Recent years have seen strong economic growth right across the Nordic region. But while many traditional industries have performed well, what has really caught the eye is the extent to which the so-called new economy has taken off. In Ericsson of Sweden and Nokia of Finland, the region is home to two of the world's corporate powerhouses in mobile telephony and wireless internet connectivity. Many smaller companies have grown up around these giants, creating a vibrant technology and e-commerce scene.
Much of this technology is exported across the world, which is in keeping with the rich Nordic tradition for international trade. However, this should not disguise the fact that the region's inhabitants are among the most technologically-savvy on the planet. Mobile phones and personal computers have a very high penetration in relation to most other parts of Europe.
Moreover, research shows that internet usage is at a very sophisticated level.
According to a Jupiter/Ipsos survey into Attitudes and Behaviour of European Internet Users released in September this year, 49 per cent of Nordic users said they had used the internet to investigate travel arrangements compared to just 24 per cent of users in the UK, France, and Germany.
The survey also found that over 40 per cent of Nordic users visited web sites and on-line channels about health or medicine, and 26 per cent conducted on-line personal banking. This compares with 17 per cent and 14 per cent respectively for these activities when combining the three less mature markets. Also in September, Lycos Europe announced it was paying a hefty 674 million euros (US dollars 574 million) to buy Swedish internet portal Spray, which has about six million unique users.
'The PR industry is booming in the whole Nordic region, especially technology PR,' says Text 100 Sweden general manager Johan Wetterqvist. 'Wireless is the number one area where the Nordic region is really leading technological development and we see a huge PR potential here as the companies within this area often have very aggressive international expansion plans.'
A recent edition of Konsultguiden, a review of business consultancies published by leading business magazine Affars Varlden, concluded that the 40 largest PR agencies in Sweden are growing at an average rate of 25 per cent per annum, which was borne out by the high growth figures reported for the PR Week Swedish rankings this year (PR Week, 23 June).
This makes PR the second fastest growing agency sector behind temporary staffing companies. Swedish advertising agencies, by comparison, have only been growing at an average of eight per cent a year.
Across the border in Norway, the top 10 PR agencies grew fee income by 23 per cent during the first half of this year compared to the first six months of 1999, says Norwegian Public Relations Consultancies Association chairman Ole Christian Apeland. The Finnish Association of PR Consultancies says that the annual growth in turnover, operating profit and personnel has been at about the 15-20 per cent level every year since 1995.
But although growth rates are in percentage terms broadly comparable across the region, it should be pointed out that Sweden is by far the biggest and most mature market for PR services. 'If you put the PR marketplace of Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland together and multiplied it by two it would equal the size of the Swedish marketplace,' says Kim Nyberg, Hill and Knowlton Nordic, Central and Eastern Europe chairman and CEO.
Sweden's hegemony is in part due to the simple fact that it has the largest population. But it is also a reflection of the many world-class companies that the country has spawned, coupled with a well established culture of buying consultancy services of varying kinds.
'Sweden has, compared to its size, a very large number of international companies. Like The Netherlands it is very dependent on international commerce,' says Kreab chairman and CEO Peje Emilsson.
Kreab is by some distance the leading PR consultancy in the Nordic region.
As well as its headquarters in Stockholm, it has offices in Oslo, Helsinki and Copenhagen - and even opened an office in London last year to meet the increasingly international needs of its client base. Kreab's fee income across the region comes to roughly pounds 20 million. About two thirds of this is generated in Sweden.
Stockholm-based JKL plus international PR giants Burson-Marsteller and Hill and Knowlton are the other major players across the region as a whole.
However other international owned groups are trying to build their presence.
In June this year, Edelman Public Relations Worldwide acquired Swedish agency Infokraft. Danish agency ABC PR, meanwhile, has signed an affiliation agreement with Manning Selvage and Lee, which is looking into taking an equity position in the company.
Many multinational clients are showing a strong interest in the Nordic markets. But the majority are taking a pan-regional approach.
'Usually if it is a multinational company they want to go into the whole of the Nordic region and not one specific country,' says Ingrid Landahl, managing director of Swedish consultancy Effektiva. 'Although this can differ with IT because Sweden is so hot that many of them want to get in there at the start and move to other countries later.'
Nyberg adds: 'Clients do realise that there is a lot of inter-regional business going on. But there are big differences in culture and language.'
Burson-Marsteller Oslo managing director Claus Sonberg thinks the amount of pan-regional work has 'picked up pace' considerably over the past 18 months. Client mergers and acquisitions are one reason for this but there is also a trend among firms to roll-out programmes across borders.
An example of this is work that B-M has been doing for Coca-Cola in building its brand among a youth audience. This entailed creating an interactive and educational 'house of brands' visitors centre in Norway where school children are able to play at being marketers and in the process are immersed in the Coke brand. Coca-Cola is considering adopting the same concept in the Swedish market.
The internet is of course accelerating cross-border marketing. But it is not just digital infrastructure that is crossing borders. Denmark and Sweden have been bound together by a far more visible and symbolic infrastructure project - the Oresund bridge (see panel above).
'A few years ago Copenhagen had trouble attracting foreign capital but since the bridge has opened there has been more interest,' says Peter Kvetny, managing director of Danish agency Dreyer and Kvetny.
Dreyer and Kvetny is a top 10 agency in Denmark which doubled its fee income last year. Kvetny estimates the Danish PR marketplace is worth about pounds 30 million and that there are about 40 agencies that consist of more than one person.
Kvetny also takes the view that PR advisors are becoming far more strategic.
There will increasingly be a blurring of the boundaries between PR and advertising on the one side and management consultancy on the other, he predicts.
Dreyer and Kvetny created a significant amount of publicity for its client Nokia last year by holding a charity auction of mobile phone covers bearing designs by young Danish artists. But Dreyer agrees that Denmark's business profile is fairly low because it has fewer big multinational corporations than Sweden, Finland and Norway.
'There are not the big companies that act as a locomotive like Ericsson or Nokia in Denmark,' says Kvetny. 'But a lot of very good ideas are being conceived in Denmark and there are thriving bio-medical, IT and dot.com clients.'
ABC PR managing director Jens Kofoed concurs: 'The industrial structure of Denmark is dominated by medium-sized companies.'
In Finland, though there are more large client companies, there is a similar picture in that the same sectors are booming. 'We have been generalists but we are growing fast in the healthcare and IT sectors,' says Insaider managing director Jukka Aarnio.
'Finland is Nokia country, and the IT sector is developing very fast.
Healthcare is growing too, because the opportunities for advertising are limited. The growth of international business has been very important for us over the last two or three years.'
Finnish companies have been exposed to far greater competition since the country joined the EU in the mid 1990s. This, coupled with the digital revolution that is sweeping the world, has led many of them to re-evaluate their strategies.
GCI Finland managing director Kari Heikkila says about 50 per cent of his agency's revenue growth last year came from change management programmes and IPOs. Both start-ups and more traditional corporations needed PR advice linked to the emergence of the new economy. 'There's a great need for firms to change strategy to embrace things like e-business,' says Heikkila.
'The old diesel engines are coming to e-business. They need lots of talent in management consulting to create these new business models.'
The growth of the Nordic PR marketplace has seen the emergence of an increasing number of specialist consultancies, particularly those focusing on the new economy in its broadest sense: IT, telecoms and e-commerce.
'It's getting more and more niche,' says Jan Lindow, chief executive of Swedish IT specialist Move PR. 'If we are to keep up with what's happening in these new economy businesses we can't do everything.'
Text 100 Sweden has split its consultants into three teams, each of which has a specific IT sub-sector focus because it thinks technology is now too wide an area for a single consultant to cover. The three teams' areas are computer hardware, e-business software/consultancy and telecoms/mobile internet.
Wetterqvist argues that this ensures clients get a team which really knows their business - a demand which has increased dramatically in recent years.
There is a massive amount of PR activity involving companies marketing state-of-the-art technology to a consumer audience. Ericsson, Nokia, Siemens and Motorola have all started promoting their WAP mobile phones heavily.
Between them they hope to sell between two and three million WAP phones in the Nordic region in the run-up to Christmas. Even if they only succeed in selling half this amount it will be further proof of just how happily consumers in this part of the world embrace cutting-edge technology.
BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN SWEDEN AND DENMARK
When Queen Margrethe of Denmark and King Carl Gustaf of Sweden cut a ribbon to open the Oresund Fixed Link on 1 July, the event culminated an eight-year, pounds 17.75 million PR effort that signals changing times in Scandinavia.
The pounds 2.5 billion bridge links Copenhagen and the Zeeland region of Denmark with Malmo and the Skane region of Southern Sweden. The two governments that own the bridge believe it physically enables Oresund, a new cross-border region which joins 3.5 million people, 11 universities, Copenhagen's financial base, and sea and airports and Skane's open land. Built in four years and designed to carry 13,000 vehicles a day, the 16km project includes a tunnel, a manmade island, two lower approaches, a four-lane motorway, and two rail tracks.
Ajs Dam, public relations manager at Oresundsbron Consortium, the cross-border public/private group in charge of promoting the bridge, says the objective of the mostly in-house campaign was to win public approval for the project.
PR professionals deployed an integrated communications strategy designed to create expectations about the bridge and the region. Tactically, the consortium practised responsive media relations regionally and internationally; trained local spokespeople in both countries; organised community events; set up exhibitions showcasing the bridge and used integrated advertising in both countries.
For the opening, the consortium retained ARTE Event, a Danish event management firm that specialises in show business. ARTE arranged for performing artists from both countries to appear, including the Olsen Brothers, this year's European Grand Prix song contest winners.
The day's events indicate change in regional PR. They showed that public spectacle is emerging in Scandinavian PR and its broader culture in ways that would have not been seen as legitimate in recent decades, said Anders Linde-Laursen, a regional specialist at Sweden's Lund University.
Public perception challenges remain, but the key challenge is convincing the world that the Oresund region is ripe for new investment.
But constructing such perceptions will be more difficult now that Danes have rejected the euro. The no vote indicates that long-standing Scandinavian concerns about larger European neighbours still exist. This is despite the fact that the new, 3.5 million person region made concrete by the bridge will inevitably carry more clout in the European Union.
TOP 10 PR AGENCIES IN NORWAY
Rank Agency Name Fee Income 1999