British firms boost PR fees above pounds 200m

Public relations firms are experiencing a return to the heady days of the 1980s, with fee income rising by 15 per cent last year, three times the growth rate for 1995.

According to a survey by the Public Relations Consultants' Association, which represents 160 firms comprising more than 80 per cent of the PR industry in the UK, fees exceeded pounds 200m for 1996.

At the launch of the association's 1997 Yearbook, director Christopher McDowall said: "The extraordinary boom in the use of PR consultancies throughout the country can be attributed to companies of all sizes, from international plcs to family firms, realising how cost effective public relations is compared with advertising."

City PR firms report that growth in fees from business and financial work has been rising even more rapidly, and for longer. This is a direct result of the boom in City mergers and takeovers, according to Nic Miles of Financial Dynamics, a City consultancy: "City PR firms have been showing strong growth for some years. Most consultancies with City operations have seen the City side grow by over 15 per cent for the last four years."

Jane Ageros, chief spokeswoman for Abbey National, who is soon to move to the investment bank Merrill Lynch, said: "People are starting to realise PR consultants can be as important as merchant banks in corporate deals.... PR is becoming more of a discipline. It used to be just mouthpieces, now they're a key part of the process."