Switzerland is a country of paradoxes. While it is at the heart of Europe, it is excluded from the European decision-making process. It is a center for international business, but its PR industry is largely Swiss-owned. PR enjoyed good growth in 1998, but real clout is shared among only the top five agencies.
Jean-Marc Hensch, VP of the Swiss PR association, BPRA, says while average growth was around 15% in 1998, the top five agencies accounted for more than half of the market. 'Growth can also be attributed to an increasing trend in Switzerland for companies to outsource their PR and concentrate on the core business,' says Hensch. It is still rare for a global player to own a Swiss agency. Jaggi Burson-Marsteller, which has existed since April 1997, when BM acquired a majority stake in Agenturgruppe Jaggi, is an exception to the rule. 'Large global players find it difficult to get a foothold into the country, since we have strong local agencies. You can't build up companies from scratch in Switzerland, even if you are an international,' says Hensch.
The bulk of Swiss PR agencies are medium-sized, such as independent agency BPR Communications. Managing director Marcus Berger admits that competition at this level is fierce, but adds that, like many agencies of its size, BPR Communications benefits from a strong local base. Although St. Gallen, where the agency is based, does have some industry, it is largely rural, without the tourist pull of, say, Lucerne. Due to the lack of big local clients, BPR Communications is forced to wrestle with larger agencies in Zurich and Bern for national accounts. Agencies of this size face another problem?the brain drain. Employees are often lured away to agencies in Zurich and Bern, a problem that has dogged BPR in the past.
Switzerland has definite economic zones. Zurich is reputed for its banking, insurance and telecommunication markets; Basel is known for its chemical and pharmaceutical industries; Bern for the army and the government; Lucerne for tourism; Neuchatel for the watch industry and Geneva for international organizations.
According to Thomas Hermann, managing director of the number two Swiss agency, Shandwick affiliate Wirz PR, the major growth sectors in Switzerland are IT, telecommunication, and the healthcare and life sciences sector.
He says the latter has a growing need for good PR to counter negative press. 'We work for Bayer and the pharmaceutical business is also growing. Much of this is being fueled by the media, since the Swiss people are skeptical of new biological developments, such as genetically modified foods.' Wirz PR is part of the Wirz Group, which achieved a 24% growth in fee income last year.
Since Switzerland is geographically at the center of Europe, it is easy to forget that the country is not a member of the European Union. Switzerland has been governed by a coalition for many years, which lately appears to lack the will to address the country's growing isolation and has adopted an anti-European stance. Many believe this approach is leading to a growing swing towards conservatism among the Swiss.
'I believe there will be a landslide victory for the Conservatives in the autumn elections,' says Hensch. 'However, our economic leaders think politics is becoming more irrelevant to the life of the companies. The European Union makes legislation and Swiss companies, which export 60% of their goods to European countries, have to adopt it.' Whether Switzerland evolves into a two-party nation remains to be seen, but most in the industry agree the government needs to address the European question.
Trimedia is still the largest PR agency in Switzerland, having achieved a 13% growth in fee income last year. The agency has offices in Zurich, Lugano, Bern and Geneva and recently opened an office in Vienna. It also bought back its offices in Germany. Founder of Trimedia Germany Bodo Bimboese owned the remaining percentage. In January 1998, Trimedia International bought Bimboese's shares, so the company now owns 100% of Trimedia Germany.
Several storm clouds appear to be gathering on Switzerland's horizon.
The downbeat political mood has affected overall confidence in the country, and this is making life harder for PR practitioners. Hermann of Wirz PR says: 'Consumers have become very skeptical about new developments. For instance, there is a strong lobby in the country against mobile phone network transmitters. People who live near these antenna claim they cannot sleep and are becoming sick. The Swiss want their mobile phones, but don't want the antennae.'
Hermann adds that the debate over genetically modified foods is also a hot topic in Switzerland, impacting on the home pharmaceutical industry and its PR. 'The Swiss population is demanding more information about biological and technical advances. It is a very interesting challenge for PR,' he concludes.
EUROPEAN AGENCIES: SWITZERLAND
Rank Company Fee income (dollars) Growth
98 98 97 %
1 Trimedia Group Suisse* 6,976,000 6,176,000 13
2 Wirz PR Gruppe* 6,320,000 5,088,000 24
3 Farner PR* 6,256,000 5,600,000 12
4 Peter Butikofer 6,112,000 5,456,000 12
5 Jaggi Burson-Marsteller* 4,512,000 4,656,000 -3
6 Aloha Communications* 2,176,000 1,680,000 30
6 Lauffer, Hensch & Partner* 2,176,000 1,888,000 15
6 Rochat, Delacretaz & Ptnr 2,176,000 1,744,000 25
9 Mediapolis 2,112,000 1,600,000 32
10 F&P Frei & Partner* 1,968,000 1,680,000 17
11 Dr Hans Balmer 1,888,000 1,824,000 4
12 APR* 1,824,000 1,520,000 20
13 Hugo Schmidt* 1,680,000 1,824,000 -8
14 Wenger Kommunikations* 1,600,000 1,600,000 0
15 cR Kommunikation* 1,456,000 1,520,000 -4
16 MACH 1,376,000 1,232,000 12
17 Dr Peter P Knobel* 1,312,000 1,088,000 21
17 Messmer & Partner 1,312,000 1,024,000 28
19 BPR Communications* 1,232,000 1,232,000 0
19 Rubeli Hausermann PR 1,232,000 1,024,000 20
21 Pi.ar.Oeffentlichkeitsarbeit* 1,024,000 800,000 28
21 PRW PR & Werbe* 1,024,000 944,000 8
21 Seiler DDB & Co1 1,024,000 N/A N/A
24 Senarclens, Leu & Partner 944,000 880,000 7
25 Marcel Bernet PR 880,000 512,000 72
Rank Company Location Status
1 Trimedia Group Suisse* Zurich Trimedia subsidiary
2 Wirz PR Gruppe* Zurich Shandwick affiliate
3 Farner PR* Zurich GPC network
4 Peter Butikofer Zurich Shire Hall Int. network
5 Jaggi Burson-Marsteller* Bern B-M subsidiary
6 Aloha Communications* Baar IPRN member
6 Lauffer, Hensch & Partner* Zurich Independent
6 Rochat, Delacretaz & Ptnr Genf IPAN member
9 Mediapolis St Gallen EAPC member
10 F&P Frei & Partner* Zurich Porter Novelli affiliate
11 Dr Hans Balmer Olten USP World network
12 APR* Zurich Independent
13 Hugo Schmidt* Lucerne Independent
14 Wenger Kommunikations* Rumligen ECCO member
15 cR Kommunikation* Zurich Independent
16 MACH Zurich Independent
17 Dr Peter P Knobel* Zug Hill and Knowlton
17 Messmer & Partner Basel Independent
19 BPR Communications* St Gallen Independent
19 Rubeli Hausermann PR Zurich Independent
21 Pi.ar.Oeffentlichkeitsarbeit* Zurich Independent
21 PRW PR & Werbe* Zurich Europe On Line
21 Seiler DDB & Co1 Zollikerbg DDB network
24 Senarclens, Leu & Partner Zurich Independent
25 Marcel Bernet PR Zurich Ansdell network
All figures relate to the year ended 31 December 1998;
Fee income = PR fees only;
* Denotes membership of the BPRA 1. No figures available for 1997.