CROSS-BORDER CONTROLS: Will harmonisation of cross-border regulations
mean more legislation or less?
THE EFFECT OF DEREGULATION: PR in the Eastern bloc takes advantage of a
recent wave of privatisations
EURO LOBBYING: European lobbyists may employ different methods, but
ultimately the goals are the same
As the European Union continues to expand, the Commission is looking to
sweep away internal trading barriers. Robert Gray looks at how the
process will affect the communications industry
As modern communications make the world ever smaller the European Union
gets bigger. In an age of miniaturisation many of western Europe’s
finest diplomats and politicians are bending their minds to the question
Behind the scenes, much time and trouble is being taken to reassure
Russia that it will not be threatened should countries that, less than a
decade ago, belonged to the Soviet empire be admitted to the European
Union. This is looking more and more likely as countries such as
Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary continue to impress
observers with their rapid economic development and desire to reap the
trading benefits of EU membership.
The prospect of further enlargement, following on from the recent
increase in member states from 12 to 15, has been a factor spurring the
European Commission to try and sweep away as many barriers to its
internal market as it can. The more member states there are, each with
their own laws and regulations, the more complex the picture will be.
The Commission is addressing that problem by trying to bring about as
much regulatory uniformity as it can across the trading bloc (which
predictably provokes apoplexy among the Little Englander brigade).
Inevitably, one of the areas to come under the microscope is commercial
communications - the EC’s catch-all term for PR, sponsorship,
advertising, direct marketing, sales promotion and any other type of
business/marketing communications. The Commission has tackled this by
issuing a green paper called Commercial Communications in the Internal
More harmonisation of cross-border regulations would unquestionably be
beneficial to clients and advertising agencies engaged in trans-national
campaigns. What is not so cut and dried is the impact that the
Commission’s look at cross-border commercial communications will have on
the PR industry.
There is trepidation in some quarters that the green paper may
eventually lead to unwelcome legislation based on a shaky understanding
of what PR entails. Leigh Mendelsohn, chair of the PRCA’s public affairs
committee, says she is concerned by the EC’s Working Document definition
of PR which lumps it in with sponsorship.
Mendelsohn is worried that although the thrust of the green paper is to
do away with barriers it may inadvertently, through a misconception of
what PR is all about, increase regulation of the industry. ‘My feeling
is that it is a threat,’ she says. ‘What will they come up with in the
end? There is a real fear that it will increase legislation.’
In preparing its response to the green paper, the PRCA took soundings
from its members. None came back with any examples of instances where
current regulation was hampering cross-border campaigns within the EU.
The status quo suits.
‘I can’t remember a situation on a piece of pan-European business when
I’ve thought, oh bother, I wish they’d change that,’ says Edelman
managing director Abel Hadden.
‘We do a lot of international business,’ adds Countrywide Porter Novelli
chairman Peter Hehir. ‘There are a number of issues, but not Commission-
related. The problems are with language and custom and practice. Not to
do with the EC.’
In his capacity as president of ICO (The International Committee of
Public Relations Consultancies Associations) Hehir wrote to the
Commission on October 29 this year. His letter welcomed its initiative,
claiming it would benefit communications disciplines such as advertising
and sales promotion but added: ‘Public relations is quite different in
its nature and we know of no rules which restrict our core activities.
Our formal Code of Conduct ensures our members are fully aware of the
ethical behaviour expected of them, so we believe there is no need for
PRCA director Christopher McDowall also suspects the Commission’s
harmonisation programme could increase rather than decrease regulation
of PR and wants to make sure the PRCA and ICO (of which he is also
secretary general) have a say in the debate.
But are Mendelsohn, Hehir and McDowall right in their contention that
there is no need for the Commission to look at the situation vis-a-vis
PR as it stands? IPR president Rosemary Brook believes not.
Her view is that the strategic nature of PR ties it in at a high level
with other marketing disciplines and that therefore any restrictions on
these are ‘however indirectly’ a restriction on PR. This is especially a
problem when it comes to integrated campaigns, where PR techniques are
used in concert with other elements of the marketing mix which may be
obstructed by a thicket of contrary regulations.
IDV director of external affairs Stephen Whitehead agrees with her. ‘It
affects PR as part of the marketing mix,’ he says. ‘If, as in France, a
drinks company can’t sponsor a football match then all the below-the
line support disappears too. So PR suffers.’
Brook argues further that differing rules in EU member states put
obstacles in the way of organising cross-border campaigns which have
competitions at their heart. ‘If you choose to go that route you’d have
great difficulty in structuring a pan-European competition with the same
rules and prize values in each country,’ she says.
But probably the most important point Brook makes is that the spread of
the Internet and electronic communications is blurring national borders.
To this end, the Commission’s consultation process may throw up some
much needed clarification on what can and cannot, for example, be posted
on a Web site created in the EU and minimise cross-border variance.
To those fearful of the Commission’s motives Brook says: ‘They don’t see
that, for once, the Commission has gone through some fairly extensive
consultation as a way of removing barriers.’
The IPR has drafted in Lionel Stanbrook, deputy director general of the
Advertising Association, to help it prepare its response - Stanbrook
wrote the AA’s response. The IPR and PRCA are also liaising to make sure
that the PR industry in the UK appears as much as possible to be singing
from the same hymn sheet; even though there is some divergence in views
as to the Commission’s intent.
This co-operation has (fittingly, given the issue) extended across
borders. Hannemie Stitz, vice-president of Germany’s equivalent of the
PRCA, the GPRA, says her organisation is responding to the Commission
through ICO. Like Hehir, she is not aware of any regulations making
cross-border PR more troublesome. Neither is ICO executive board member
Jean-Leopold Schuybroek of Belgium.
We will have to wait and see how the Commission moves forward on the
issue of commercial communications. But at least the public relations
industry is now contributing to the debate.
The main reason for the Commission’s incomplete understanding of the PR
discipline was an initial reluctance by the industry to explain its
workings to Brussels. By engaging in dialogue, practitioners may well
find that Eurocrats can make things better rather than worse.
Broadcast rules: The European watershed
On 8 May, 1996, DGXV (the Directorate General for the Internal Market
and Financial Services) issued a green paper called Commercial
Communications in the Internal Market. The purpose of the paper was to
help clarify an ongoing review of Commission policy on forms of
communication such as advertising, direct marketing, sales promotion,
sponsorship and, of course, PR.
In its own words: ‘Its aim is to seek the views of the European
Parliament, the member states and interested circles on proposals which
have the objective...of developing an approach which will help the
Commission to evaluate possible problems of compatibility of certain
national measures with Community law.’
The Commission has given interested parties until the end of November to
submit comments on the green paper. These responses will be considered
by the Commission which proposes to set up a committee to ensure
discussion of commercial communications issues among member states.
Advertising is patently the marketing communications discipline most
affected by this move as the codes and regulations that govern it vary
markedly across the EU. In Sweden for instance TV advertising to
children is banned and in Greece advertising of toys is not allowed
between 7.00am and 10.00pm.
In the UK and Denmark, rules on broadcast sponsorship are more
restrictive than elsewhere while policy on tobacco, alcohol and
pharmaceutical advertising, to name but three categories, differs from
country to country. France’s Loi Evin, which places stringent
restrictions on alcohol and tobacco advertising is a case in point.
But as the scope of the paper extends to PR and event sponsorship, it is
clearly something in which the industry must take an interest.
Case study: Leisureplan achieves global consistency
Leisureplan International was created in September 1995 as a joint
venture between three companies: Thomas Cook Group, Philips Media
Services and TWINE Media. In July 1996 it launched Leisureplan Live, an
Internet Web site filled with information on hotels, visitor
attractions, organised tours and car rental companies from around the
Hill and Knowlton was hired as the PR agency to support the trade and
consumer launch in 10 global markets including Germany, Italy, France,
Spain, Australia, Singapore and the US. The first market to be targeted,
however, was the UK where Leisureplan Live was launched to the media at
the Cafe Internet, London SW1.
‘We created a template of core material in the UK,’ says Hill and
Knowlton associate director Melanie Martin. This included two press
packs (one for the trade and one for the consumer media). The material
was then adapted to suit the needs of the other countries.
Martin and her team kept in touch with other Hill and Knowlton offices
around the world via e-mail, phone and fax as the programme unfolded.
Leisureplan communications manager Willem Eksteen and PR executive Emily
Castel adopted a very hands-on approach, involving themselves in the
launch events from country to country to avoid any ‘distortion’ of
message creeping in.
‘With such a global thing it’s important that co-ordination remains with
the client company doing it,’ says Eksteen.
Concurrent with the PR launches, Leisureplan carried out a pounds
500,000 direct marketing campaign through its agency MSB + Co. This
included sending light-hearted ransom notes to hotels threatening to
release 50 million mice onto their premises (a pun on the fact that
there are an estimated 50 million Internet users clicking away with
their electronic mice) followed up with a computer mouse in a cage
containing further information on Leisureplan.
‘There was a good synergy between PR and direct marketing because the
people who were receiving the direct marketing material were also hit by
the PR drive in the travel trade press,’ says Eksteen.
Eksteen says he is pleased with the amount of PR coverage generated and
cannot think of any major cross-border barriers that would have hampered
the programme. The main consideration was to take into account differing
cultures and comfort level with the Internet.
‘The challenges are that you are dealing with a multi-cultural campaign
so you have to tailor each PR hit according to the local culture and
also the local way of doing business,’ he concludes.
Case study: Telenor makes the international connection
In March 1996 Norwegian telecoms group Telenor hired Euro RSCG
International Communications with a view to boosting recognition of its
name and creating awareness of its activities in the key business areas
of mobile phones, satellite communications and added value services
across Europe. The programme was led from London (where most of Europe’s
key international telecoms media are based) by ERIC agency Biss
ERIC’s first major task was an audit of the telecoms market across
Europe, probing both journalists and Government departments to identify
key issues. This was undertaken in France, Germany, Austria,
Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK.
At the same time an active media relations campaign was launched, aimed
at the international telecoms press. Although Telenor was looking to
build its image right across the Continent, some markets were more
important than others.
These important markets included Slovakia - where at the end of 1995
Telenor had established a subsidiary in Bratislava after winning
contracts with the Slovakian Police and the National Bank of Slovakia -
Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Greece and Montenegro.
Biss Lancaster, which took responsibility for Ireland as well as for
the overall co-ordination of the programme, worked in tandem with ERIC
agencies Hermes Plus in Bratislava and IPR&O in Hamburg.
The reason for using an agency in Germany - even though that country
wasn’t one of the main target markets because of the dominance there of
Deutsche Telecom - was that the German communications press is read by
the audience Telenor wanted to reach in both Switzerland and Austria.
‘The biggest priority for us is to communicate that Telenor is an active
company in telecoms and a good partner,’ says Biss Lancaster consultant
director Sam Rowe.
Press trips have been a significant part of the programme to date. In
May members of the international media were taken to Oslo for the
Eurovision Song Contest, for which Telenor provided the satellite
Another press trip to Norway for the Slovakian media was arranged
through Hermes Plus to highlight Telenor’s bid for a GSM (mobile)
licence in Slovakia. There was also a trip to Spitzbergen in the Arctic
for the international telecoms and medical media to launch PathSight, a
‘telepathology workstation’ which allows for the transmission of
detailed medical pictures, such as of biopsies, enabling remote
diagnoses to be made.
In addition, the programme has centred on announcements of new Telenor
projects, among them the building of a GSM service in Ireland, the
establishment of a new company to build telecoms networks in Greece and
the Balkans, the launch of some products in the shipping area, a large
satellite project with Daf trucks in the Netherlands, the launch across
Europe in conjunction with British Telecom of the ‘world’s smallest
satellite phone’ and the opening up of additional telecoms networks in
‘The only barriers to the programme have been financial ones,’ says
Rowe. ‘We trust the other agencies to know their markets. But part of my
job has been to keep the plates spinning and make sure they’re not
twiddling their thumbs waiting for London to call.’