Only one of the ten biggest firms reporting their numbers to O’Dwyer’s had a down year in 2010 -- a sharp contrast to the 2009 reporting firms when eight of the ten were in the minus column.

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.

Seventy-one of 152 firms reporting had double-digit gains vs. only 22 of 135 reporting having such gains in 2009.

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.

Clients Expanded Services at Edelman

Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, said much of the 2010 gain was from current clients expanding their budgets.

Richard Edelman
“Clients took advantage of our expanded digital offerings,” he said.

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."

APCO Grows in “Non-Traditional Areas

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 Has Biggest Gain in Top Ten: +37%

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%.

Kathy Bloomgarden
Kathy Bloomgarden, co-CEO of RF, said: "Social and digital media are now part of almost all of our PR programs. Online channels have changed conversation and engagement with all stakeholder groups.

“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.

Weiss Cites Healthcare and Other Growth

Jim Weiss
WCG CEO Jim Weiss cited growth in its core healthcare business as well as expansion into consumer and technology categories. “We had great strategic hires in the past year,” he 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

Michael Kempner
Michael Kempner, CEO of MWW Group, who engineered a management buyout of the firm from Interpublic after a decade of ownership by the ad/PR conglomerate, said he expects the independence will "unleash the talent, creativity and spirit" of the firm which is "returning to its roots as a nimble strategic management consultancy."

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.

tom ryan
Tom Ryan
CEO Tom Ryan said that "as companies work through the volatility of the current environment, they are increasingly realizing that financial communications is a major determinant of equity value, and therefore have sought out ICR’s expert counsel."

"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.

Coyne Up 32% to $16M

Tom Coyne
Third biggest gainer in the top 25 was Coyne Public Relations, Parsippany, N.J., up 32% to $16M.

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 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.

Digital Drives Atomic Growth

andy getsey
Andy Getsey
Atomic PR CEO Andy Getsey, described the "Atomic style" as "lots of re-contextualization, content strategy, media relations, digital and social media, community outreach and video all working together." He said such techniques were applied when the firm kicked off the year with the re-launch of Polaroid at the Consumer Electronics Show which included the participation of Lady Gaga.

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/, 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.

F/W/V Handled High-Profile Accounts

Rick French
Raleigh-based French/West/Vaughan boosted fees 18% to $13.6M partly on its work for two high-profile accounts -- the rehabilitation of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, whose dog-fighting activities earned him time in a federal prison, and damage control for long-time client Wrangler after Vikings quarterback and company spokesperson Brett Favre was accused of sending improper photographs to a woman.

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.

Barby Siegel
CEO Barby Siegel attributes growth to "our highly client-centric, collaborative model that delivers insight-driven strategy, unexpected creative, and hands-on involvement from our highly experienced staffers."

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.

Alan Soucy
Alan Soucy, CEO of Sparkpr, San Francisco, which grew 22% to $8.8M, said 2010 was the tenth straight year of revenue growth. "Our roots are firmly planted in Silicon Valley," he 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 Has Fourth Fastest Growth in Top 50

Dave Imre
Imre, founded in 1993 by David Imre, was the fourth fastest growing firm in the top 50, up 33% to $7.69M.

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."

Keith Zakheim
Beckerman, Hackensack, N.J., which posted the fifth largest increase among the top 50—up 32% to $6.1M—said its "effective delivery of value-added services and a proven return on investment" brought growth in spite of the recession.

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."

Morgan & Myers Grows 68%

Tim Oliver, president of Morgan & Myers, Waukesha, Wisc., which soared 68% to $3.8M, said main areas of growth were in agriculture and food which is where the firm's expertise and practice areas are grounded.

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."