One savvy, successful agency leader told me “A substantial part of our business is PR – messaging, polling, copywriting, media relations, digital etc. but I cannot call it PR otherwise our clients wouldn’t buy it. Companies are organised in silos and most of our clients here are public affairs people with their own budgets, as soon as we call it PR it would cause problems for them internally and they might have to give up ownership.”
It is interesting to see how global PR firms portray themselves accordingly in Brussels. For instance, FH says on its Brussels website “Our team is dedicated to practising European Union government relations, public affairs and strategic communications in new and innovative ways that resonate within Brussels and across Europe”. They really don’t own up to being a PR firm at heart and portray themselves as a public affairs specialist – the same with the other major ones such as BM and FTI.
Although there are cases of where the PR and PA budgets will be split between agencies by the same client in Brussels, mostly the PR budget goes to the agency leading on the public affairs dimensions as integrated campaigns are more effective.
One of the most important PR supporting services is media relations, as Brussels is one of the most important international media centres. Despite what seemed to be a trend described by ‘The Economist’ in 2010 as ‘The incredible shrinking EU press corps’, the number of EU-accredited foreign correspondents has grown almost continuously over the last 40 years, from only 259 in 1976 to over a thousand in 2016. According to the European Commission there are 1,313 accredited journalists and technical press people from 62 different countries reporting from Brussels. In total they represent 487 media from 60 different countries around the world. They cover European affairs, NATO and events in Belgium, the Netherlands and other European countries. Many more journalists from all over the world visit Brussels for brief periods for EU related events or to report on the activities of the international institutions based here.