Bellwether or Omnicom: whose statistics should we believe?

Confused about the state of the marcoms economy? You have every right to be, after comparing and contrasting the slews of statistics spewing out of first quarter assessments.

Grandaddy of them all the Bellwether IPA/BDO report is all doom and gloom. Apparently, marketing budgets have been revised down for the second successive quarter. The only good news is that the rate of decline has slowed – infinitesimally. The report, which surveys 300 companies selected from the UK’s top 1,000 (it says: by marcoms spend presumably), shows a net downgrade of  5.1% in budget. In Q4 2010, the downgrade was 5.4%. Just to drive another nail into the coffin, it also tells us that the survey’s provisional data for actual spend in 2010 decreased for the third year running.

WPP's Sorrell: An answer to the question, maybe?

That, as it were, is in my left hand. In my right hand, I am holding a piece of paper with Omnicom’s first quarter results for 2011 printed on it.  These invite us to take a very different view of the state of marcoms. Omnicom – the world’s second largest marketing services group – is having a very good year so far; and its performance in the UK has been exceptional.

Specifically, the group – which owns such representative agencies as BBDO, DDB, TBWA, OMD and PHD, grew its worldwide revenues by nearly 8% to $3.15bn, with an increase in organic growth of over 5%. The really interesting bit, though, is the fact that organic growth in the UK – not exactly an emerging economy – outstripped that average with a surge of over 9%.

Are these two organisations – Bellwether and Omnicom – inhabitants of parallel universes, perchance? We’ll know more when the other big holding companies announce their Q1 figures. Publicis Groupe is next (tomorrow). But the one to really wait for is WPP – the world’s largest. Its chief, Sir Martin Sorrell, has been bearish on the UK economy in recent times. So it will be interesting to see whether he has, in any measure, changed his mind.

Or maybe not. All of this is a salutary reminder of a saying attributed to Disraeli, “There are three kinds of lie: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

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