LONDON — WPP's PR and public affairs firms, which include BCW, H+K Strategies, Finsbury and others, have reported a decline of 0.3% on a like-for-like basis (less pass-through costs) in the first quarter of 2019.

WPP's PR unit grew 2.7% on a reported basis, less pass-through costs, to £270m. That meant they outperformed two of group's other three units — including advertising and media investment, and, branding, healthcare and specialty.

In an analyst presentation, the group noted that BCW had won nearly $70m in new business in its first year since merging. 

"The group’s public relations and public affairs businesses were down 0.3%, with
strong growth in Western Continental Europe and the Middle East," said WPP CEO Mark Read in the earnings statement. 

Overall, WPP was down 2.8% on a like-for-like basis for the quarter. “As anticipated, our first quarter trading update reflects the impact of certain significant client losses in 2018, in particular in the United States," said Read.

"Although we face a challenging year, especially in the first half, I am encouraged by how well our people, agencies and clients are responding to our new strategic direction. Our expectations for the full year are unchanged."

Read also noted that restructurings at specific agencies, notably VMLY&R, Wunderman Thompson and Ogilvy, meant that the traditional sectoral reporting approach will be reconsidered this year — raising the possibility that the group may stop breaking out PR and PA revenues. 

"The restructuring actions that we are implementing, including the mergers of VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson, the One Ogilvy strategy and the reorganisation of our specialist healthcare agencies, mean that certain units have been reclassified between sectors and going forward it is likely to be less meaningful to report these sectors as we have in the past," said Read. "We will review the appropriateness of this sectoral breakdown during 2019."