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
’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
’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
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
He says the agency’s name change in Brussels from European Strategy to
Grayling Political Strategy is almost entirely for marketing
’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
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
’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,’
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
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
’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
’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
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
As Bruggink observes: ’If you compare the agency market here to
Washington where they have agencies of 300 people, then it is still very
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,’
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
’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
’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