«Democratisation of communications» – the main trend of the European PR industry

Interview for sostav.ru web-site

What does the European PR services market represent and how does it differ from the American market?  What is the potential of the Russian PR industry and what are the challenges for Russian companies in Europe?  These questions were put to Lucien Vallun, Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe of Fleishman-Hillard, a company recognized as the best “European PR-adviser 2009/2010” by independent adjudicators The Holmes Group.

1. How can you describe the PR market in Europe? What does it represent? What are the key differences between the European market and, say, the American one?

The main difference which we can speak about, concerns not the market itself, but the volume of its growth. The European market recently showed considerably more growth in comparison with the American one. The offices of Fleishman-Hillard in Europe this year have recorded the best recent results. For our other representatives, for example in the United States, this was a very complicated year– Let’s not forget about the financial situation in the American economy as a whole. Therefore if we speak about the markets, using the volume of development in 2009, our European divisions, including Central and the Eastern Europe, have shown better results than our American ones. Among the spheres which have suffered less, there is, first of all, Digital. This segment is developing very quickly and is more active in the USA than in Europe. For example, we can take our office in Washington, the second largest after our headquarters in Saint-Louis – practically half of its income is derived from Digital.

The Public Affairs (external relations) sphere became a primary factor of last year’s growth of Fleishman-Hillard in Europe. For example, the income of our Brussels office has doubled, mainly because of Public Affairs.   Other PR areas which have shown considerable growth in Europe are technologies, public health services and corporate and external relations. I can say that the European market, as a whole, has shown good results in 2009.

2. What is the main feature of the Russian PR market? How do you estimate the potential of the Russian PR industry?

Russia is a country with high potential in many areas and public relations is no exception. Russia is a country with more than 140 million people which shows increasing internal demand year on year. On the other hand, Russia has huge potential as an exporter of energy and other kinds of raw materials. More and more Russian companies are entering the international market and I am glad to note that recently it is not only the energy companies.

For my part, I am very glad to be a part of Fleishman-Hillard Vanguard’s leadership which has been one of the best performers in the network. I believe that the Moscow office has every chance to become an operating center for Fleishman-Hillard’s Central and Eastern Europe region.

3. How has the economic crisis affected the development of the European PR market? What spheres have suffered most of all, and on the other side, what spheres have remained unaffected?

The financial crisis has forced businessmen to reflect on the efficiency of investments, they are searching for a better return on their money. One of the recent trends which I would like to note is the growth of budgets in the PR sphere. So, if you look at world advertizing communication holdings such as WPP, Omnicom and Publicis, you will see that advertizing agencies have shown some small growth last year, or remained stable. Public relations has been touched by the financial crisis, but, as a whole, has shown quite good results. I think that players in the market are now very interested in experts in communications and consider PR as a strategic tool.

4. What can you say about the image of the Russian companies in Europe? In your opinion, what are the most common challenges for Russian companies in Europe? How they could avoid these difficulties?

The main complexities for Russian companies are focused on observing principles of transparency and openness. When Russian companies enter the foreign market, they face a number of problems. First, they are almost unknown abroad. They can be large enough in Russia, but in the West nobody knows them. It leads to the second challenge – they have to build an information network in an appropriate way. The companies should have an aggressive, proactive external policy and promote themselves very forcefully. Finally, when Russian companies enter foreign markets, it is a step which is impossible to take back, as their return in future would be almost impossible.

5. What problems are facing financial communications? What is the difference in financial communications between European and Russian companies?

European companies open their financial results, because financial mass-media (press, radio, and TV channels like СNBC) are highly developed in Europe, and the financial audience is very important to the companies. Now this kind of communication is developing quickly in Russia. The Russian financial audience is probably not quite as exacting as their European counterparts, but it does have expectations. Financial communications here are starting to move beyond the bounds of their previous positions and their role is increasing. While the economy grows in this country the demand on financial communications will also increase, just as in all European countries.  Differences will perhaps only focus on the quantity of financial mass-media – in Russia the competition between them will be weaker.  There won’t be as much as in Europe but they will have very important audience.

6. What is the main feature of digital technologies? In your opinion where are they best developed in the European market?

I think this is an interesting thought: Business doesn’t only take place within digital technologies but, as communications experts, we need to be fluent in their language.  Thanks to such businesses as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, information travels with improbable speed. To take one recent case – a failure in the Channel Tunnel. Remember? It is interesting that the public found out about it from Twitter blogs.

How does it affect us, the PR-agencies? We feel a great deal of pressure.  As a high-class consultancy, we are always on call and ready to broadcast information as quickly as possible. It has become obvious that such sources as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter play important roles in the mass-media. These new tools have quickly become become as normal a source of information as traditional media. It is a trend which I call «the democratisation of communications». Today communications open the door to everybody, and people like you and I can suddenly make an essential impact on the course of events.