PR agencies are bracing for a tough year. The CEO of the third-biggest firm BCW lays out how it will outperform its peers.


Donna Imperato BCW

  • BCW Global, one of the largest PR firms in the world, said revenue would decline in the mid to high single-digits this year.
  • Crisis and public affairs continues to bring in business for the agency as its clients grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
  • CEO Donna Imperato also predicted BCW would shrink its real estate footprint as the pandemic has shown the benefits of remote work.
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BCW, a part of ad holding company giant WPP and the No. 3 PR agency by revenue, said it’s expecting revenue to decline in the mid to high single-digits this year as the coronavirus pandemic drags down the economy.

“If we continue to be quarantined and the economy gets worse, once it hits our clients in the supply chain, we’ll see more budget cuts as the year goes on,” CEO Donna Imperato told Business Insider.

Crisis and public affairs continues to carry the day at BCW

But Imperato said she expected BCW — created from the merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe in 2018 — to fare better than other agencies, though, since most of its work is in healthcare, public affairs, and crisis — all of which are booming areas for PR.

For example, one of BCW’s largest clients is Huawei. Last year, the PR agency inked a $1 million contract with Huawei through its newly formed subsidiary, Pivot Integrated Communications, as the Chinese technology giant went up against the US Department of Justice.

“We always recommend that clients prepare for crises or certain scenarios, and they think, ‘Well, that’s not going to happen. It’s not what I have to spend money on now.’ I believe that’s going to open up,” Imperato said.

In fact, as BCW prepares for a post-COVID future, Imperato said BCW wants to compete with the likes of McKinsey by showing it can provide crisis services faster than the consulting companies.

BCW is pulling back on its paid media business during the pandemic, especially if it’s focused on marketing outreach. The agency is telling clients to delay and re-evaluate paid media activations in later quarters.

But demand for data analytics is up as clients want to know how their campaigns are performing in real time, Imperato added.

Also, branding and technology hasn’t been as adversely affected as consumer branding because companies want to prove they stand for something, she said.

Finally, BCW also said it believes its sports practice will remain viable as live sporting events will return by next year.

BCW will take up less real estate

Pre-pandemic, WPP had been consolidating real estate in new campuses to cut costs and increase collaboration across its agencies.

Imperato said she expects that effort to pause and for remote work to become more common as their benefits have become apparent.

“I’m not sure we’ll go back to office seating,” she said. “We won’t need as much real estate because more people will start working from home. That’s a cost saving, and they become more productive.

“We finished a pitch recently where we spent so much time traveling people all over the world and it was drawn out over months,” she added. “It required so much of my senior people’s time. Even though we won a good portion of it, I don’t think it was necessary to spend all that time to get the same outcome.”

SEE ALSO: The pandemic set back Edelman’s goal to hit $1 billion in revenue this year. Here’s how the PR giant plans to rebound.

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