ICCO’s quarterly trends barometer is a useful pulse-check for the global PR industry and its Q4 2011 edition is no different, even if the most interesting finding is buried towards the end of the release. When asked to forecast growth for next year, 66 percent of respondents said that fee income would either remain stable or shrink in the final quarter of this year. Even allowing for the fact that most respondents, presumably, are based in Europe, this is a pretty intriguing finding. The forecast is less optimistic than for previous quarters of 2011, and growth predictions have progressively declined over the course of this year. In April, for example, 71 percent expected short-term growth in fees; in July, 62 percent said the same thing. Now, just 34 percent are predicting growth. What are we to make of this? One factor is cultural. Our own research consistently demonstrates that European PR types are a more gloomy bunch than their peers in North America and Asia-Pacific. Curiously, however, our study revealed that optimism levels in Asia-Pacific had dipped compared to 2010, despite this particular region’s well-known fondness for the future. As always, we have talked to agencies big and small all over the world over the course of this year, and some broad trends are emerging. While there appears to have been some softening in the market since the summer, business is humming along quite nicely for most. As of yet, there is no firm indication that 2012 budgets are being radically affected by the global economic uncertainty triggered by the Greece crisis, and continued political stalemate in the US. This is, of course, that most beloved period in the PR calendar - budget time - when agency heads are furiously scrutinising spreadsheets and figuring out how the world will look next year. They have our sympathy, because 2012 is turning into a particularly difficult year to forecast. The CEO of one the biggest PR firms in the world told me that they are planning for a ‘decent’ 2012. He also said that, so far at least, he has yet to see any parallels with 2008. That was reassuring, until he recollected that 2008’s descent into recession took pretty much everyone in the market by surprise. At the very least, the market is considerably more cautious now, and that is likely to be reflected in a sober assessment of the year ahead. Ultimately, divining the future is a notoriously unreliable business. Will we see a painfully slow but steady recovery, or another crisis? I’m not convinced that anyone has the answer. Visibility is bad, but the PR industry will be hoping that a more cautious approach will help it avoid any nasty pitfalls in 2012.