Media Analysis: Who calls the PR shots in Europe?

With votes now cast for the European Parliament, Sarah Robertson analyses how PROs make an impact on the major Brussels-based political titles.

Brussels - bustling metropolis of political activity and the heartland of the European Parliament - boasts a 1,000-strong pool of journalists and a range of news publications dedicated to the EU's political activity. As the power and membership of the European Parliament grows, so does the number of publications, making a fertile ground for PROs who jostle for space and influence.

Daily paper Agence Europe used to be the Brussels news bible, but no longer, according to Hill & Knowlton head of global public affairs, Elaine Cruikshanks. In the ascendant are the Brussels version of the Financial Times and weekly magazine European Voice among a multitude of titles, including E!Sharp, and two-year-old satirical magazine The Sprout. And that's without the burgeoning online sites, including Euractiv.com and EUPolitix.com.

Cruikshanks says: 'The Brussels- based media is obviously valuable. They directly deliver to most people in the EU institutions.'

Right connections

While political PROs lay claim to healthy relationships with their nominated titles of choice, independence comes first with editorial staff.

European Voice publisher Dennis Landsbert-Noon says: 'It is PROs' job to present us with stories and we treat them with whatever merit they deserve. We would not be influenced by PR/PA companies, but that is not to say we would ignore them.'

The Economist sister publication has amassed a 17,000 circulation in its nine years on the Brussels newsstands and is consistently heralded as the serious publication of choice by PROs.

Porter Novelli international business director John Orme says European Voice is a key title through which to target regulatory and political groups. 'We have a good relationship with the magazine. It is the only dedicated journal that we do work with. But there is no point going to it with a product story. To that extent it is a strong, objective, political-based paper so we have to do our work to make sure that what we give it is well connected with its news agenda.'

While GPlus Europe account director Rory Macrae pledges his allegiance to the Brussels edition of the Financial Times, he also flags up the importance of European Voice.

He says: 'You cannot ignore it. You have to bear in mind its readership and its positioning. But it is not driving the news agenda, the FT is.'

For a political PRO to sell a story to the FT effectively, exclusivity, advance warning and the provision of confidential documents all act as major pluses, according to Macrae.

'The FT is looking for rows, problems. You have to show something is at stake.' FT journalists are spoilt rotten, he adds. 'Everyone goes to them with scoops and there is no real competition.'

The Brussels FT team also benefits from good access to MEPs and senior officials, according to Cruikshanks.

One to avoid

One of the publications PROs specifically do not target is the unashamedly British The Sprout. Its satirical tone is not a popular one for PROs.

Cruikshanks says: 'Unless you wanted to get into a Private Eye-type of discussion, why would you?'

The Sprout covers corruption and fraud and its media column is popular with lobbyists, according to co-editor Martin Jay. He describes it as 'breaking through the mould of Brusselsitus', a tendency of PROs and journalists to take themselves too seriously.

'We get tips about investors that most other magazines do not want to touch because it would affect their relationship with their sources,' Jay says. He and co-editor Gawain Towler, he says, are 'probably the two most hated men in Brussels, but people love the articles which take the piss out of their competitors'.

However, regardless of the degree to which political PROs target the Brussels press, Cruikshanks says it is hitting the member states' national press with the same messages that makes the difference in delivering an effective campaign.

'The Brussels scene only operates well when you reach into the 25 member states as well,' she says.

It would seem all Brussels-based publications offer opportunities for political PROs to sell in their messages. But be warned - choose The Sprout and communicators should be ready to hold on to their egos.

BRUSSELS MEDIA OUTLETS

- Financial Times (Brussels)

- Daily newspaper edited by UK-based European edition editor, Brian Groom; published by the Pearson Group. Contact: 00 32 254 96030

- European Voice

- Weekly magazine edited by Dana Spinant; published by The Economist Group. Contact: 00 32 2540 9090

- E!Sharp

- Monthly title edited by Jacki Davis; published by Encompass Publications. Contact: 00 322 735 9685

- The Sprout

- Satirical monthly magazine co-edited by Martin Jay and Gawain Towler; published by Sprout Media. Contact: 00 32 2230 6555.

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