FOCUS: EUROLOBBYING - Standing out in a crowd. Lobbying companies are discovering a greater need to create and market a distinct identity in order to stand out from the crowd of public affairs companies in the European markets. Nick Purdom reports

The lobbying landscape in Europe is changing dramatically. The days when lobbying was simply about having good contacts in government are well and truly over. Today lobbyists have many more stakeholder groups to communicate with and far more complex issues to deal with.

The lobbying landscape in Europe is changing dramatically. The days

when lobbying was simply about having good contacts in government are

well and truly over. Today lobbyists have many more stakeholder groups

to communicate with and far more complex issues to deal with.



Perhaps the most powerful driver of change is the globalisation of

companies, and the issues that concern them. As businesses develop

global strategies and the branding to support them, so those in the

public affairs industry are starting to do the same.



As the lobbying industry in Europe has matured public affairs

practitioners are realising that they need to market themselves and

create a distinct identity if they are to stand out in an increasingly

crowded and competitive marketplace.



Last July Burson-Marsteller launched its Washington-based lobbying brand

BKSH in Europe. This January Shandwick revealed its plans for its Global

Public Affairs Group. And earlier this month Grayling began rolling out

its public affairs brand in Europe under the name Grayling Political

Strategy.



’We’re very keen on branding,’ acknowledges Shandwick Public Affairs MD

in Brussels, John Russell. ’As issues globalise and companies want to

develop issue management across borders and regions, it’s important that

clients and consumers have a strong sense of dealing with an

organisation that has reach and employs common standards.’



BKSH Europe chief executive Jeremy Galbraith also believes branding is

essential. ’There are a significant number of very good lobbying firms

in London and Brussels. The two markets are very competitive, and

developing a brand is very important.’



B-M’s decision to develop a US-based brand in Europe is a clear

indication of how influential US companies have been in driving the

global public affairs market. ’A big part of our client base is US firms

coming into Europe. They’ve already seen the benefits of coming to us

because they know our colleagues in Washington,’ says Galbraith.



The BKSH brand has not yet been adopted throughout Europe. It was

launched initially in London and Brussels, with Berlin following soon

afterwards.



’It was a case of seeing how the new brand works in Europe. The fact we

added Berlin very quickly demonstrates that we think it is beginning to

work. The idea is to roll it out into all other markets over the coming

year to two years,’ explains Galbraith.



Shandwick too is making much of its strength in Washington in building

its brand in Europe. ’We have a real powerhouse of expertise in

Washington and that is an enormous benefit,’ says Russell.



But Shandwick’s positioning in Europe is built on more than its power in

the US lobbying market. ’The key challenge for public affairs agencies

is to be able to offer branding and global reach and strategy, but also

to have local sensitivity and focus,’ Russell suggests.



He believes Shandwick’s expansion in Europe, through the acquisition of

local agencies, gives it an advantage in this respect. ’Compared to many

of the large chains, the way Shandwick has grown means we are able to

offer culturally distinct agencies with a strong local focus,’ he

says.



Whereas several of its competitors are American in origin, Grayling is

seeking to build its public affairs brand in Europe by stressing its

European credentials. ’We’re the only big group which is 100 per cent

European,’ says Maurits Bruggink, MD of Grayling Political Strategy in

Brussels.



He says the agency’s name change in Brussels from European Strategy to

Grayling Political Strategy is almost entirely for marketing

reasons.



’Our parent company, Havas Advertising, wants to promote the brand

Grayling and the Grayling network, and this is easier done with one name

than many different names,’ he says.



The public affairs arm in France has also been renamed Grayling

Political Strategy and it is expected Westminster Strategy in London

will be similarly rebranded.



Unlike B-M, Shandwick and Grayling’s public affairs arms have taken the

same name as the core PR brand. Bruggink believes there are real

benefits in sharing the same name.



’A decade ago public affairs was separate from PR, now we want to

integrate them further,’ he says.



He adds that around half the agency’s clients are also PR clients of

Grayling, making the decision to use a common name an obvious one.



But Galbraith argues there are sound reasons for having a specialist

public affairs brand. ’Within one brand it is sometimes difficult to get

across the expertise and specialist nature of the business we have,’ he

says. This can be particularly important when competing in local

markets, he adds. ’If you’re competing against local specialist

agencies, having the ability to go out as a specialist lobbying brand

makes a big difference.’



BKSH also places much emphasis on the fact it can offer an owned,

integrated network. ’We can genuinely do lobbying not just in the US but

across the whole of Europe, and link the two together,’ says Galbraith.

’I don’t see genuine competitors with employees in all these markets.

Affiliates are not the same, because they don’t all have the same

approach and meet on a regular basis. Our global reach is the key

differentiator.’



However, while developing a distinct public affairs brand, Galbraith

acknowledges that the convergence of public affairs and PR makes it very

useful to have the backing of B-M.



’Our approach to public affairs is wider than simply lobbying. There are

many campaigns where we need to use different tools, such as the

internet, grass roots work and opinion polling. When you put this mix

together, you get the greatest impact in influencing public policy.’



Shandwick also stresses the benefits of an integrated offer. ’We’re

bringing in a multidisciplined approach, offering PR, public affairs,

market research, grass roots lobbying, issue advertising, and internet

capabilities,’ says Russell.



But when it comes to marketing their capabilities public affairs

agencies are also increasingly having to stress their specialist

skills.



’Ten years ago clients just had a monitoring brief. Now all companies we

service come to us because there is a specific issue and specialist

value-added information they think they can’t get themselves. You have

to have specialist knowledge before the client is willing to pay you,’

says Bruggink.



Unlike several of its competitors, GPC has not recently changed the name

of its public affairs brand, but has actively stepped up its marketing

efforts. Vice-chairman of strategic communications Louise Harvey says

the agency has developed individual practice areas, including

environment, strategic communications, NGO and defence practices.



One of the ways GPC is seeking to market its specialist services is

through conferences and workshops. At the end of this month it is

holding a conference in association with the Worldwide Fund for Nature

and Brussels-based publication the European Voice exploring the

relationship between industry and NGOs.



Active marketing is necessary not just in competitive markets such as

London and Brussels, says Harvey, but also in less developed markets in

Europe where companies have customarily handled public affairs in-house

and are not used to using external counsel. ’It’s part of an education

process. We do marketing materials not just in English and French, but

other languages too.’



The marketing tactics used by lobbying firms in Europe are similar, so

it is through branding and positioning that they are seeking to

differentiate themselves. Galbraith says BKSH is using a number of

classic marketing techniques to build the brand. These include

advertising in publications such as the European Voice and trade and

political magazines, as well as organising events around a particular

issue. The BKSH web site has also had a big impact. ’We’ve had a lot of

contact as a result of launching that,’ says Galbraith.



But word of mouth is also still very important. ’We’re talking to

existing clients in the B-M network and the client base in the US, and

we get a number of referrals, having done a good job,’ Galbraith

adds.



Electronic marketing has made a big difference to Grayling’s activities

according to Bruggink. ’We have a one-page brochure that we send out

which says please look at our web site. We now do more mailings than in

the past, and we provide topic-specific information rather than just

saying how good we are,’ he says.



In what is still a relatively small, service-based industry, agencies

make much of the attributes of their people in their marketing.



’What differentiates us from our competitors is our people,’ claims

Bruggink.



’We have a top-heavy structure, as opposed to the larger companies,

which may be bottom heavy. With us the client gets the service of the

person who they signed the contract with - which is not the case with a

lot of our competitors.’



Galbraith also emphasises the quality of the agency’s employees. ’First

and foremost what differentiates us is our people. For example, in

Brussels we have a very experienced team, including two people who have

been working here for 30 years.’



In an increasingly sophisticated market where the internet is becoming

more important, this emphasis on people may be key to helping public

affairs specialists fight off a possible threat from other professional

services such as lawyers, management consultants and accountants who are

moving into their territory.



’In the US, law firms are a major competitor,’ acknowledges

Galbraith.



’In Brussels a number of law firms are now giving government relations

advice. Some of the management consultants and accountancy firms are

beginning to dabble, but I wouldn’t see them as competitors at this

stage.’



If public affairs specialists can continue to convince clients of their

specialist skills, and are able to adapt to meet their changing needs,

this may remain the case. There is a great deal of optimism among PA

practitioners in Europe that there is still plenty of room for growth in

the industry.



As Bruggink observes: ’If you compare the agency market here to

Washington where they have agencies of 300 people, then it is still very

underdeveloped.’





CASE STUDY: APCO pushes the quality of its integrated offering



Five years after entering the lobbying market in Europe, APCO is

relaunching itself with an advertising campaign that seeks to get across

the core values of the brand.



’We’re trying to totally reposition ourselves in Europe. The campaign is

in recognition of the changing nature of what we do,’ explains APCO

Europe chairman, Brad Staples.



Staples says public affairs has changed out of all recognition in the

ten years that he has been working in Brussels.



’We used to do very basic government relations, providing intelligence

and fixing meetings. Our dealings used to be almost exclusively with

government officers, but now we are talking much more to corporate

communications directors and company chief executives who have a much

broader range of responsibilities.’



Rather than simply offering arms and legs logistical support, Staples

finds that APCO is being asked to offer external counsel in a growing

number of areas.



’Clients are pushing us to offer a bigger toolkit and a more integrated

approach,’ he says. One growth area has been public affairs in merger

and acquisition situations, where APCO has been involved in around 20

phase 2 EU merger investigations over the last three years.



’We’re being brought in to work with companies when they’re in crisis,’

says Staples. Companies facing litigation, and those with environmental

issues and products facing regulatory enquiries have been turning to

APCO for help.



More and more companies have also been looking for help in the area of

corporate responsibility. ’We’re increasingly asked to look at community

relations programmes, relations with NGOs and the sourcing of products

in developing countries,’ says Staples.



One consequence of the growing demands placed on the agency is that it

has had to develop a much broader skills base. Internal and corporate

communications specialists, journalists, lawyers and civil servants have

all been recruited as a result.



This is reflected in APCO’s marketing campaign. ’We’re trying to

reposition ourselves as a multidisciplined and multinational team. The

Brussels office has 12 nationalities speaking more than 20 languages in

a team of 42.



You need that cultural diversity to provide a good service to clients,’

says Staples.



The theme of the advertising campaign is ’Original thinking that gets

results’. A variety of images are being used to get across the message

that APCO looks at problems from a different viewpoint.



’We’re hoping to achieve greater recognition of the quality of thinking

in the firm, and an understanding that APCO is much more than a lobby

shop,’ says Staples.



Not surprisingly, there is also a strong business rationale to the

repositioning.



’We are being asked to take on more challenging assignments, and we can

bill at a considerably higher rate for this kind of work,’ explains

Staples.



’We’ve come of age as a business and this campaign is a recognition of

that,’ he continues. ’The industry itself has also come of age, and

we’re well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that come with

this.’



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in