Sweden has hardly been immune to the economic storm clouds that have wreaked such havoc among its European neighbours. Indeed, one of the key stories to grab headlines in recent months has been General Motors' decision to abandon Saab, the country's iconic automotive brand.
'This is something the media have been following throughout the whole of 2009,' says Grayling/Sund Kommunikation chief Peter Erikson. 'The debate has primarily concerned governmental efforts to save the company, as well as speculation regarding potential buyers.'
At the other end of the spectrum, the emergence of Sweden's 'Pirate Party' also captivated the public. Promoting the legalisation of internet file-sharing, the party became the country's third largest after the trial of Swedish file-sharing website Pirate Bay, eventually winning one of Sweden's 18 seats at the European Parliament.
2010 is a national election year, with attention already starting to focus on the inevitable rise in political activity. 'More and more attention is turned towards the government and the newly formed left-wing opposition,' says Erikson.
Sweden's PR industry has come of age in recent years, following in the footsteps of its more celebrated advertising and digital industries. According to Kaj Flick from the Association of Public Relations Consultancies Sweden (Precis), the sector was largely unruffled by economic turbulence, growing by eight per cent to an estimated value of 160m Euros.
Stockholm's importance as a pan-Nordic hub has played an important role in the rise of PR in Sweden.
'Another key influence behind its development is that Swedish companies and authorities are more focused on being highly thought of,' adds Anders Hult, MD of one of the country's most awarded agencies, Prime PR. 'They understand that a solid reputation is of all importance when it comes to attracting clients, employees and money. PR today, by many, is looked upon as an important tool in the efforts to repair a destroyed reputation.'
Sweden's media revolve around a handful of well-established channels that lead opinion to strong effect. Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Nyheter are the two key daily broadsheets, supported by economic daily Dagens Industri. Two tabloids - Aftonbladet and Expressen - are also popular.
TV is led by the country's public service broadcaster SVT, which is modeled on the UK's BBC. SVT remains the biggest TV network in the country, counting an audience share of more than 35 per cent. In recent years, however, considerable competition has emerged from private stations, most notably the TV4 Group, alongside several pan-Nordic channels.
Sweden is known for a highly advanced online culture, epitomised by websites like The Pirate Bay, and high-profile interactive agencies such as Farfar and Daddy. Hult calls 2009 'the year of the social media revolution' in Sweden, with clients starting to take online dialogue seriously. 'When every fourth Swede has become a member on Facebook it is obvious that social media have reached a broader audience.'
Facebook remains the most popular internet property in Sweden, closely followed by Aftonbladet's website. In addition, adds Erikson, 'much of what is discussed in digital media is often picked up by traditional media, something which has exploded rapidly in the past few years.'
For a relatively small country, Sweden is home to a disproportionately high number of brands that have achieved worldwide fame, such as Ikea, H&M, Ericsson and Absolut. Perhaps the most visible comms success story in recent months has been internet darling Spotify, the peer-to-peer music streaming service that has begun to revolutionise the music industry.
The decline of the country's automotive industry, epitomised by GM's decision to abandon Saab, has caused genuine regret in Sweden. Its other famous car brand, Volvo, is in the process of being acquired by China automotive player Geely.
According to Precis, the country's biggest agency - by a fair distance - is Kreab Gavin Anderson. The agency was formed through the high-profile merger of Nordic public affairs and PR giant Kreab with corporate and financial specialist Gavin Anderson in 2009.
Other key agencies include JKL, well known for its public affairs expertise, and financial heavyweight Hallvarsson & Halvarsson. Prime PR leads the marcoms area, and has won sustained recognition from a string of awards shows in recent years.
JKL is part of Publicis Groupe network MS&L, while Hallvarsson is owned by M:Communications parent King Worldwide. Thus, the country's three biggest agencies are MNC-owned, while WPP's Cohn & Wolfe also counts a highly visible presence.
Prime and fifth-ranked Springtime are independent. Flick estimates that the local:global ratio sits at approximately 60:40. A full agency league table can be found here.
Another key development in 2009 saw the acquisition of Sund Kommunikation by Huntsworth Group, via its former Trimedia brand, now known as Grayling.
‘Salaries are growing at a moderate rate,' says Erikson. ‘The key practice areas are strategic communications, branding, lobbying and marketing-PR along with financial communications.'
Public affairs is a particularly well-developed component of the Swedish PR market, led by agencies such as Gullers Group, Aspekta, Diplomat PR, Springtime and JKL. The industry remains unregulated.
Meanwhile, government spend also remains critical to the industry's overall health. ‘Government and government authorities spend a lot on PR. This is a trend over the past ten years,' says Erikson. ‘However, the purchasing process is very strict and the budgets are somewhat squeezed.'