Digital Revenue Up Across the Big Four

Publicis Leads the Way in Percentage, While Omnicom Sees Most Money

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LOS ANGELES ( -- Just how dependent are the Big Four agency holding companies on digital revenue?

The top four companies generated an estimated 16%, or $6.5 billion, of their 2008 worldwide revenue from digital services, according to a new analysis by the Ad Age DataCenter. That's up from 12.3%, or $4.7 billion, in 2007.

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While that might not seem like a lot, digital's portion of Big Four revenue was higher than its share of worldwide media spending: Internet advertising accounted for 10.3% of 2008 worldwide ad spending, according to Publicis Groupe's ZenithOptimedia. The higher percentage at big agency companies reflects how digital pervades every communications discipline.

Publicis led the way in percentage, claiming 19% of revenue ($1.3 billion) came from digital in 2008, up from 15%.

Omnicom Group topped the charts in estimated digital dollars ($2.2 billion) and was second in percentage (16%), up from 13% in 2007, according to Ad Age.

Ad Age estimates WPP's digital revenue at 15% of worldwide revenue, or $2 billion, in 2008, up from 12% in 2007. (WPP, using a "wide" digital definition that includes the non-digital revenue of direct-marketing agencies plus the full-year digital revenue of recently acquired TNS, said digital accounted for 25% of 2008 revenue, up from 23% in 2007.)

Digital brought in about 14% of 2008 revenue, or $1 billion, at Interpublic Group of Cos., up from 10% in 2007.

Agency companies are seeing sizable digital revenue. For example, digital services account for nearly 23% of WPP's market-research revenue (Kantar Group, including TNS), according to Ad Age's analysis of WPP digital disclosures.

Growth also reflects direct-marketing agencies' rapid shift to digital -- less direct mail, more online marketing.

Ad agencies, too, are doing more in digital. Omnicom's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, generates a majority of its revenue from digital work.

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Digital accounts for a growing share of revenue at the Big Four's public-relations agencies, which have moved aggressively into social media.

Quantifying just what is digital isn't easy given that, optimally, every communication will include digital.

And it isn't immune from recession. Publicis' signature digital agency, Digitas, cut 2% of staff in December in response to the troubles of two key clients: American Express Co. and General Motors Corp.

But the digital drive continues, and agency companies are moving with the market.

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