LONDON — WPP's PR and public affairs firms, which include BCW, H+K Strategies, Finsbury and others, have reported a decline of 0.1% on a like-for-like basis (less pass-through costs) in the fourth quarter of 2019 — and a decline of 1% for the full year.

The quarterly change is a slight improvement over movement in the third quarter of the year, which saw a drop of 0.9%. The full year decline, however, is a notable change from 2018, when the PR group’s revenue was up 2.6% on a like-for-like basis compared to 2017.

The group pointed to strong 4Q performance from "H+K Strategies and the specialist public relations businesses Finsbury, Glover Park, Hering Schuppener, Buchanan and Clarion."

Overall, WPP reported a fall in Q4 revenue, which was down 1.9% on a like-for-like basis (less pass-through costs) — and sent company stocks tumbling. The holding group’s full year like-for-like revenue was down 1.6%.

WPP’s 2020 guidance calls for flat revenue less pass-through costs and headline operating profit margin. The company is targeting growth “in line with peers” in 2021.

CEO Mark Read said in the earnings report that 2019 was “the foundational year” in WPP’s multi-year plan to return the company to profit.

“We said that we would make progress in the journey to return WPP to growth, simplifying our business and reducing our debt, and we have delivered against each of these goals – having met our guidance for 2019, achieved our restructuring targets and completed the sale of a majority stake in Kantar. The second half of 2019 was stronger than the first, with performance improving globally and in the United States, our largest market,” he said.

“I am optimistic about the future of our industry and WPP’s position within it, although there is still much more work to do. The marketing landscape has never been more dynamic and complex: clients need our help and expertise more than ever. With our market-leading scale and global footprint, allied to the creativity of our agencies and our technology leadership, we are confident of further progress against our 2021 targets.”