As the US Department of Commerce notes, Belgium is a relatively prosperous and dynamic market in its own right beyond the Brussels bubble:
“Belgium is a compact and diverse market, sitting on the cultural and linguistic border of Germanic and Latin Europe. It is composed of the francophone Wallonia region to the south, the Dutch speaking Flanders region in the north, and the bilingual capital region of Brussels. There is also a small enclave of German speakers. This diversity makes it an ideal market for many U.S. firms to test their products before expanding distribution throughout Europe. With a population of 11.1 million people in a territory comparable in size to the state of Maryland, it is densely populated. It enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in Europe, with a relatively balanced income distribution, resulting in widely distributed purchasing power. Belgium GDP was a total of $474 billion in 2016. Bilateral trade was worth over $49 billion for the year 2016. With its major ports (Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe) and excellent logistical infrastructure, a significant portion of bilateral trade either originates in, or is destined for, other countries in Europe. The U.S. ranks as Belgium’s 5th principal trading partner; with Belgium ranked the 10th largest recipient of U.S. exports in 2016.”
So the Belgian PR/PA market is relatively healthy for a small country, but like the country, is fragmented along regional/linguistic lines. Belgium is like Europe on a much smaller scale and is therefore the ideal test market. With the slogan, “If you can sell it in Belgium, you can sell it anywhere,” Belgian public relations and marketing firms have been able to convince international companies to roll out their campaigns in Belgium first.
Languages play a key role for PR professionals operating in Belgium due to its having three communities, three regions and four language areas, which include Dutch, French, German and bilingual Dutch-French. With this comes the problem of not only reaching a specific national audience, but of transcending dual identity when targeting a campaign.
There are also some pan-European and global PR opportunities presented by Belgian-based multinationals such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Solvay, Umicore and UCB. Multilingual talented Belgian PR practitioners can also adapt to the other PR markets namely EU institutions PR, EU PR supporting PA and International PR covered above.
The Belgian Public Relations Consultants Association (BPRCA) is a not-for-profit professional association representing a group of core public relations consultancies based in Belgium. The BPRCA membership currently includes 24 of the top consultancies in Belgium, ranging from independent, boutique agencies, to international network consultancies. They are listed here.