Two themes dominated the German news agenda over the past 12 months. The first, to little surprise, concerned the brutal impact of the global financial crisis on a highly-industrialised country.
Prospects for Germany's large automotive sector were particularly troubling, partly mitigated by a clever Government scheme to offer 'cash for clunkers'. 'Abwrackpramie' as it is known, eventually sparked a 40 per cent car sales increase.
That initiative was emblematic of a series of Government stimulus packages that helped defend Germany from the worst of the downturn.
2009 was also an election year, with many politicians attempting to replicate the success of US President Barack Obama's digital campaigning strategies. In this regard, says Weber Shandwick Germany CEO Astrid von Rudloff, results were mixed.
Germany's PR market, by most estimates, ranks as one of the world's five biggest. Dominated by a proliferation of small and medium-sized in-house departments and agencies, the industry certainly does not suffer from a lack of professionalism. There are no fewer than three PR trade bodies, with considerable attention paid to such areas as ethics and education.
According to one trade body, the DPRG, there are some 40-50,000 PR practitioners in Germany. 2009 was a tough year for the industry, with some estimating a market slump of approximately 15 per cent.
A PR-Trendmonitor research study of the industry in late 2009 revealed that just five per cent of press offices, and 15 per cent of agencies are hopeful of growth. On the other hand, 16 percent of clients and about 11 percent of agencies foresee cuts of as much as 10 percent; cuts of more than 10 percent are envisaged by 11 percent of companies and six percent of PR service providers.
' For many years, PR in Germany was perceived as non essential within the marketing mix and not as key factor to business success,' says Ketchum Pleon CEO Frank Behrendt.
'But after several CEO communication missteps, PR has gained more acceptance. But it's not only in corporate communications that PR has gained more responsibility and budget -- brand PR and viral campaigns are becoming more important over the last 10 years.'
Television is dominated by public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, and commercial player RTL.
The leading daily broadsheet is the liberal Sueddeutsche Zeitung, with a circulation of approximately 500K. It's closest rival is the centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Among weeklies, Die Zeit is highly respected, adds von Rudloff.
The key financial daily, which Behrendt points to as the most important for reaching economic influencers is Handelsblatt. Weekly magazines are also important, namely Der Spiegel, SternFocus and . Tabloid daily Bild, with 3 million copies sold each day, is Europe's best-selling newspaper.
Compared to some of its European neighbours, Germans have been relatively slow to adopt social and digital media. That, says Behrendt, is rapidly changing. 'Today, 7.6 million of 80 million Germans are on Facebook, eight million are on (German LinkedIn competitor) Xing and 95 per cent of all German students are on (student social networking site) StudiVZ.'
In terms of media, both Bild and Der Spiegel operate highly-trafficked, influential websites. Handelsblatt and Financial Times Deutschland are also important in the financial sphere, says Hering Schuppener principal partner Ralf Hering.
Germany has no shortage of influential blogs. Two of the most popular, says von Rudloff, are Netzpolitik.org and Spreeblick, which both focus on social developments and internet politics. 'On several occasions, Germany's top bloggers have proven powerful enough to raise issues that spill over into mainstream media,' she adds;. 'For example, Netzpolitik blogger Markus Beckedahl in an argument with Deutsche Bahn regarding data protection in 2009.'
Germany is home to several homegrown players that have utilised powerful comms strategies to achieve global success. Adidas ranks among the five most influential European brands, while its fierce rival Puma is no slouch in the branding stakes either.
The country's automotive tradition is rightly celebrated, having birthed BMW, Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Daimler. The technology sector has produced global software giant SAP, and telecoms player T-Mobile, which recently reviewed its European comms activity.
Other brands worth noting include Lufthansa, which has pioneered social media engagement through its MySkyStatus plaftorm, and Deutsche Post/DHL. Deutsche Bank and pharma major Bayer also demand attention.
The PR-Trendmonitor research study asked respondents which which companies they would most like to work for. Apple drew the most nominations, followed by BMW and Google.
According to Thorsten Luetzler of the DPRG, Germany's export focus makes international PR a key driver for the industry. Despite that, though, the agency landscape is comprehensively dominated by independent German firms, with the glaring exception of the country's biggest player: Ketchum Pleon.
Of the four other agencies in the country's top five, as ranked by Pfeffers PR ranking, all are locally-owned. Media Consulta is particularly strong on public sector and events. FischerAppelt is highly-rated for a more holistic, digital-driven view of PR. Corporate and financial heavyweight Hering Schuppener, meanwhile, was named 2009 European Financial Consultancy of the Year by the Holmes Report.
Other substantial operations are Scholz&Friends, A&B Communications and Oliver Schrott. Hill & Knowlton and Edelman are the only other international players in the top ten. 'Global agencies do not play any role in Germany and never did,' claims Hering. 'They are small and not present in the most important slot of CEO positioning and financial and corporate communications.'
Interestingly, there is no natural geographic focus for the PR industry, in keeping with Germany's decentralised economic landscape. Agencies are, variously, headquartered in Dusseldorf, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne. This also helps explain the proliferation of small agencies with a local or regional focus.
Salaries have been flat in 2009.
Hering points out that public affairs is important 'in regard to regulatory and capital markets issues'. Lobbying, he says, is 'not a real market for consultancies', being primarily handled by trade associations. The area is unregulated, beyond a voluntary register. Key public affairs agencies include KetchumPleon, Scholz&Friends Agenda, Publicis Consultants and Johannsen + Kretschmer.
'The government plays an important role in spending on PR, because all ministries have budgets,' adds Behrendt. 'They hire mostly for integrated communications, so full-service-agencies or "bidding communities" (Ketchum Pleon together with BBDO for example) bid. But, the ministries are known for low prices they want to pay. Due to this, they are not always the most attractive campaign wins.'