The European Commission regularly awards pan-European PR contracts,
ranging from extolling the health benefits of olive oil to promoting the
common fisheries policy. Like many large organisations, the EC is
swathed in bureaucracy and any PR consultancies interested in working
for the Commission must be prepared for some frustration.
’The Commission is a very odd client,’ observes Nick Andrews, director
of strategic communications at APCO Europe, which has had an office in
Brussels for almost four years. ’If you work for the civil service they
have a general idea of how things ought to be done. With the EC it can
be like working with 15 different civil services, each with different
In the Commission’s early days it was rumoured that contracts were
awarded based on personal relationships and that there was almost no
formal pitch process. But according to Eric Potier, managing director at
Shandwick Belgium, ’there are real pitches today’. Another PR
professional, who wished to remain anonymous, is more sceptical.
’Unofficially a tremendous amount of lobbying goes on behind the scenes.
Who you know helps,’ he says.
But any agency is entitled to pitch for work and, in theory at least,
finding out about forthcoming tenders is not too difficult. All calls
for tenders are published in TED (Tenders Electronic Daily) which is
available on the internet (www2.echo.lu/ted), or on a CD-ROM, published
Access to TED became free from 1 January 1999. A system called TED-Alert
allows companies to specify the kind of tenders they are interested in
and the relevant documents are then automatically forwarded.
It is not possible to be listed with all the Directorates General (DGs)
centrally so all 24 have to be approached individually. Consultancies
must put together a dossier outlining competencies and banking
guarantees and tender documents should then be sent out automatically.
So far so good, but there are frequent criticisms that calls to tender
are published too late.
’You must be really well informed if you want to make a good proposal.
If you rely on the official notification most of the time it’s too
late,’ says Potier.
EC tender documents are legendary, and exhaustive. ’It takes about a
month of continuous work to submit a bid,’ says Andrews. ’You get an
enormous brief and you have to hit every single line of it,’ he
Richard Stacy, director of the Rowland Company concurs: ’Providing the
maximum amount of information is the best strategy,’ he believes.
The EC operates a ’double envelope’ system, requesting technical
proposals in the first envelope and the budget in the second which are
then marked out of 100. Agencies must score a minimum of 60 per cent for
technical proposals before their second envelope is even opened. Budget
makes up 30 per cent of the total and the EC normally favours the
Shortlisted agencies are then usually invited in to answer questions
about their proposals, although this is not always the case according to
Stacy. ’The EC is very unlike any other client where when you’re
shortlisted you have the opportunity to make a presentation and an
element of personal chemistry comes in. With the EC everything is based
on the information you put in the tender document,’ he says.
Any agency contemplating working for the EC has to be willing to put a
lot of resources into pitching. According to Potier, Shandwick often
puts together a task force for pitches composed not just of company
employees but outside experts.
The EC has also achieved notoriety as a late payer, which means agencies
must be rock solid financially. ’Because delays in payment are so long
and you are not allowed to count any financial charges it means you must
invest quite a lot of money before you get your first payment,’ says
For agencies that are lucky enough to actually win EC contracts a
frustrating relationship may lie ahead. Agencies are bound by the
proposals and budgets they submitted and changing them can be nigh on
impossible. ’There is often not the flexibility of approach you get with
commercial organisations that allows you to solve problems quickly,’
But despite this agency relationships with the EC can be good. ’The
quality of EC administration is better than the administration in most
of the member states,’ says Potier. He believes that one of the secrets
of working successfully with the EC is in understanding the framework EC
officers work under and sharing the difficulties with them.
Eurosciences Communication, Hill and Knowlton’s European healthcare
network handled the olive oil account for the EC for two years.
According to managing director Dr Martin Godfrey, once the financial
structure and other details of the programme were decided, it became a
largely satisfying experience and the team built up some good
relationships with the Commission.
Evidence clearly suggests that despite all the bureaucracy EC work is
popular. When the Commission invited agencies to pitch for the account
to handle consumer and healthcare PR for olive oil recently no less than
60 consultancies responded. In the summer 30 agencies pitched for the
account to handle PR in preparation for the Czech Republic’s proposed
admission to the Union.
Although it pays less than big business in relative terms, the real
attraction of EC work is that it can provide guaranteed income over a
long period of time, often two or three years. This is why many agencies
are still prepared to invest a lot of time and resources in highly
’Rates are lousy, the EC has a set rates ceiling, the highest of which
is 1,000 euros a day, which works out at about pounds 90 an hour
compared to the pounds 200 an hour senior directors can get for
commercial work,’ says Andrews.
APCO has taken a conscious decision not to bid for too many EC
contracts, but Andrews says the consultancy will put considerable effort
into pitching for work it thinks it has a good chance of winning.
Shandwick Belgium is currently pitching for three pieces of EC work.
’It is wrong to believe you earn a lot of money, but you’re not
necessarily losing money,’ Potier says coyly.
There is no doubt that EC work also carries prestige. ’It always looks
well that you’re working with the EC, and it certainly has impact
commercially,’ says Potier.
SIEMENS: ESTABLISHING CROSS-BORDER CONNECTIONS
Last February the mobile phones division of German company Siemens
appointed Shandwick’s London office as its international lead
’Siemens specifically chose the London office for our experience and
multinational team,’ says Shandwick account director, corporate, Amy
Since October Shandwick has been working on developing a new brand image
for Siemens based on a new series of mobile phones. This has demanded a
different approach in Siemens’ three principal markets in Europe -
Germany, the UK and France.
Shandwick’s challenge has been to promote the ’be inspired’ advertising
campaign created by J Walter Thompson which uses a number of creative
leaders such as Vanessa Mae and Jean-Paul Gaultier and German artist
Jorg Immendorff to establish the identity of the new series of
’Siemens mobile phones have had very low brand awareness in the UK and
so we’ve been concentrating on the overall marketing campaign and
working with Vanessa Mae,’ explains Rudgard. ’In Germany Siemens is the
market leader in mobile phones so we have given the campaign there more
of a product focus.’
Shandwick has worked to create international events around Europe. The
London and German offices collaborated to organise a competition to win
tickets to a special performance by Mae at a nightclub in Munich.
Attended by German celebrities, the event secured widespread media
coverage both in and out of Germany. Co-operation with Shandwick’s
French office also led to French TV station M6 covering the event.
Rudgard says that media coverage in Germany has been huge, partly
because the media has been so interested in seeing Siemens suddenly
appearing in a new light. But she acknowledges that getting interest
from the UK and French media has been a lot more challenging.
However, results have been achieved. Sky TV ran a business story, while
the Times,the Telegraph and BBC Radio have run items on the new ring
tone for the SL10 phone which has been specially composed by Mae.
The campaign is now building up in France. Le Monde and Le Figaro have
already run features and Shandwick will attempt to exploit Gaultier’s
fame in France to secure more coverage.
’The company is seeing itself in media across Europe that it has never
appeared in before, which is important if we are going to change brand
image,’ says Rudgard.
With the launch of the next phone in the range, the campaign will now
spread to the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Italy as well.
BUDGET: FAMILIARITY BREEDS SUCCESS
GCI Europe has been running a pan-European PR programme for Budget Rent
A Car since 1994. According to GCI deputy managing director, Nicholas
Walters, the programme has gradually got bigger and better as team
structures have become clearer.
GCI offices around Europe now meet twice a year with Budget to agree PR
strategy. ’Familiarity makes all the difference, it breeds
If you’re familiar with the other people involved on an account you’re
willing to go the extra mile,’ Walters says.
Budget’s EMEA headquarters are in Hemel Hempstead and the pan-European
PR programme is driven from GCI’s London office, but the good working
relationships fostered with GCI offices around Europe means that each
one contributes to strategy. ’Because we’ve been together so long they
are able to contribute a lot to the thinking,’ says Walters.
GCI’s London office is responsible for putting together proposals,
presenting these to Budget and getting approval. But once programmes
have been agreed local offices can put a local slant on a story. ’Unless
it’s a financial or legal press release all releases are substantially
rewritten for the local market,’ Walters explains.
To ensure a story has pan-European potential GCI makes good use of
pan-European surveys. When Budget launched its European Drivers’ Guides,
GCI commissioned a survey on driving habits in different European
countries which, according to Walters, achieved a huge amount of
coverage across Europe. Similar pan-European surveys on accident excuses
and what people leave behind in their rented cars have also led to
Each year, GCI’s programmes attempt to differentiate Budget from other
car hire companies. Notable successes which were given pan-European
treatment, have included the introduction of Harley-Davidson motorbikes
to the rental fleet and the launch in 1998 of the Budget Bootbike.
However, local agencies in the major European markets report to Budget
marketing departments in their own country and run their own
country-specific PR programmes.
’I think a two-tiered programme like this is the best approach because
no one feels threatened and everyone gains the maximum benefit,’ says