by Interpublic, weighing in at $34.7M and No. 7. It bought itself back last year.
Another newcomer is Beckerman, handling technology, healthcare, consumer and other practice areas, which has the fifth biggest gain in the top 50 -- up 32% to $6.1M
Atomic PR, tech, consumer and entertainment firm, posted the biggest gain in the top 50—up 46% to $11.1M.
"Firms did well in spite of the country being in the third year of a recession -- no matter what the economists say -- partly because there is lots of work dealing with the many thousands and even millions of new social media," said publisher Jack O’Dwyer. This "Wild West" of opinion and fact has to be tracked and measured and often dealt with on a one-to-one basis, he said.
Consumer-oriented firms seem to be getting most of this business, he added.
O’Dwyer noted that WPP head Martin Sorrell, in a speech to the Institute for PR Nov. 10, 2008 (link, sub req'd), said that SM is made to order for PR people because they are used to interaction and “nuanced” communication.
Sorrell told the Financial Times March 4 that he expects “new media” will make up to 35-40% of WPP’s revenues in the years ahead as opposed to 29% currently. WPP, one of the two biggest ad agency holding companies with $15 billion in revenues, owns many PR firms including Hill & Knowlton and Burson-Marsteller. WPP and the other conglomerates have not allowed any dollar or employee totals to emerge from their PR firms because of Sarbanes-Oxley considerations.
Blue chip companies were told last year to approach the web with caution during a press conference held by Vision Critical, which does research for blue chips (link, sub req'd). SM is an “expensive and potentially explosive medium” but tends to represent “the bleeding edge of humor, provocativeness, candor or shock value,” the conference was told.
Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, said much of the 2010 gain was from current clients expanding their budgets.
The firm built online “embassies” for Unilever and eBay on Twitter and Facebook, among its digital assignments.
“Our global network hit full stride in 2010 as accounts based in New York and London ran campaigns out of overseas offices,” he said. “Especially active” were Shell and liquor marketer Diageo.
International work generated 34% of the fee total, rising 18.2% to $179M. The firm operates in 27 markets overseas. China revenues grew 27.7% to $10.4M; Brazil up 68% to $6.8M; Singapore up 36% to $6.3M, and Hong Kong up 21.3% to $5.3M.
"Clients are no longer asking 'just for press' but for a range of things," said Edelman. "Clients are now operating from a different runway, they now ask us to tell them what to do."
Margery Kraus, CEO of APCO, said the firm's "entire business" grew in all geographic sectors and in many industry categories. She attributed the growth to "the changing global landscape and convergence of stakeholder groups in non-traditional ways, which plays to APCO's unique heritage as a company and our integrated approach to client opportunities and challenges."
New initiatives that drew interest from clients included Global Political Strategies, the firm's executive advisory service; Return on Reputation Indicator, a research-based management tool that takes a "broader, more holistic, 360-degree view" of reputation, and Social EQ, a new model to assess the effectiveness of a company’s social media efforts.
WCG, formerly WeissComm Group, had the biggest gain in the top ten -- up 37.6% to $37M, in fifth place behind Waggener Edstrom at $111.9M, up 5.9%, and Ruder Finn, at $97M, up 8.8%.
“Ruder Finn Innovation Studios is a critical partner in helping us to create integrated campaigns with social media expertise deeply embedded in all of our practices. This has created more robust programs with larger budgets. Activism and market uncertainty have reinforced corporate reputation efforts and issues management plans.”
Bloomgarden said corporate attention is focused on emerging markets such as China. RF campaigns in China for Chinese companies and multinationals have "grown expansively," she said.
These included creative/interactive and global practice leader Gail Cohen, formerly at Burson-Marsteller; group creative directors Trip Hosmer from Chandler Chicco and Scott Schindler from Deutsch; consumer practice director Vicky Lewko from CarryOn PR, and chief people officers Laurie Torres from Juniper Networks, he said.
The firm added about 20 staffers to its interactive and social media practice for a total of more than 40 professionals.
Aaron Strout, who is writing the book, “Location Based Martketing for Dummies,” joined WCG this month as social media group director.
Weiss says he’s aiming for the $45M mark in 2011 which will be the tenth anniversary of the firm he founded.
MWW Joins List as No. 7
The firm has 184 staffers in East Rutherford, N.J., New York City, Trenton, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and London.
Norwalk, Conn.-based ICR spurted 20% to $26.5M as it added a net of 63 new clients.
"Revenues rebounded in 2010 (they were down 16% in 2009) and we rationalized expenses in 2009," said Ryan, resulting in last year being a "great year for the firm" and 2011 starting off "very strong."
Text 100, part of the Next Fifteen Communications Group, was the only PR operation in the top ten showing a decline -- off 3.9% to $46.7M.
CEO Aedhmar Hynes said that revenues are up 20% since last August and more than 40 staffers have been hired.
She sees "lots of growth" in digital communications and social media. "Solid growth," she said, is coming from Asia and North America.
CEO Tom Coyne said there was in-house growth as well as new business in its dozen practice areas.
"Star performer," he said, was the pet group which includes Milk-Bone, 9Lives, Snausages, Meow Mix, Arm & Hammer cat litter and Petopia.com. Billings in the group were up 165%.
Gaining 100% in fees was Coyne's sport group, which includes the National Football League, Campbell Soup, U.S. Tennis Assn., Harlem Globetrotters, NASCAR, and U.S. Olympic Committee.
A highlight of the year was the launch of an iTune app for the Coyne PR Hot Sheet. "It pays tribute to the best in social media and the most thought-provoking stories of the week," he said.
Another major account was the Trust for Public Land. The firm developed a high-profile campaign to "Save the Land" surrounding the iconic "Hollywood" sign that sits on a mountainside. Said Getsey: "This included a huge stunt, public affairs, press conferences, top Los Angeles political leaders, the ‘Governator,’ A-list celebrities and even the Vatican News Service plus a microsite about the Sign and Facebook, Twitter and custom applications."
Playboy’s founder Hugh Heffner gave a $1 million donation and even Tweeted about it.
Existing clients expanded budgets including Verizon, Intuit/Mint.com, Living Social, Hotwire and RealityTrac. New business wins included Netgear, Citrix Online, Pioneer, LendingClub, PeopleMedia and Shopkick.
The 46% jump in fees to $11.1M required the addition of 35 staffers.
Expanding accounts included VP Corp., parent of Wrangler, and Dey Pharmaceutical. New business wins included U.S. Polo Assn., Focus Brand’s Moe’s Southwest Grill restaurant chain, and Swiss energy company ABB.
An office in Dallas was added last year. F/W/V also has offices in New York and Tampa and plans a Los Angeles office in the spring.
Zeno, sister company of Edelman, was one of the leading gainers in the top 25 by growing 24% to $12.4M.
Growth has come from both current and new clients in consumer, corporate, healthcare and technology. "Strong and expanding social media capabilities is integral to all we do," she said. Siegel also cited the firm’s "top tier, best-in-class talent" that draws clients to the firm.
"There is a real appetite in the marketplace for an agency of our size, scale and approach -- big, 'challenger' thinking in a nimble, flexible environment -- enabling us to move fast on behalf of our clients," she said.
The firm, he said, has become "a valued partner to the most innovative companies across many sectors." Sparkpr got involved early in social media and building online communities, he noted.
Despite the recession, he said the firm "experienced unprecedented demand for our services. ...I couldn’t be prouder of the team we have assembled, located in San Francisco, New York, London and Cape Town ... they bring a level of commitment, enthusiasm and value to our clients."
Imre said Target and Pfizer expanded their relationships with the firm while new clients included Wells Fargo and T. Rowe Price. Long-time client John Deere named the firm for social marketing.
A new unit is Imre Sports which will build on the firm’s experience in promoting corporate relationships with the NFL, PGA Tour, NASCAR and other such groups for clients including Travelers, Black & Decker, Target and John Deere.
Imre has nearly two decades of experience in home and building, healthcare and financial services.
"Our expertise reaches far beyond marketing and PR," said Imre. "We provide actionable strategies that produce results."
The firm's "clean tech practice, poised to become the leading such practice in the nation," and the acquisition of the Antenna Group, San Francisco, were among factors in the increase, said Keith Zakheim, president and CEO.
Use of social media tools has grown into a profit-generating specialty area over the past year, he added.
"As a smaller agency, we are not beholden to old methods and operations and we have been successful leveraging the new distribution channels opened up by digital and the new media," he said.
Zakheim paid tribute to the firm’s "national network of talented and experienced communications professionals."
Jeff Lambert, managing partner of Lambert-Edwards, & Assocs., Grand Rapids, which gained 14% to $5.65M, said "Social media has clearly had a positive impact on our business though it’s still an evolving specialty and most of the time is just one part of a broader program."
"One of the wins for PR firms relative to social media is the increasing share of the overall marketing mix we're getting. While overall marketing budgets are increasing, social media is also gaining a larger foothold in the total marketing spend," he added. "As PR firms take over this business, as they should, it provides growth over and above the industry resurgence."
He pointed out the importance of social media as a driver of revenues.
"Our rapid growth is coming from helping current and new clients meet the growing, global demand for food through adoption of more sustainable technologies ," he said. "These practices will help family farmers and ranchers produce more with less impact on the environment. At the same, we're also using social media to create transparency and to communicate the consumer benefits in all of this.
"Social media allows us to create meaningful, peer experiences and share insights from the key opinion leaders that consumers trust. It's an exciting time for us to be building brands, relationships and reputations in areas that we're all very passionate about."