When is one greater than 150?

As a chartered accountant who has previously spent nine years working for PricewaterhouseCoopers I thought I would do some analysis comparing the accountancy and PR industries. The results are a bit one sided.

PR Industry

The total fee income of the PR Week Top 150 2008 is £781m. Within the Top 150 the single largest brand is the Bell Pottinger Group with fee income of £52m. However this is slightly misleading as the league table shows other brands that have common parent ownership separately. If common ownership is taken into account then the WPP plc brands (Hill and Knowlton, Finsbury, Burston Marsteller, Cohn and Wolfe, Buchanan, Ogilvy, GCI, Clarion) would represent the largest single entity with a combined fee income of £81m. Average fee income per head across the Top 150 is approximately £96,000 per employee.

Accountancy industry

All of the Big Four Accountancy firms  – PwC, Deloitte, E&Y and KPMG – have individual UK fee income that dwarfs the entire Top 150.

PwC (2007) – £1,872m
Deloitte (2008) – £1,725m
KPMG (2007) – £1,396m
E&Y (2007) – £1,226m

Total £6,219m – eight times greater than the Top 150.

Their fee income per head is also substantially better ranging from £127,000 per employee (PwC) to £152,000 (Deloitte).

But perhaps more surprising is to consider some of the mid sized accountancy firms. The figures for just three of the larger mid sized firms – Baker Tilly, BDO Stoy Hayward and Grant Thornton – combined actually exceed the Top 150 as well.

BDO (2007) – £300m
Grant Thornton (2007) – £298m
Baker Tilly – £204m

Total £802m

The average fee income per head of these three firms combined is exactly the same as the Top 150 at £96,000 per employee.


Two results immediately jump out. Firstly UK plc obviously invests a much greater amount in the accountancy profession compared to the PR industry with the expenditure on financial advice representing many multiples of that invested in PR.

Secondly that individual brands are still seen as key in the PR industry. By contrast accountancy firms are happy to operate as what effectively amounts to hundreds of small businesses under an umbrella brand.

The first will be due to many reasons, not least the legal and regulatory need for financial advice in many situations. However that still exists to some extent with regards to communications as well, particularly in connection with public company investor relations and M&A transactions. It is also likely to be due to the measurable nature of financial advice. If I save you £1m tax or sell your company for a £1m more you can immediately see and value the impact. That age old problem of PR and measurement raising its head again. After a few years working in the PR industry here is one accountant who has no doubts about the value that good communications can add. Anyone who does should perhaps give some thought to whether Northern Rock’s demise was financial or communications led. With the benefit of hindsight which of these two areas of deficit really destroyed the trust in the brand?

I’m not sure I have an answer to the second observation of brand maintenance. Both types of firms have individual directors/partners in whom goodwill is invested and both provide added value advice. However over the years the Big Four in particular have merged/taken over other firms and have eliminated brands from their identities. Had they not done so Deloitte would by now be called Deloitte, Plender, Griffiths, Haskins, Sells, Touche, Ross, Bailey, Smart, Niven and Tohmatsu. Which would be a bit of a mouthful to say the least :) Why is the retention of identities seen as so key by the PR industry?

4 thoughts on “When is one greater than 150?

  1. Brands often serve the purpose that chinese walls would in a banking or professional services situation. Clients actively restrict the business that agencies can do under their own name – on a worldwide basis.

    I have often seen contracts where the client forbid you to work with a list of names that covered a couple of sheets of A4 paper in any other office worldwide.

    Secondly different brands often hold different cultures and different offerings, for instance when I was client side there was no way on earth I would willingly work with Burson Marsteller, but I would happily work with Cohn & Wolfe. Both are fine agencies but one has a more starched collar, strategic but not very creative reputation and vibe. Same product offering on the surface, but very different values attached to it.

  2. Thanks for your comments guys.

    @David agreed it is smaller, but the combined worldwide PR income of WPP, Omnicom and Interpublic for instance at approx £2bn per year is still only about the same as PwC UK’s fee income and PwC’s global revenues are circa £18bn. So though the gap is smaller it is still pretty big.

    @Ged I was aware of the chinese wall scenario, but this also occurs in accountancy firms where I found myself working in such a situation on a number of occasions. But it seems a little strange to me that such segregation and branding is deemed necessary for comms advice but not for financial to achieve the same end. Why the apparent implied lack of trust for following risk management procedures when it comes to work of this type?

    Agree completely on the culture point, but again within the accountancy firms this exists as well. Accountancy firms are also like a federated collection of small/medium sized businesses under one banner each managed by a partner where the partner defines a lot of the culture of each business. In my time I worked in four different ones and there was a significant difference in culture in each depending on the work – audit, corporate finance, consultancy – and the client base – private sector, public sector. But they still saw the rationale for this federated umbrella brand.

    Maybe ultimately the difference just reflects the lack of creativity of accountants! :-) Well except for creative accounting of course but that’s a *whole* other thing!

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