In Mexico, one story has dominated all others during the past year. Swine flu first reached crisis proportions in the country in April 2009, before rapidly becoming a global pandemic.
Indeed, swine flu soon started to have an adverse impact on Mexico's reputation abroad, forcing the government to invest $90m in a global comms drive aimed at rebuilding the critically important image of the country as a tourism destination.
The country's capital Mexico City also took action, hiring Weber Shandwick for a global PR effort to rebuild a reputation that had been badly scarred by swine flu and drug violence.
Coupled with the deepest economic crisis in 70 years, which has seen GDP plunge by eight per cent, it has made for a tough year for Mexico's fledgling PR industry.
Mexico's modern PR market dates back to the early 1990s, when the country emerged as an investment destination following the establishment of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA).
Industry body PRORP estimates that the PR market is worth $250m, and grew 17 per cent in 2009 compared with 2008.
Much of this growth, says Hill & Knowlton Mexico president Antonio Tamayo, is down to MNCs. He notes that domestic companies, particularly exporters, are unwilling to invest substantial sums in PR: 'The economic crisis shut down others in terms of PR, and suspsended outsourcing.'
Traditional media dominates in Mexico, led by the two national TV chains: Televisa and TV Azteca.
Key newspapers are El Universal, which circulates to some 300,000 readers, and the more conservative-minded Reforma. La Jornada occupies a centre-left positioning, and is often viewed as Mexico's most independent newspaper.
The libertarian El Economista is the country's key business daily, while Milenio is noted for its political coverage.
Radio is a highly important media channel in Mexico, with no fewer than seven groups vying for dominance.
Digital media are beginning to exhibit growth, despite concentrating on barely a third of Mexico's 108 million inhabitants, says Edelman Mexico GM Julio Portales. That proportion is expected to grow once a 'broadband issue is solved among major providers', adds Tamayo.
Social networking has surged in recent years, led by Facebook Mexico, which recently inked a partnership with Fox Networks.
Specific niche websites of importance include customer service champion Apestan.com, which literally translates to 'your company stinks', and consumer rights watchdog El Poder del Consumidor. Environmental news site Planeta Azul is also influential.
Reputational challenges at Mexican companies are not for the faint of heart. Portales points to such issues as internal corruption, drug dealing, and anti-competitive trade practices.
A handful of domestic companies have seen the benefit of proactive reputation management, including Telcel Mobile, pharma major Genomma Lab and Citigroup subsidiary Banamex.
Largely, though, it is MNCs that are noted for stakeholder engagement, with Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, P&G and HP all particularly active.
Five agencies lead Mexico's PR industry. Estrategia Total, Zimat, and Guerra Castellanos are the three local giants. Edelman and Burson-Marsteller are the key MNC players.
Most activity centres on corporate, tech, healthcare and consumer. Approximately 80 per cent of agencies are local. Staff turnover, according to PRORP, averages 19 per cent. Portales attributes this to the relatively young age profile of agency staff, with many under 30.
Public affairs is at an early stage of development with the first dedicated agency - Estrategia Politica - less than ten years old. Efforts to regulate the industry have failed to gain traction. Key players include Structura, headed by former Mexican ambassador to the US Jesus Reyes Heroles; Guerra Castellanos and Estrategia Total.
Domestic government spend on PR is largely limited, says Tamayo, to an internal function called Social Communication. Investment and tourism ministries retain agency support in foreign markets.