LONDON — PR agencies have reported a global decrease in fee income and expectations of growth this year are low, according to the latest ICCO World PR Report.

The 2020 ICCO World PR Report, produced in partnership with Provoke Media and Opinium, captures the impact of the global pandemic on the communications industry, revealing that 62% of PR firms have had campaigns cancelled and 61% are expecting a drop in fee income.

In addition, there is a dearth of new business: 46% report a loss of earnings, nearly 40% of respondents say there have been fewer pitches, and 35% say they have fewer retainers. Payment delays have also been a problem for more than a third of the industry (38%).

Other challenges faced across the board included hiring freezes (35%) and pay cuts (35%), while 15% of respondents have been forced to make redundancies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the kinds of services being required by clients, with the most significant decrease being seen in consumer brand communications, and the sectors hardest hit including retail, hospitality, food and drink, entertainment, automotive and luxury goods.

Several services have had a boost, however, including crisis counsel, digital and social, corporate communications and employee communications, and the most buoyant sectors being technology, healthcare, and financial and professional services.

And despite low expectations for growth in 2020, the report finds that the majority of agencies globally are still optimistic about growth for 2021. especially in Asia Pacific. This growth is mostly expected to come from the technology (63%) and healthcare  sectors (53%). The top six areas of predicted growth are strategic communications, corporate reputation, social media and community management, purpose and CSR, multimedia content creation and marcomms.

The wide-ranging research covers areas including mental health, diversity, measurement, technology, and skills, broken down by regions: Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America, and the UK.

Globally, 60% of PR professionals now work for a company which has a diversity and inclusion policy, with North America (77%) and the UK (77%) being the most likely to have adopted such a policy.

The report also highlights how PR firms are recognising the importance of employee wellbeing: globally, 52% have put a formal support structure in place to support wellbeing, with North America (77%) and Asia Pacific (70%) leading the way.

In terms of measurement, AVEs are still being used by 46% of respondents globally – and by 73% of agencies in the Middle East –  although this drops to just 10% in the UK. There has been an uptick in the use of AMEC measurement tools to 75% of respondents around the world, rising to 94% of UK respondents.

Presenting the results of the research at the ICCO Global Summit this week, ICCO deputy chief executive Rob Morbin said: “This year has turned a vicious – sometimes blinding, sometimes illuminating – spotlight on how organisations have acted. Has it been with nuance and empathy? Has it been with the callous chasing of every last penny, and every last cent? Have companies been authentic? Or have they been fake? Have CEOs led? Or have CEOs hidden?

“There is a clear shift away from the tactical and towards the strategic, while the value of crisis counsel has never been more apparent. Our industry has never had as many places at that fabled top table. All of which means that 2020 will provide the case studies of a whole decade. When people ask ‘What’s the point of PR?’ we will suggest that they look at the good and the bad of this period.”

Morbin added that 2020 “has proved that the fundamentals of our industry are incredibly resilient. That we can change course with remarkable speed. That every crisis brings fresh opportunities -you just need to weather the storm in order to embrace them.”