Public Relations Firms Report Business Boom: Firms Nationwide Cite Sharp Rise in Billings, New Clients and Business Inquiries

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Public relations firms report business boom Public relations executives from virtually every region of the country report that their firms enjoyed an unprecedented surge in new business in the first three months of 1990. Not only did many firms add new clients to their rosters, they also experienced a sharp rise in business from existing ones and an upsurge in the number of serious inquiries from potential client prospects.

"We've been very, very busy in the first three months of this year," says Ed Portmann, president of Portmann Communications, an Irvine, California-based public relations firm specializing in real estate. "Our business is up about 25 percent across the board." If the boom continues, Portmann will have to hire more people to handle the work load.

In other parts of the country -- even regions with flat economies -- the story is much the same for both big and small firms. An informal PRJ survey of public relations firms around the country reveals that many expect their 1990 fee income to increase 25 percent to 50 percent over 1989 if the dizzying first-quarter growth continues through the year.

"Quantum leap" in fees

Another positive development, firm executives say, is that many new clients, including start-up companies, are using public relations services for the first time. "It's not just a shifting of PR dollars from one firm to another," notes one firm owner.

David Kirk, APR, principal at Goebel Kirk, Inc., Philadelphia, says his firm has already taken on seven new accounts this year and is negotiating with a few other potential clients, despite what he calls a "very tight" market. "We've had an unusual surge in the number of quality prospects," Kirk says. "If we get the business we're currently expecting, it's not going to be an incremental jump in fees, it's going to be a quantum leap."

Jack F. Agnew, APR, a partner at Agnew, Carter, McCarthy, Inc., Boston, says his firm expects billings to increase by about 45 percent this year, despite a serious economic downturn in New England that has forced both local and state governments to seek additional revenue through tax hikes. "We're probably headed for the best year we've had in the history of the firm," Agnew reports.

Increasing recognition for field

Public relations executives offer various theories as to why many companies and other clients are increasing their reliance on public relations. One common thread running through their comments is that public relations' new emphasis on specialties such as crisis management and strategic planning has extended its usefulness and earned it greater respect. "I think we're seeing the senior management of client companies now moving into an era in which they have watched PR mature and have recognized our ability in issues management and other specialties," says Roger Pynn, APR, principal, Curley & Pynn Public Relations, Orlando, Florida.

"Public relations firms are now offering and expanding the kinds of services, like media relations and community relations, that clients really rely on," adds Cynthia Pharr, APR, president, CEO, Tracy-Locke/Pharr Public Relations, in Dallas. …