FOCUS: FINANCIAL PR - Making businessembrace the euro. European Economic and Monetary Union will make the Continent truly one market and create different challenges for financial PR practitioners. Robert Gray reports

Little more than six months from now, European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) will start to become a reality. Politically, the UK may be adopting a ’wait and see’ stance and, although it is not among the first wave of 11 countries to take part, the reverberations will nevertheless be felt across the corporate and financial landscape.

Little more than six months from now, European Economic and

Monetary Union (EMU) will start to become a reality. Politically, the UK

may be adopting a ’wait and see’ stance and, although it is not among

the first wave of 11 countries to take part, the reverberations will

nevertheless be felt across the corporate and financial landscape.



Although the euro will not entirely supersede the national currencies of

the participating states until 2002, it will become an investment

reality from the start of 1999. Trading prices of equities, bonds,

futures and options will be quoted in euros. There will be a euro

interest rate and, once established, the likelihood is that the euro

will become a major trading currency to rival the dollar and the

yen.



’The euro is going to mean profound changes for European capital

markets,’ says Chancery Communications managing director David Waller,

whose clients include pan-European stock exchange EASDAQ.



In the area of equities, for example, the share prices of many of

Europe’s leading companies will suddenly be directly comparable and ever

more investment decisions will be taken on a pan-European basis.



Shares will be bought not because they are listed in a particular

country, but because a company is seen as having good prospects for

growth in comparison not only with its fellow nationals, but also when

evaluated against other euro-quoted corporations.



’Companies will have to view themselves as belonging to a pan-European

sector rather than a national geographic area because that kind of

investment will almost disappear,’ says Citigate director Noga

Villalon.



Increasingly, US and other non-European corporations and investors have

been classifying Europe as a single market and constructing strategies

based on this view. EMU will only intensify that attitude. Moreover, an

end to currency fluctuation between the participating countries will

make investment into euro equities and bonds an attractive proposition

to many institutional and retail investors.



One implication is that investment will become more index driven.

Evidence of this came in February with the launch of Stoxx, four

European equity indexes (two specifically covering the euro zone;

another two taking western Europe as a whole). Edelman is handling the

PR for Stoxx, a joint venture between Dow Jones and three leading

European stock exchanges: SBF-Bourse de Paris, Deutsche Borse and Swiss

Exchange. But internationalisation does not necessarily mean

homogenisation - corporations and individuals will still retain many of

their own national characteristics.



’We’ve got to be able to understand the implications for shareholders in

other territories,’ says Financial Dynamics chief executive Nick

Miles.



There are, adds Waller, subtly different forms of capitalism on the

Continent.



For example, in Germany there is more emphasis placed on the workforce,

while in France there is a greater government focus. These and other

variations need to be taken into account.



But, argues Villalon, the growing internationalisation of investment

will entail the loss of companies’ ’natural national investor base’.



Companies need to tailor their communications to reflect this

change.



Almost certainly, there will be more international roadshows, yet there

will be attitudinal, as well as practical, differences. Arguably there

will be an upsurge in cross-border mergers and acquisitions because an

international shareholder base will have few qualms about businesses

being bought by companies listed in other countries. EMU will also make

such M&As more straightforward.



Villalon speculates that UK plcs may eventually produce two sets of

financial reports and accounts - one in sterling, the other in euros -

to meet the needs for comparative data of international investors,

analysts and financial journalists.



She also believes the single currency may call into question the

long-term viability of Europe’s smaller national stock exchanges as

investors concentrate on the markets in those cities that already have

international financial standing and pan-European alternatives such as

EASDAQ.



Although the first impact of the euro will be on the capital markets,

the broader effects on business will not be far behind. Some

multinational firms operating in Europe intend to use the euro soon

after 1 January 1999 as a means of simplifying their accounts and

finances, which will clearly affect UK suppliers. ’If your customer says

’we’d prefer you to invoice in euros’ you’d have to feel you were in a

pretty strong position to say ’no’,’ says Hill and Knowlton senior

associate director Andy Pharaoh.



H&K has been working on euro-related communications for NatWest

Corporate Banking Services for the past 18 months. In March this year,

NatWest CBS became the first UK bank to offer a full range of euro bank

accounts.



Siemens was the first company to open such an account in preparation for

dealing in euros with customers and suppliers.



NatWest CBS is running an EMU awareness programme for customers. To

date, over 2,000 businesses have attended seminars dealing with the

practical problems posed by the euro such as cash management, payments,

international trade and Treasury issues.



Ludgate head of public affairs Stephen Lock wonders whether all those UK

PR consultancies with European operations and clients are themselves

getting geared up for the new currency. His consultancy is currently

considering changes to its accounting system to handle euros.



The euro will undoubtedly have a profound effect on cross-border trade

as prices become directly comparable across 11 countries and the single

currency is likely to act as a spur to the buying and selling of goods

on the internet.



Suddenly, businesses and consumers will be able to order goods from

anywhere in the euro zone without having to worry about foreign

exchange.



There is a genuine fear that British business is by and large unprepared

for these changes. At the time of writing, the Treasury, advised by the

Central Office of Information, is understood to be putting together a

pounds 5 million advertising-driven information campaign. A massive

financial communications task lies ahead. The time has come for business

communicators of all kinds to get to grips with the euro.



IoD: TACKLING THE ISSUE OF THE FAT CATS



Although it was four years ago, who can forget the furore surrounding

former British Gas chief executive Cedric Brown’s decision to accept a

75 per cent pay rise to pounds 475,000.



Other utilities bosses also came in for harsh criticism for their

handsome remuneration packages. In what appeared to be almost a fad, the

’fat cat’ label was applied to a succession of executives.



But four years on, we see clearly that the fat cat debate is not a

fad.



Although the Greenbury Report and its successors on corporate governance

have impressed upon companies the need for responsible reward

structures, excessive remuneration for top directors remains very much a

live issue.College Hill chairman Alex Sandberg refers to it as a

’running sore’.



The Institute of Directors is so concerned that reports of fat cat

directors may be harming the image of business as a whole that it has

launched a communications campaign called the ’hub initiative’ to try to

improve the standing of companies in the community.



’The public likes to see pay tied to some kind of productivity

impact.



What business hasn’t been doing is either explaining why it is

justifiable or, worse, rewarding people excessively when it isn’t,’ says

Quentin Bell, who is advising on the campaign.



The most recent fat cat brouhaha involved Smith Kline Beecham chief

executive Jan Leschly, whose potential share option and incentive reward

package of pounds 66 million was raked over by the media after the

collapse of merger talks with Glaxo Wellcome.



In Leschly’s defence, SB argued that the package was a reflection of the

huge rise in the value of the company under his stewardship and that in

a global business it had to offer global rewards in order to attract the

best executives.



Sandberg agrees this is the best strategy. PR advisers having to defend

charges of fat cat behaviour should point out that packages are

generally linked to shareholder value and that remuneration committees

exist to ensure directors are not paid far more than they are worth.



But there are times when remuneration cannot be satisfactorily justified

and investors and the public disapprove when they learn of poor quality

people getting big pay-offs. These are often contractual, and in such

situations there is little PR can do. The onus is on companies to ensure

that they do not offer their directors overly long contracts or share

options that are not tightly linked to performance.



RINGMASTER: QUICKENING UP THE REPORT PROCESS



Anyone who has ever been involved in putting together an annual report

and accounts will know how much amending, checking, double-checking and

scrutiny of proofs is required in order that this vital financial

document is published free of errors.



Therefore, anything that can ease this painstaking process is to be

welcomed.



To this end, technology company Automatrix International - with input

from design consultancy Thumb - has developed RingMaster, an electronic

publishing system designed to save time in the production of annual

reports and similar publications.



In essence, RingMaster is a workgroup design and publishing system based

on standard DTP software and technology that can be used over a wide

area network. This means that clients can make on-screen corrections to

the report text from their own office. And as RingMaster allows 24-hour

access,clients can make corrections at any time.



Access is controlled by user names and passwords, thereby allowing

appropriate working environments to be set up for various users.



RingMaster tracks layouts, text, photographs and graphics. It manages

these files and their revisions and facilitates their final

archiving.



Thumb has used RingMaster for clients such as Laura Ashley and

Wembley.



Rival annual report design consultancy Michael Peters Literature has

licensed RingMaster as a means of offering clients, such as 31, Bass and

Tesco, more effective project management with reduced leadtimes.



’The great thing RingMaster does is speed up the communication of

changes, which at the back-end of the annual report process is really

critical,’ says MPL marketing director Charles de Haan.



’What the client sees at their end is exactly what the designer sees,

only the client is locked out of the layout but can get into the boxes

that contain text to make amendments.’



De Haan elaborates that there is no need to hang around for proofs from

typesetters. Clients can print proofs immediately, and when these have

been checked the amendments can be sent by ISDN line to MPL’s

designers.



The adjustments indicated can be made at once and the updated design

sent right back to the client - all within minutes rather than days.



Automatrix is, says its business development director Nick Smart,

working on adapting RingMaster so that it can be used for web-based

annual reports.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.