The French PR association, Syntec Relations Publiques, estimates that the industry in France is still four to five times smaller than that of the UK. But as European integration proceeds, more US companies arrive on their shores and the impact of the Internet is felt, the French objection to buying advice from outside PR firms seems to be fading.
The PR market has grown dramatically in the last three years, with fee income increasing 12%in 1996, 14% in 1997 and 17% last year, for a total of approximately dollars 128 million. In comparison, growth in advertising stayed around 5% a year.
Laurence Gabriel, managing director of high-tech specialist Herald Communications, at number 14, says: 'The whole mentality towards communications in France is changing. Companies that used to do a lot of advertising are changing their policy. When they are putting together a big campaign, they now use PR.'
While growth is occurring across the board, it is being led by the large international companies. For example, the biggest spenders on PR in France are quite noticeably multinationals including IBM, McDonald's, and Procter & Gamble. Their example is now being followed keenly by indigenous firms as international competition hits all sectors.
Jean-Pierre Piotet, chairman of Hill & Knowlton Paris, at number 10 with 17% growth, says that in the past most of the growth in the industry came from clients outside France?or, in the case of his agency, from work brought in by other parts of the network. But this is no longer the case.
'The main opportunity for future growth for international networks like ours is from the 50 biggest French companies who want to go international,' he says. In the past, if a French agency was part of an international group or network, it was likely to mainly receive local work passed over by sister companies in other countries. Now French agencies are just as likely to win the central account and hand over local work to agencies abroad. 'In 1997, 80% of our business came from the network, but last year we found 50% of the work ourselves,' Piotet adds.
Growth in France was further fueled last year by commercial activity surrounding the World Cup, which the country hosted, and more recently by the role PR has played in privatizations. In February, Shandwick won business handling PR surrounding the partial privatization of state-owned aviation and aerospace company Aerospatiale. Further government PR business associated with, for example, encouraging turnout in the recent European elections, and educating the French public about the European Union has also bolstered the industry.
Although two-thirds of PR spending in France is on consumer and corporate communications, specialist sectors such as hi-tech are growing rapidly.
Sophie Renard, president of hi-tech specialist SRRP, at number nine in the table, says her agency is expecting 20 to 25% growth this year on top of the 43% seen last year. Her agency's new business is coming from start-up hi-tech, Internet-related or telecommunications companies.
But the hi-tech PR agencies may be under threat from the generalist agencies that can no longer afford to ignore the sector, and want a share of the action. Odile Vernier, president of BeauFixe, at number seven with 24% growth, says hi-tech is also increasingly being handled by generalist agencies. 'You do not need hi-tech agencies in the same way as before, because technology has become a consumer product.
The trend is for the bigger agencies to have departments for each product like a supermarket. Generalist agencies now have all these departments,' she says. Other sectors that are showing good growth include the health sector, involving pharmaceutical as well as food companies.
In addition to an increase in overall PR use, there is also growth in the kinds of services being utilized. Lobbying has increased, according to Olivier Le Picard of Communications & Institutions, at number 12. He says: 'Lobbying is beginning to be more important because European legislation obliges us to lobby either in Paris or Brussels. Another reason is because the laws change in France so much every time there is a change of government from the right-wing to the left, and vice versa.'
Similarly, the increasing use of new media such as the Internet is leading to the creation of specialist client services departments within agencies.
Jerome Lascombe, joint managing director at GCI Moreau Lascombe, the fourth biggest agency, says: 'The media is changing so fast, and we are also looking at how you can better use the Internet within PR campaigns using news groups.
'The Internet is interesting, because you get instantaneous feedback, which is something quite new to PR. It can be used directly instead of relying on relay targets like opinion leaders or the media. When you have the chance to go direct to the media it is very precious. This is how the new technologies are beginning to affect our industry. We will be working quite differently in three years or so.'
Financial PR has also seen strong growth over the past year. Philip Roffey, director of international relations at I&E (formerly Information et Enterprise), says: 'Financial PR is becoming more important, partly as a result of the mergers and acquisitions activity in areas like banking and chemicals. Financial PR, customer relations, and internal communications are all needed when you have a merger.'
A major challenge ahead for French agencies is to add value to the services agencies offer in order to increase fees and PR budgets. Around 70% of clients have budgets less than dollars 60,800, and only five per cent have budgets of more than dollars 163,000 according to research by Syntec.
But Renard at SRRP says PR is being taken more seriously in France: 'Clients are much more marketing-orientated. They want their agencies to provide them with more guidance. When a new company comes to France they now often begin by appointing a PR agency for advice.'
Martine Blancher, general manager of Trimedia, agrees that accounts are certainly becoming more demanding. 'Clients are now asking for more added-value PR, and want us to work in a much more focused way, with different messages for different journalists or analysts. We also have to monitor much more than we did before.'
But before the French PR industry reaches maturity, it has to improve the quality of the service it offers in some cases, says Gilles Moreau. He is chairman of the 20-strong French PR agency association Syntec Relations Publiques and joint managing director of GCI Moreau Lascombe.
Moreau points to the seven large French PR firms seeking ISO9001 quality certification, which involves defining structured methodologies for devising and implementing activities, as evidence of definite progress in this area. Combined with more effective evaluation, he believes this will undoubtedly lead to continued growth for the French PR industry.
EUROPEAN AGENCIES: FRANCE
Rank Company Fee income (dollars) Growth
98 98 97 %
1 Euro RSCG 44,635,200 44,908,800 - 1
2 I&E*1 10,961,005 9,218,499 19
3 Burson-Marsteller* 7,708,800 7,798,400 -1
4 GCI Moreau Lascombe* 4,192,000 3,840,000 9
5 DDB Co Hintzy Heymann* 4,160,000 3,121,638 33
6 Edelman-Rouet 3,360,000 3,120,000 8
7 BeauFixe* 2,888,939 2,325,078 24
8 Fleishman-Hillard 2,389,269 3,045,478 -22
9 SRRP* 2,194,666 1,536,000 43
10 H&K/ACTIS France* 2,152,000 1,835,200 17
11 Grayling France 2,073,440 1,665,312 25
12 Comms & Institutions* 1,959,184 1,621,387 21
13 Self Image* 1,653,493 1,530,792 8
14 Herald Communications 1,470,506 1,616,726 -9
15 Shandwick* 1,436,800 1,366,400 5
16 Adocom 1,251,752 1,039,459 20
17 Ketchum 1,195,862 1,067,520 12
18 Comms Economiques 1,120,000 1,120,000 0
19 Parmenide Porter Novelli 1,019,642 no. VALUE! no. VALUE!
20 Nicole Schilling Comms* 1,014,286 919,726 10
21 Text 100 924,109 896,000 3
22 Michele Lagarde 880,000 800,000 10
23 Information Public Trimedia 800,000 544,000 47
24 Natkin Presse Comms 784,000 676,800 16
25 Aromates* 640,000 592,000 8
Rank Company Location Status
1 Euro RSCG Paris Euro RSCG subsidiary
2 I&E*1 Paris PROI network
3 Burson-Marsteller* Paris B-M subsidiary
4 GCI Moreau Lascombe* Paris GCI subsidiary
5 DDB Co Hintzy Heymann* Paris DDB France subsidiary
6 Edelman-Rouet Paris Edelman subsidiary
7 BeauFixe* Paris Entente Int network
8 Fleishman-Hillard Paris FH subsidiary
9 SRRP* Paris Brodeur network
10 H&K/ACTIS France* Paris H&K subsidiary
11 Grayling France Paris Grayling subsidiary
12 Comms & Institutions* Paris GPC network member
13 Self Image* Paris Independent
14 Herald Communications Paris Herald subsidiary
15 Shandwick* Paris Shandwick subsidiary
16 Adocom Paris WWS network member
17 Ketchum Paris Ketchum subsidiary
18 Comms Economiques Paris Independent
19 Parmenide Porter Novelli Paris Porter Novelli subsidiary
20 Nicole Schilling Comms* La Rochelle Independent
21 Text 100 Paris Text 100 subsidiary
22 Michele Lagarde Paris Independent
23 Information Public Trimedia Paris Trimedia network
24 Natkin Presse Comms Paris Independent
25 Aromates* Boulogne Pinnacle network
All figures relate to the year ended December 3, 1998 Fee income = PR fees only; * denotes membership of Syntec Relations Publiques;
1. Formerly known as Information et Entreprise. Includes figures from subsidiaries I&E Expressions and I&E Decision; 2. Began trading on 1 January, 1998