PR consultancies must balance individual cultural identity with a
European overview. The state of the industry is as diverse as the
continent itself as Kate Nicholas discovers
While Europe’s politicos struggle with the realities of creating a
consolidated European union, the public relations industry - fuelled by
strides in technology and demands from international clients - has found
itself facing a mirror pan-European dilemma.
As agencies such as Shandwick and the newly-dubbed Porter Novelli
International look to consolidate their branding across Europe,
differences in distribution systems, regulatory frameworks and cultural
values remind of the need for separate national identities.
Consequently, agencies walk a tightrope between unity and multi-
culturalism, particularly when selling their product to US and Asia
Pacific clients who would prefer to see Europe as a single manageable
Admittedly brands such as Nintendo, Nike, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are able
to cross cultural barriers, but the 1980s concept of global marketing
perpetuated by the Saatchis so successfully on behalf of British Airways
now seems somewhat naive. Outside of the homogenous youth and fashion
sectors, the situation is just too complex.
Cost alone is a factor. Clients from outside Europe frequently
underestimate the financial commitment required for a truly pan-European
campaign. ‘We all suffer from clients who come in and say we want the
whole of Europe. People from outside Europe don’t understand the costs
involved,’ says Jennifer Potter, head of Charles Barker International
Connections. As a result most companies have to pick and choose their
Among industry operators there is, however, a greater recognition of the
need to create a fine balance between regional awareness and a pan-
european overview. This has been reflected in staffing practices.
Training continues to be a major preoccupation - Fleishman-Hillard, for
example, runs regular induction sessions at its Paris headquarters for
new recruits throughout Europe in an effort to create a cohesive team
identity. As countries seek to improve cross-border business, there is
increasing fluidity between local offices, with staff swaps enabling a
broader range of employees to become familiar with different regional
situations. A considerable investment continues to be made in new
technology in terms of video conferencing, Internet and Intranet
capability. And increasingly agencies are finding themselves pitching
together with representatives of regional agencies from their own remote
Agencies working in Europe are also reporting a growing demand for
integration of client and agency through senior strategic secondments.
At the same time, there are increasing moves towards outsourcing.
‘Companies are looking at cost and instead of building a huge
communications department they keep some body very senior in the
organisation and then outsource services to agencies.’ says Francois
Giannesini of Fleishman-Hillard, who maintains that Europe lags behind
the UK in terms of consultancy. ‘It is part of the Anglo Saxon culture
to buy consultancy services. French managers would tend to think that
they could do it along side everything else,’ he says.
International clients are however getting to grips with the complexities
of the European situation. ‘In the past US companies have looked to
agencies just to implement programmes [in Europe] but have now woken up
to the fact that there is a need for management over the long term, and
that with such a diverse audience there is a need to control the
message,’ says Globalink director Crispin Manners. ‘Increasingly we are
being seen by the American parent as part of the PR process so we work
with US companies to develop a strategy, getting the right spin for over
here right from the start.’
European companies with US agency partnerships have also reported an
increase the export of European business to the US - five to 20 per
cent of work carried out by Fleishman-Hillard in the US is now generated
from Europe - mainly in the form of trade associations or companies
looking to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Germany and the UK are still viewed by international clients as the main
gateways to Europe. Despite a troubled economic year, GPRA, the German
trade association, was able to report a healthy seven per cent industry
growth, a trend set to continue in 1996 according to Hannie Stitz GPRA’s
representative at the International Committee of Public Relations
Consultants. Last year, GPRA members reported that 20 per cent of their
fees were generated from international work, with particular growth in
US and EU work, with many domestic clients deferring decisions regarding
high ticket spend until the economic horizon brightens.
Five years of accelerated growth have created considerable interest in
the French market among owned groups on the European acquisition trail
and networks looking to build their European presence. According to
Syntec Conseil’s President Jacques Marceau the increase in international
work has in turn driven an increased professionalism in the industry,
with a significant growth in spend on technology and a more structured
approach to staff training.
The Netherlands now boasts one of the fastest growing public relations
industries in Europe, being relatively unhampered by economic or
By contrast, Switzerland suffered a slight drop in overall PR income as
a result of a continuing economic trough. The market continues to be
dominated by large scale domestic players, with little real inroad made
by international groups.
In Belgium, most consultancies had a flat first half of 1996 with the
Belgian economy going through difficult times with unemployment running
at 14 per cent. However, by necessity Brussels remains a focus of
international strategic communications and public affairs activity.
The Italian market has now stabilised after several mercurial years and
developed as the most sophisticated hi-tech markets in Europe. According
to trade body ASSOREL its members experienced an overall growth of seven
per cent in 1995, its 23 consultancies bringing in a total fee income of
34 million ecu.
The Spanish PR industry also showed a healthy growth and, with a new
party in power, is now set to benefit from a similar wave of
privatisations that have already netted significant gains for
international and domestic agencies in Italy.
Central and Eastern Europe continues to be an area of development but is
still dominated by owned groups as many networks wait for the maturation
of home-grown talent before coming into select potential partners.
The UK’s traditional position as a central buying point for pan-European
campaigns has diminished with Euro-wide accounts increasingly being led
from the continent. ‘People want to buy in a different way now,’ says
Potter. Some clients still cling to a central buying point, while others
prefer to manage their own network following an initial introduction.
And as clients learn to take a more sophisticated approach to European
PR, agencies are being called on to justify every penny or peseta spent
in terms of real benefits.
‘There have been significant changes in the market in the last year.
When you get a request from a client, the connection between the
communication solution and the business is very tight,’ says Giannesini.
‘Clients want PR activity to be directly allied to their business
Rankings: European trade bodies
With the exception of ASSOREL in Italy and Syntec Conseil in France, a
majority of the European PR industry associations produce their own
industry league tables. The Netherlands organisation VPRA produces a
ranking of member agencies on the basis of calendar year net fee income
minus mark-up, with only an occasional overlap with advertising spend.
The Swiss trade association BPRA adheres rigidly to the PR fee-only
rule, and has broadened its net to include non-members in a calendar
year ranking put together by an independent auditing company. The
Spanish trade association ADECEC produces a members-only ranking based
on PR-only fee income as does the Belgian trade body BPRCA - ADECEC’s
ranking being based on fee income only to year end 30 April, two months
in advance of the audited year end of 30 June, while the BPRCA’s table
is based on calendar year income. The German association GPRA does not
organise a formal ranking of agencies, but does publish a break down of
the economic development of member companies.