Volvo, Ericsson, Electrolux, Saab, Scania: some of Europe’s best
known brand names are Swedish, but outside knowledge of the size, nature
and potential of this vibrant market is patchy to say the least. The
reason for this no doubt lies in the country’s modus operandi and
culture. Leading Swedish marketers and PR operators describe their
countrymen’s approach to business as ’more humble than the UK or
’We are not as hard selling. We want to put our case in a softer way
perhaps because we are a small market,’ says Peje Emilsson, chairman of
the Swedish trade association PRECIS and president and CEO of the Kreab
Group, Sweden’s largest PR group, with offices in Stockholm, Helsinki,
Oslo, Brussels and London.
Small and self-effacing the Swedish market may be, but it is certainly
not stagnant. Over the last two years its PR industry has maintained
growth of between 15 and 20 per cent. And Sweden is only one market in a
fast growing region. Finland for example is feeling the benefits of a
buoyant economy and it also has a fast growing PR market as a
According to Elisabeth Hultquist, managing director of Burson-Marsteller
Stockholm, one of the key factors in this growth has been the growing
globalisation of the Nordic region and in particular Sweden. ’I don’t
know of any other country that is so dependent on major international
corporations,’ agrees Emilsson.
’And if you have a corporation with over 90 per cent of its sales
outside of Sweden, this will inevitably lead to a change in the way in
which we operate.’
There is talk, for example, of Ericsson moving its finance department to
London. As Emilsson points out, if this becomes a trend ’the
consultancies which serve these organisations must have capabilities
outside the Swedish market or they risk becoming niche players’.
The Swedish PR industry as a whole faces a growing challenge in that
while both the media and political infrastructure is very much focused
on national interests, the business arena is truly international in its
’We have a very complicated problem’ says Odd Eiken, senior
vice-president, director of information of Swedish employers’ federation
SAF. ’When CEOs say ’home markets’ they mean the European Union and when
they say ’abroad’ they mean the Far East or the US, while the media is
national by definition. When the media says home it means Sweden, abroad
is Europe and the rest, just curiosities.’
While this disparity of views inevitably causes problems, some believe
that it also presents opportunities to the Swedish PR industry. As
Hultquist points out: ’Our role is to find ways to narrow the gap
between industry and local media and politicians.’
At present, the vast majority of consultancies in Sweden are still
generalist, although far less emphasis is placed on media relations than
in the UK.
This is partly because of the almost disconcerting openness of the
Swedish media and political system. As a result managers tend to act as
their own media liaison.
’Colleagues in other countries are surprised when we say that we never
talk to the media,’ says Emilsson. ’Swedish corporations talk to the
media and analysts themselves, we never do it for them.’ Instead public
relations practitioners tend to play more of a backroom role,
concentrating on developing media strategies instead of implementing
Another of the many characteristics of Swedish business culture is an
encouragement of entrepreneurialism. The Swedish corporate approach is
one which is a largely decentralised, company offices abroad being to a
large extent the masters of their own destiny.
This combination of decentralisation and openness can create
According to Cecilia Schoen, senior vice-president of corporate
communications at construction giant Skanska individual departments are
often left to clean up their own mess. In 1997 an accident at Halland
Ridge caused work on a tunnel to Vadbacken to be halted after toxic
substances were found to have leaked into surrounding water sources.
Schoen says: ’It was a week before the management became aware of the
situation. It is very much part of the culture - every guy fixes his own
But consultants are reporting a growing recognition of the need for
centralised communication strategy. At a recent international management
conference held by pharmaceutical giant Astra, there were consistent
requests from staff for more guidance from corporate headquarters.
’This was totally new,’ says Staffan Ternby, vice-president PR and
information ’Traditionally we have a culture where the managing director
for each country is solely responsible for everything in that country.
That is changing.’
Despite the emphasis on openness, there is widespread belief that the
Swedish business community does not really understand the political
system and while lobbying by organisations such as SAF is widely
accepted, consultant lobbyists are often viewed with mistrust. ’Most
consultants here are quite used to clients denying their existence’ says
However the relationship with Brussels of necessity means that lobbying
is becoming a growth area. Kreab has had an office in Brussels for five
years now, and many other agencies work with international networks.
Other areas of growth include financial PR and investor relations.
According to Nils Ingvar Lundin, managing director of Investor AB, PR
consultants have been taking investor relations business away from
banks. In addition, with a rise in the scale of ownership by pension
funds, the whole concept of shareholder value has gained respectability.
Fifteen years ago the profits were going to employers, now they go to
the people, so shareholder value has a different meaning,’ says
Another area of expansion for the PR industry is the deregulation of the
public sector. The electricity market has already been deregulated and
the telecoms sector will soon follow suit. The healthcare sector, which
has traditionally been one of the most strictly regulated, is also
beginning to look at partnerships with the private sector for the
running of hospitals and services and, while five years ago there were
only 50 private schools, now there are 500.
In addition to moving into new areas of activity, the industry is also
pushing its way into the board room. At the top end of the market there
is a growing trend towards bringing in a strategic agency to give a
second opinion, and a decreasing involvement in product PR. This in turn
is creating opportunities and generating growth among smaller
Now that Sweden has overcome its reticence over the euro, the political
and media infrastructure will inevitably have to become less inward
looking, and the Swedish PR industry is in a prime position to help it
When PRECIS formulates its ranking of 1999 fees it is likely be able to
report an even more impressive growth rate.
CROSS CULTURES: SUPERFICIAL HOMOGENY MASKS A COMPLEX PICTURE
All too often companies seeking to enter the Nordic market fail to
understand the substantial cultural differences between its constituent
markets. Linguistic similarities in particular create a false impression
of unity, when in fact there is fierce competition to become the hub of
the Nordic region. ’It is hard to make people from overseas understand
that we are all separate countries,’ says Lars Aldermark, senior adviser
But there are significant differences. Sweden’s relationship with
Brussels, for example, has not been an easy one, while Finland has
whole-heartedly espoused the EU. And the Swedish PR approach is more
informal, while the Finnish is more traditional.
Swedish consultants are well aware that US companies, in particular,
tend to simply ’turn up the volume’ in an attempt to get their messages
across. ’US-style press releases won’t work here,’ says Bo Jansson,
founding partner of Grayling affiliate JKL. ’We are the masters of
Even within Sweden itself, there are regional differences which are
having an effect on the PR industry. Stockholm has traditionally been
the industrial centre of Sweden and where industry thrives a flurry of
PR activity will follow. But the past few years have seen substantial
industrial growth in other regions of the country and these are now
beginning to show signs of developing their own self-supporting PR
’Many regions are changing from being satellites to being independent
areas in their own right. The relevant importance of Stockholm is
probably decreasing,’ says Odd Eiken, senior vice-president, director of
information of Swedish employers’ federation SAF .
The Malmoe and Copenhagen bridge which is due to open in this year will
create even more regional business opportunities. Mercedes, for example,
has located its main operation in Malmoe instead of the capital. It
remains to be seen whether this internal competition will lead to even
greater growth for the Swedish PR industry.