Postcard from Sweden

The Swedish PR sector is relatively small, but it punches above its weight.

When it comes to the intensifying battle over creativity, one relatively unheralded market seems to have stolen a march.

In global terms, the Swedish PR sector is a relatively small player, but by most measures it has been punching far above its weight.

Sweden is home to corporate and financial powerhouses Kreab Gavin Anderson and Hallvarsson & Halvarsson, and recently the country has developed a reputation as a hotbed of creativity as agencies such as Prime PR and Jung Relations have been showered with global awards for innovative, integrated campaigns.

Despite it attracting a growing host of international admirers, Prime creative director and partner Tom Beckman plays down the idea there is something unique about the Swedish PR sector.

"I don’t think we’re necessarily leading the way in Sweden," he says. "It’s more that the world has turned to us because everything is now focused on brands’ and companies’ role in society."

Rather than harbouring the secret to creative genius, Beckman says the Swedish PR industry has always reflected the country’s focus on societal issues, democracy and equality.

What has changed is that companies have found that in the post-financial crisis era the ‘society brand’ has become a core component of corporate and consumer reputation as citizens question the role of companies in society.

Another factor in Sweden’s success has been the country’s early adoption of digital, partly driven by government programmes enabling remote working.

This innovation can be seen clearly in the evolution of global Swedish tech brands Spotify and Skype and in the development of market-leading digital agencies to provide a talent pool from which PR has benefited.

However, Beckman argues that the majority of PR agencies in Sweden have failed to capitalise on these trends by not becoming lead agency for their clients and not integrating their siloed practice-based offerings.

But the Swedish PR industry has survived the global downturn in decent shape. Government-related PR spend has shrunk, but the industry has continued to grow.

The latest published figures from industry organisation PRECIS show that fee income grew by four per cent in 2012 (it grew 5.9 per cent in 2011) to SEK1.8bn (£170m).

The global networks have a strong presence, but more through businesses such as Omnicom-owned KGA or Publicis’ JKL than branches of network agencies.

Gunilla Banér, Kreab Gavin Anderson’s London managing partner, notes that Swedish PR has had to develop a global outlook as the country, along with Switzerland, houses the highest proportion of multinational companies per capita in the world.

"Sweden is a small domestic market, but many of our clients are present all over the world and we have had to follow our clients."

Another market dynamic is a focus on high-level strategic communications rather than simply PR execution. Networks are tight and personal relationships more common, according to Anna-Karin Hedlund, MD at Diplomat Communications and PRECIS chairwoman.

Many agencies have emerged from the political class, leading to media scrutiny over relations between the strong public affairs sector and politicians.

This has led to calls for regulation (a 2012 scandal involved a health minister and tobacco firm Swedish Match).

Hedlund says it is only in the past couple of years that the industry has accepted the lobbyist tag, but she defends the practices of the public affairs industry, noting that trade unions and other "strong Swedish organisations have been the real great lobbyists" over the years.

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