The Spanish market, at its inception, relied on professional journalists to fill newly available PR roles. Over the last 15-20 years, this has changed as universities have produced public relations and comms graduates to work within the sector.
However the global economic crisis has had a major impact on growth within the sector and the digital revolution appears to have proved an additional problem for Spanish PR professionals to overcome.
It is difficult to accurately reflect the net value of the PR sector in Spain but Lewis PR's business development manager Southern Europe, Noreddine Meteri, estimates it at approximately €120 million per year.
According to the ICCO World Report 2010, the Spanish market is predicted to take a five per cent hit in its estimated revenue this year.
Burson-Marsteller corporate development director, Spain, Cristóbal Muñoz says: ‘We are facing the worst economic crisis ever and this affects every sector, PR included. Budgets have reduced considerably and the recovery of the market will need some more time.'
The digital and measurement arena is also seen as a major challenge for the comms industry.
Porter Novelli director, Madrid, Higinio Martínez says: ‘Social media is not as influential in Spain as it is in the US. Numbers of active social media users are still small. Digital media is a big experimental landscape for the next generation of PR tactics.'
The country's main national newspaper is El País, with a circulation of two million readers per day. El Mundo and ABC are also both key publications.
Meteri suggests that the TVE1 news and Antena 3 news are the most influential television channels for current affairs, adding: ‘News and TV programmes are longer, so TV reporters are looking to get more and better stories.'
Telecinco and Cuatro y La Sexta are also key broadcast channels.
Digital and social media has been cited by PR professionals as one of the key stories in Spain over the past year. Hwoever, the ICCO Report 2010 notes that Spain is in a group of European countries falling behind in the digital market.
Fleishman-Hillard senior vice-president and senior partner Carlos Lareau is a little more optimistic, saying: ‘Like in all difficult situations, creativity, new approaches, an acceleration of the digital dimension in PR and communications is coming into play and will have a determining effect.'
Despite the economic downturn affecting the Spanish economy, Bellwether brand Santander appears to be weathering the storm. The financial giant bought out British banking brands Alliance & Leicester and Abbey National and parts of Bradford & Bingley to become the second largest European bank.
But the debt issues that Greece has faced recently now threaten the Iberian peninsula, which could leave the banking industry with problems.
Martínez believes that Santander is in a precarious situation, considering the current climate. He says: ‘In the case of Santander they need to survive as a global player. However, they are so close to trouble should they start to be affected by the current financial issues or new banking regulations become obstacles to the brand.'
Lareau adds: ‘Nurturing big brands continues to require big brainpower and big budgets. Movistar-Telefónica, Santander, BBVA and La Caixa banks, Repsol are still the reference and to a large extent the ones that validate new communications and marketing techniques.'
Figures are difficult to obtain in terms of which are the most successful agencies operating in Spain due to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. However, key agencies include those with a global footprint Burson Marsteller, Ketchum and Bassat-Ogilvy as well as those of Spanish origin Llorente y Cuenca, Estudio de Comunicación and Inforpress.
Martínez identifies the main sectors of practise for agencies in Spain as consumer, corporate & financial, energy, technology and digital.
Lareau adds: ‘The biggest agency does not necessarily mean the most successful. All of them are adding the ‘digital' or ‘social media' or Web 2.0' claim to their offer in a big way. The jury is still out, however, regarding who among these large agencies will ‘own' this space.'
Public affairs is, at present, a developing area in Spain and one that lacks the transparency due to a lack of regulation.
Meterfi says: ‘Public affairs is still a very young and immature market. There are no specific agencies in this area and no regulation. All calls for tenders are supposed to be very open but in the end name dropping and friendship will make the difference.'
A recent survey, Effective Lobbying in Europe, conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland on behalf of Burson-Marsteller, posed 18 questions to politicians and senior government officials. The results showed more than half of respondents believed that lack of transparency is the most negative aspect of lobbying in Spain.
Lareau adds: ‘A number of Madrid agencies -and some in other regions-have tried to formalise their PA and lobbying offers. Mostly by associating with a former politician or a political campaigner. This has been only moderately successful as lobbying is not regulated in Spain.
‘In practice, however, many "corporate affairs" campaigns have a strong government relations element inasmuch as they are specifically aimed at influencing political or legislative decisions. ‘