Rarely has Brazil's profile been higher than it was in 2009. The country delivered one of the feelgood stories of the year when it defeated tough competition, including Barack Obama's personal bid for Chicago, to snare the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian government is expected to pour billions of dollars into infrastructure projects in the run-up to both the 2016 Olympics and the 2014 Fifa World Cup, which it will also host.
If the Olympics story was the emotional centrepiece of its year, more hard-headed types will have been similarly impressed by the discovery of huge oil reserves off the country's coast. Brazil is now expected to become one of the world's top oil exporters within a decade.
Less encouraging was the emergence of a major corruption scandal involving the local government in the capital city of Brasilia. ‘Even though the story portrayed a dark side of the political system, it also showcased the increasingly important role of the media in the country,' says Weber Shandwick Latin America chair Laura Schoen.
Entering 2010, meanwhile, Brazil is buoyed by a strong domestic consumer market that was far less affected by the financial crisis than more mature markets. 'The level of optimism among the Brazilian population is high and GNP is estimated to grow between five per cent and six per cent in 2010,' says Ciro Dias Dos Reis, president of Abracom, the Brazilian Association of PR Agencies.
The Brazilian PR market billed more than US$700m in 2009, an increase of almost 20 per cent over 2008. For 2010, Abracom predicts growth of at least ten per cent. There are more than 1,200 agencies, which together count some 15,000 employees, although the vast majority of these shops are small and medium-sized. Ketchum Estrategia partner and director Rosana Monteiro estimates that just ten agencies are responsible for 80 per cent of the country's PR billings.
A large and vibrant media landscape ‘presents endless opportunities' for partnership, says Schoen. ‘There is tremendous interest in trends, studies, data about consumer behaviour from markets like Europe and North America,' she adds. ‘It is relatively easy to adapt materials and generate strong interest among local journalists.'
TV Globo is the only true national broadcaster, covering the entire population, and delivering a varied editorial output that is largely produced in-house. 'A network of such dimensions is capable of servicing all markets and segments,' says Monteiro. 'An estimated 40,000 clients invest in TV through affiliates every year. Besides programming, local events are seen by the market as special media opportunities for brand association.'
The country's most influential newspaper is Folha de S.Paulo, which counts a circulation of almost 330,000. Monteiro points out that the title has become 'an important channel for public expression', and has often played a leading role in social and political campaigns.
Veja Magazine is a weekly news magazine that completes this triumvirate. The title circulates approximately one million copies per issue, making it the world's fourth biggest news magazine.
For business readers, other key titles include financial newspaper Valor Economico, which now faces competition from the newly launched Brasil Economico. Business magazine Exame is also a recognised contender, while other important newspapers are O Estado de S Paulo and O Globo.
According to the ITU, just 34 per cent of Brazil's population are internet users. That proportion still makes the country the world's seventh biggest internet market, with penetration growing by almost 35 per cent in 2008. Broadband penetration stands at just five per cent, but Brazil counts South America's largest mobile market.
Nielsen has found that Brazilians spend longer online than most other countries. Usage is driven by a mix of international and local sites. Google and Microsoft properties account for the two most popular destinations, while Brazilian portals UOL, Terra, Globo.com and iG all score highly. Other important local sites include media company Grupo Abril and shopping comparison site BuscaPe. Of note, Brazilian sites derive a significant share of traffic from outside the country.
Monteiro adds that social media have become increasingly popular for Brazilians, led by Brazilian social networking site Orkut, Twitter and a prolific blogosphere.
The agency scene is dominated by a mix of local and international players. Strong local shops include FSB, Maquina de Noticia, Approach, CDI and Publicom.
Several multinational agencies have either acquired or allied with local shops to good effect: CDN/Fleishman-Hillard, InPress Porter Novelli, Ketchum Estrategia, Andreoli/MS&L and Burson Marsteller.
National and indeed regional Latin American networks tend to be headquartered in the Brazilian business capital of Sao Paulo. Last year, former Mmd founder Alastair McLeish announced plans to launch a LatAm-focused network called Speyside Corporate Relations in the city.
According to Dias Dos Reis, salary stability and growth has been a hallmark of Brazil's PR market in recent years: 'In the main market, which is Sao Paulo, salaries have increased in a permanent way, because of the high level of competition among agencies.'
'We estimate that businesses increased between ten per cent and 20 per cent in 2009, thanks to a stable economic situation,' he continues.'This positive performance was obtained mainly during the second half of the year, when companies started to see the market recovering after a first half of doubts.'
Specific factors that supported rising PR spend in 2009, adds Dias Dos Reis, were strong domestic demand, real estate, energy, M&A and IPO activity. An Abracom poll found that 94 per cent of the country's PR agencies believe that 2010 will bring better business than 2009.
Most PR activity, he adds, centres on press relations and internal communication. Growing practice areas include digital PR, M&A comms, crisis management and CSR.
A big economy contains strong domestic players in all sectors, including automotive, financial services, retail and health/beauty. 'Those four sectors faced a strong competition during 2009 and the same will happen in 2010 - so, communication has played a key role,' says Diao Dos Reis.
According to Millward Brown, Brazil's most valuable brand is the bank Banco Bradesco. Other brands noted for their marcoms savvy include banks Itau and Banco de Brasil, telecom player Vivo, Brahma beer and cosmetics giant Natura.
Oil company Petrobras, meanwhile, is expected to become one of the world's five biggest energy companies by by 2020, thanks to the recent discovery of oil reserves. ‘It is very proactive in its comms programmes and allocates large budgets to support these,' points out Schoen.
In 2008, the Brazilian Government awarded a high-profile $8m brief to improve the country's reputation as an investment destination to CDN/Fleishman-Hillard. Months later, another lucrative brief followed to update all of the government's websites, blogs and other digital tools.
The federal government started last year to hire PR agencies directly, based on a formula that takes into consideration technical capabilities and prices,' says Dias Dos Reis. 'This is a procedure Abracom always supported, because it is measurable, fair and objective. We foresee that regional governments will make the same move over the next few months, organising PR bids based on technical capabilities and prices.'
Lobbying remains unregulated, and has – says Monteiro – previously been tarnished by a poor reputation. 'To the public opinion, it meant influence peddling and corruption,' she explains. It was also often associated with foreign companies.
Increasing professionalism in the public affairs and lobbying sectors has helped reverse these perceptions. 'Nowadays, there are PR companies and consultants specialised in this area,' says Monteiro. 'Many of them are even more specific – they act in government relations aimed at a financial market.'
Population: 192 million.
GDP: $10,500 per capita (77th).
Unemployment: eight per cent
Religions: Roman Catholic