Firms Expect Bright Future Despite Economic Slowdown
Although an economic slowdown currently plagues France and much of Europe, public relations opportunities abound now and in the future. While the promised integration of the European Community is not advancing at the speed originally envisioned, French public relations firms expect to capitalize on the growing need for communications both concerning, and in reaction to, the actions of the European parliament. Areas of particular activity include environmental regulations, pharmaceutical marketing, international trade, industrial privatization and consumer marketing.
Based on our research, public relations consulting firms in France are well-positioned to survive the current slowdown in the EC and poised for growth when economic conditions in Europe improve. French public relations "agencies" serve European, national, multinational and international interests and organizations, including clients based in the USA and Japan. In fact, about 25% of foreign investment in France comes from the USA.
Activities of both counseling firms and public relations departments in corporations, government firms and other organizations in France are expanding in size and range, our sources reported. Based on close ties to counterparts across borders and their involvement in programs throughout Europe, executives at French firms predicted growth in 1993 and beyond.
Business this year is "virtually certain" to exceed '92 in terms of fees and expense billings, public relations firm executives agreed. Their predictions were even rosier for '94, when they expect economic and political conditions in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and other leading European countries will become more favorable.
In the opinion of many practitioners, the greater the problems in Europe, the greater the public relations needs. Increased demand for services, however, does not mean that staff sizes are increasing. In fact, most firms are holding down staff size and, like their U.S. counterparts, seeking to get greater productivity from people on staff or freelancers.
This perspective on public relations opportunities in France was obtained for Public Relations Journal via interviews in Paris with firm heads, media and professional association leaders in December 1992 and January 1993. Additional information was obtained from firm executives in the USA who have links with French firms.
(Editor's note: A Journal white paper on public relations in France, with profiles on more than 20 firms, will be available to those seeking more detail than can be provided in this article. For ordering information, see box, page 26.)
Firms pace growth
Public relations firms are growing faster than corporate or government public relations departments, said Jean-Claude Lemaignen, president and director-general of Hill & Knowlton/Actis. More and more French government ministries, as well as provincial, regional and local governments, plus EC organizations themselves, are retaining outside counseling firms.
Virtually every significant corporation or organization in France now conducts public relations activities, although the preferred word is "communications," said Claude Marcus, vice chairman of Publicis FCB. Many government offices and state-owned enterprises have large, well-funded public relations departments. Their practices, however, are often bound by bureaucratic procedures. Executives on these accounts often report to the top ministers and provide advisory and strategic services.
Governmental public relations can be lucrative for firms, but French sources confirmed that government agencies sometimes take up to a year to pay. As a result, firms that work with government accounts often have to obtain bank loans at high interest rates for working capital. This, in turn, puts a squeeze on profits. On the bright side, government agencies rarely default on payment, firm sources agreed. …