COMMENT: Platform - Financial PR hits a new high in Italy. The Italian economy is booming and the rest of the financial PR world would do well to take note, says Andrea Garbarino

For almost three months, from late February to late May, the Italian financial circles enjoyed a dash of celebrity.

For almost three months, from late February to late May, the

Italian financial circles enjoyed a dash of celebrity.



The hostile takeover bid made by Olivetti for Telecom Italia and the

latter’s attempt to merge with Deutsche Telekom burst onto the world

stage.



The stakes were enormous, not only the size of the transaction (almost

pounds 40 billion), but also the effect it had on the political balance

in Italy and Europe, and the structure of one of the top industries of

the new millennium.



The two companies’ press offices fought it out squarely: internal,

outside communications advisers (each contestant had two - one based in

the UK, the other an Italy specialist) and investor relators.



Perhaps the noise created by this deal and the discovery that dozens of

Italian corporations are market contenders will convince major PR firms

to pay more attention to the communications opportunities in the Italian

financial industry.



Or perhaps, and more likely, not. In the rest of Europe and in the US,

the perception of the Italian market is still incomplete. The

reasons?



Let’s be frank. Italian companies still have a modest reputation in

English-speaking countries: unreliable, volatile, politically-infested,

and mostly relegated to the sidelines of the global business community.

Perhaps this is why Italian companies are still perceived as a ’residual

opportunity’ by those who each year decide how and where to strengthen

their international network.



But what of the reality? The Italian market is in full boom: the demand

for communications consultancy is growing exponentially while the supply

of experienced communicators is limited. The few specialised Italian

agencies that exist have already understood this and are getting

stronger while network branches do their best to expand their

reputations. But in my view, these developments have caught them by

surprise and they still are not fully appreciated.



Over the last five years, the total amount of assets under fund

management has grown more than five times in Italy as compared to less

than once in the UK. In 1998 alone, growth in Italy was almost 90 per

cent, as compared to a little more than five per cent globally. Italian

funds now manage the equivalent of over pounds 300 billion, placing

Italy in the number four spot in the world.



And the growth trend does not seem to have run its course, since the

share of financial wealth professionally managed in Italy (in mutual

funds, open-end investment companies, life insurance policies, pension

funds and so on) is still only around 30 per cent, compared to around 55

per cent in the UK.



Italy is a country with enormous submerged wealth which, like an

underground river, resurfaces when the moment has come to put capital

into the market.



The worries of Italy’s financial upper class over the safety and quality

of its investments go hand-in-hand with a strong need for qualified

information. Who will manage it?



Financial PR is becoming a key stage in the planning of the big asset

managers and the media is increasing its offer.



In the past 12 months alone, Il Sole 24 Ore has grown to the point of

becoming the number one financial daily in Europe and two new specialist

papers have emerged to grab a slice of the booming demand for financial

news.



As the market grows, the problem emerging is finding enough seniors

capable of neatly managing an announced market trend. And it is for this

very reason - that expertise contributes to generating financial wealth

- that those who ignore the financial market in Italy are missing out on

a great opportunity.



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