Italy now has its second longest-running government of modern times.
This political and economic stability has proven beneficial for the PR industry. Deregulation in the telecommunications market, plus a rash of takeovers and privatizations in 1998, meant good business for corporate and financial PR practitioners. Hi-tech specialists also benefitted from telecommunication deregulation as well as the irresistible rise of the Internet. The healthcare market was buoyant too, as more international companies showed an interest in the Italian market.
Two recent pieces of research commissioned by Italian PR association Assorel illustrate the way the market is maturing. Interviews with managers of large- and medium-sized companies showed that three-quarters regarded PR as a strategic tool, and that there had been a 30% growth in the use of strategic PR in the last three years. A second piece of research revealed that the use of PR had increased in comparison with other communications techniques, and that clients were demanding higher standards.
Assorel president and managing director of Mavellia MS&L, Adriana Mavellia, says, 'The complex political, economic and social scenery in Italy has created many niche consumer groups. They require different messages and companies have to choose more qualified communication tools to reach different targets. PR agencies offering a full service have a very important role, and are increasingly considered to be strategic partners.'
Italy's largest agency, Barabino and Partners, handled two of the biggest privatizations in 1998?oil company ENI and bank BNL?as well as the tender offer this year in Olivetti's bid for Telecom Italia. 'There is more demand for strategic consulting and a practical approach from top management who want concrete facts,' says executive chairman and managing director Luca Barabino. Internal communications and public affairs are two other sectors which Barabino notes are growing due to cultural changes in Italy.
Ketchum, with fee income up 22%, enjoyed its best year since 1995. It opened an office in Rome to serve new clients such as satellite services company Telespazio, part of Telecom Italia, the Bank Nazionale Dellavoro, and biotech company Serono Pharma. Healthcare was one of the biggest growth sectors with new clients such as Novartis. 'A lot of companies have been affected by restructuring and looking to contain costs, so they expect us to be cost-effective,' says Ketchum managing director Nicoletta Cerana.
Fabio Pisani, VP of independent agency EPR, also noted a demand for cost-effectiveness from clients. 'Many of our clients are very high profile. They are asking for (strategic counsel) and expecting maximum results,' says Pisani. EPR also enjoyed growth in lobbying and public affairs business.
The agency showing the biggest growth in fee income in Italy was Fleishman-Hillard, which grew by 63% to over dollars 1 million. Francois Giannesini, FH Europe CEO, says the growth is attributed to consolidation and extension of relationships with existing clients, and to the addition of new capabilities such as hi-tech.
Healthcare and hi-tech wins led to a very good year for Chiappe Bellodi, which also grew fee income 22% to nearly dollars 2.6 million. 'There was a growing demand from clients for quality, so we started to enjoy the benefits of having ISO 9001 quality certification,' says president and managing director Guido Bellodi.
Hi-tech specialist Imageware grew by 23%, winning new business from Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and SAP. 'We were contacted by many international companies wanting to invest in the Italian market,' says account management director Francesca de Sanctis. Imageware also created a new company, Hi-Comm, to handle marketing activities, particularly for start-ups with limited resources.
More modest growth of 6% was enjoyed by another hi-tech specialist, Image Time, but the agency still won important new clients including Nokia, satellite communications company ICO, and Lucent Data Networking Systems.
The agency benefitted from having an office in Rome, the center of the telecommunication industry, and from being a member of the Brodeur Worldwide network.
Hill & Knowlton Italia, which won work from Microsoft and Motorola, was another agency showing only modest growth?4%?and president and CEO Cesare Valli does not paint such a rosy picture of the Italian economy as others. 'There's a lot of pressure from companies to decrease taxation, which is one of the factors responsible for consumption not growing very much. Unemployment is also very high,' he says. Valli also notes an increase in corporate and financial work.
As more corporations start to regard PR as a strategic tool in a stable economy, the industry should maintain its momentum after the glut of work from deregulation dries up.
EUROPEAN AGENCIES: ITALY
Rank Company Fee income (dollars) Growth
98 98 97 %
1 Barabino & Partners* 6,867,200 6,118,400 12
2 Burson-Marsteller* 4,531,200 5,201,600 -13
3 Shandwick Italia* 3,848,016 2,771,200 39
4 Mavellia MS&L* 3,351,128 3,443,822 -3
5 Business Press 3,336,000 1,946,907 71
6 Edelman Public Relations* 3,334,147 3,215,722 4
7 Ketchum* 3,255,067 2,669,912 22
8 Image Time* 3,058,162 2,872,000 6
9 Hill & Knowlton Italia* 2,609,600 2,499,200 4
10 Chiappe Bellodi* 2,547,520 2,096,000 22
11 EPR* 2,384,960 2,240,320 6
12 Imageware 2,314,186 1,877,962 23
13 HSL* 1,928,800 1,337,123 44
14 Noesis* 1,920,000 1,835,200 5
15 SEC* 1,907,874 1,259,864 51
16 Cohn & Wolfe* 1,843,834 1,529,403 21
17 GAIA Public Relations* 1,784,000 1,680,000 6
18 Parini Associati* 1,760,000 1,624,514 8
19 Egg Communications* 1,709,664 1,440,462 19
20 INC* 1,423,976 1,284,186 11
21 Homina* 1,334,955 806,534 66
22 PDC* 1,300,960 1,116,320 17
23 Agenpress 1,072,000 1,011,200 6
24 Fleishman-Hillard 1,015,064 621,182 63
25 SPC* 833,600 860,800 -3
Rank Company Location Status
1 Barabino & Partners* Milan Independent
2 Burson-Marsteller* Milan B-M subsidiary
3 Shandwick Italia* Milan Shandwick subsidiary
4 Mavellia MS&L* Milan MS&L subsidiary
5 Business Press Milan Worldcom member
6 Edelman Public Relations* Milan Edelman subsidiary
7 Ketchum* Milan Ketchum affiliate
8 Image Time* Milan Brodeur network
9 Hill & Knowlton Italia* Milan H&K subsidiary
10 Chiappe Bellodi* Milan Independent
11 EPR* Rome Independent
12 Imageware Milan Independent
13 HSL* Genoa Independent
14 Noesis* Milan EMC Euro PR network
15 SEC* Milan Independent
16 Cohn & Wolfe* Milan C&W subsidiary
17 GAIA Public Relations* Rome Independent
18 Parini Associati* Milan Independent
19 Egg Communications* Milan Grayling network
20 INC* Rome Independent
21 Homina* Bologna Independent
22 PDC* Milan Independent
23 Agenpress Milan Euro RSCG subsidiary
24 Fleishman-Hillard Milan F-H subsidiary
25 SPC* Milan Charles Barker network
All figures relate to the year ended 31 December 1998;
Fee income = PR fees only;
* denotes Assorel membership