Central Europe’s PR industry

в. The Sofia Echo | Joe COOK | 2010-03-19 

Business environments in the region vary, and so do the public relations markets

It is understandable, and convenient, for people to talk about Central Europe as if it were a homogenous unit. The neighbourhood does, after all, have a few things in common, such as 40 years of post-war Communism and the subsequent 20-year procession towards the sunlit uplands of democracy, market economics, the European Union and Nato. But the closer and deeper you go, the more differences appear.
Central Europe stretches from the Baltics to the Balkans and is peopled by a variety of Slavs, Roma, Latins, Turks and Magyars. They speak in different tongues, write with different alphabets, eat differing food, and worship in different ways. Some countries are rich, some poor. Some, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are industrialised; Romania and Bulgaria are more agricultural; Poland is a bit of both. In fact, no two countries in Central Europe are the same.
It therefore follows that the business environment varies
from one place to another. And so, of course, does the public relations sector. In Central Europe PR companies naturally congregate in the capital cities – where politics, media and marketing budgets also congregate.
Right now, in Budapest and Prague, political parties are engaged in an almighty mud-slinging match across the front pages of the newspapers as they prepare for elections in April and May respectively. Party spin-doctors and their PR machines are practising the black arts with abandon; it is not a pretty sight. Slovak newspapers will swell with political sleaze as the country nears the polls in June.
Away from the predictable murk of political spin, commercial PR has mirrored Central Europe’s economic performance. Last year saw GDP decline across most of the region; corporate marketing spend followed suit and ad agencies in particular were hit hard as car sales plummeted and the real estate bubble
It’s a fair bet that few, if any, public relations companies could honestly claim that 2009 was better than 2008, but the good and nimble certainly survived, and quite possibly thrived as marketing spend was switched away from advertising. Corporate and consum-
er PR remained, and remains, fairly stable, whereas transaction PR declined.
One country that bucked the regional GDP trend was Poland. Its economy grew last year. And it looks set to continue growing this year, as private investment continues to flow and the government continues
to privatise. This is good news for PR service providers. So is the fact that the Warsaw Stock Exchange is the largest bourse in Central Europe: its listed companies generate a steady demand for financial communications and investor relations services. The Warsaw, Prague and
Budapest PR markets are competitive, with the big international shops competing with local agencies and a swarm of independent consultants. In Bucharest many ad agencies claim to provide PR in an effort to swipe all spend. Fees, and professional standards, vary wildly in all markets.
So, will this year be better than last? The signs are encouraging. Commercial activity seems to be picking up in the Czech Republic. Hungary’s economy seems more stable than it was last year. The IMF has kept Romania afloat. The region’s economic decline has slowed. And there is a ton of money waiting to be transferred from the EU to the countries of Central Europe. Demand for PR will vary from country to country, but over the medium- to long-term PR markets will grow and mature. 

* Joe Cook is managing partner at Cook Communications. www.cook-comm.com

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