Top European Agencies 1997: BELGIUM - Despite political turmoil, consultants believe there is a bright future at the heart of Europe

A groundswell of public discontent aimed at Belgium’s politicians and institutions - notably the ’White movement’ for greater justice and democracy, established amid frustration at the handling of the Marc Dutroux child sex abuse scandal - has had a major impact on the socio-political debate over the past year.

A groundswell of public discontent aimed at Belgium’s politicians

and institutions - notably the ’White movement’ for greater justice and

democracy, established amid frustration at the handling of the Marc

Dutroux child sex abuse scandal - has had a major impact on the

socio-political debate over the past year.



At the same time, unemployment remains high and has not been not helped

by car maker Renault’s announcement that it is planning to close down

its Vilvoorde facility on the outskirts of Brussels, with the loss of

about 3,000 jobs. Gross national debt remains well above 100 per cent of

GDP.



’People are not happy with the decisions of the government,’ says

Jean-Luc Pleunes, chairman of the Belgian Public Relations Consultants

Association (ABCRP/BGPRA) and managing director of Communication

Partners.



Yet despite the problems with unemployment and widespread public

dissatisfaction at the government, all is not doom and gloom. Brussels,

it should not be forgotten, is the centre of the European Union and as

such has an international dynamic of its own.



Plenty of cross-border business is carried out from Brussels, and it is

a magnet for multinational corporations. Chrysler has recently chosen

the city as its European headquarters.



’There’s been a lot of social unrest but the economy has been able to

maintain itself,’ says Fleishman-Hillard Belgium managing director

Michel Deurinck.



The general consensus among consultancies is that international business

is growing faster than domestic assignments. Interel, for example, says

it now has 10 cross-border accounts (where communications work is

carried out in between five and 20 countries) with clients including

Monsanto and the Easdaq stock exchange.



Clearly distinctions need to be made between the various separate

markets within Belgium. First, there is the domestic market, where

national consumer and business-to-business PR campaigns must be carried

out in French and Flemish to reach the citizens of Wallonia and

Flanders.



Second, there is the multinational market serving those international

businesses headquartered in and around Brussels. And finally there is

the European Commission-linked public affairs market, on which the owned

groups are increasingly tightening their grip.



One major EC contract awarded this year was the information

communications brief for the Tacis programme. Tacis is a technical

assistance fund for the newly independent states of Eastern Europe and

Mongolia. The communications programme carries an annual budget of

pounds 2.5 million of which an estimated pounds 900,000 is fees. Ogilvy

Adams and Rinehart beat incumbent the Rowland Company, Hill and Knowlton

and Catermill/Burson-Marsteller to the business.



A sign of the growing sophistication of lobbying in Brussels is that a

new association of public affairs specialists is being established.



The Society of European Affairs Practitioners is accepting members from

agencies, corporations, European trade associations and local/regional

government.



Belgium, with a population of only 10 million, is not among the biggest

markets in Europe but its place at the heart of the EU makes it one of

the most influential.



’There is still potential in the Belgian market,’ says Van Luyken &

Eeckman managing director Edgard Eeckman. ’We are sometimes contacted by

multinationals who are not using PR in their communications. But there

is still a lot of hesitation by companies over investment.’



Van Luyken & Eeckman - which boasts clients like Duracell, Avis Fleet

Management and Master Foods - changed its name from Van Luyken after its

Belgian managers bought it from its previous Dutch owners at the start

of 1996. Another name change in the market has been the birth of

consumer and corporate agency Attitudes after owner/managing director

Chris Decroix bought out Chantal Watson from her eponymous company.



Hill and Knowlton, which had previously concentrated on its lobbying and

corporate work in Brussels, has begun to build up its consumer expertise

through work for Adidas football boot Predator. ’The policy of fiscal

rectitude will continue so there won’t be roaring GDP growth, but I’m

cautiously optimistic,’ says managing director Elaine Cruikshanks.



Belgium’s governmental and public institutions have yet to respond - in

communications terms - to the disturbing lack of public regard in which

they are held. The apparent lack of haste and concern at their tarnished

image is regarded with astonishment in the PR industry.



’We have always seen a potential for public authorities to communicate

but they are so backwards,’ says Interel managing director Jean-Leopold

Schuybroek. ’They never communicate. It is amazing to look at the

Netherlands, where a quarter of the business for consultancies is public

authorities and major information campaigns. In Belgium it is not even

one per cent.’



Many large Belgian companies are becoming more receptive to using PR in

their marketing mix: crisis programmes, IT and telecoms PR, as well as

internal communications are all seen as potential areas of growth.



Euro Consultancies: Belgium

Rk  Company        Fee income (pounds )  Location                Status

96                        96         95

1   Burson-

    Marsteller     2,926,000  2,716,000  Brussels        B-M subsidiary

2   H&K Intl

    Belgium        1,960,000  1,629,000  Brussels      H & K subsidiary

3   Interel        1,645,000  1,395,300  Brussels    PROI/CBIC/MS&L mbr

4   Ellips

    Communication  1,508,000  1,012,000  Brussels           Independent

5   Shandwick

    Belgium        1,471,000  1,402,000  Brussels  Shandwick subsidiary

6   GCI Europe1    1,414,000  1,241,200  Brussels  GCI Group subsidiary

7   PRP (PR

    Partners)        886,000  1,232,000  Brussels           Independent

8   Decitime         752,000    750,000  Brussels       Ind/IPRN member

9   Ine Marien

    & Partners       746,481    645,989  Brussels           Independent

10  Ogilvy Adams

    & Rinehart       624,000    977,000  Brussels       OA&R subsidiary

11  Countrywide

    Porter Novelli   620,000        **   Brussels        CPN subsidiary

12  Business &

    Show (B&S)       482,758    431,034  Brussels  Ind/Worldcom net mbr

13  European

    Strategy         473,000    622,000  Brussels   Grayling subsidiary

14  Anthoniessen

    & Assoc’s        423,372    386,265  Antwerp            Independent

15  Fleishman-

    Hillard Brsls    397,503    130,495  Brussels        F-H subsidiary

16  Van Luyken &

    Eeckman          324,380    355,375  Brussels    Ind/Entente member

17  Pyramid PR       320,000    320,000  Brussels           ECCO member

18  Attitudes PR     260,000    238,000  Brussels   Ind/IPREX affiliate

19  Kate Thomas

    & Kleyn          240,000    210,000  Brussels           Independent

20  Communications

    Partners         152,892    204,545  Brussels           Independent

** Figures unavailable 1Includes figures for GCI Europe and APCO

Brussels



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