Public affairs and corporate communications consultancy with crisis expertise
There are three public relations businesses in Brussels, and European Communications Strategies (CS) is a player in all three of them. It handles public affairs for companies with policy issues before the European Parliament and related organisations; it manages public relations activities for companies—local firms and multinationals—targeting the Belgian market; and it runs broad corporate communications programs for the growing number of multinational corporations who have their European headquarters in the Belgian capital, working at the CEO and board level, and providing expertise in crisis and issues management, financial communications and investor relations, internal communications, media relations, marketing support, and media training.
CS was founded in 1995 by Charles van der Straten Waillet, a major figure in the Belgian PR business who sold his first firm, Infopublic, to Shandwick in the late 1980s and who is a past president of the International Public Relations Association and the Belgian Public Relations Centre. But for the past couple of years, leadership responsibilities have increasingly been shared among seven senior counsellors who represent the next generation of management. That team includes senior partner senior partner Johan Ral, a former television reporter who worked with Burson-Marsteller before joining CS; Isabelle Hardy, former PR manager for Lintas Brussels and senior consultant at Ogilvy Adams & Rinehart; Marie-Paule Meert, and expert in Belgian governmental and parliamentary affairs; Ariane Vanderlinden, who works with FMCG sector clients faced with major restructurings and crises; and Carl Buyck, former spokesman for the Flemish Minister of Finance, Budget and Health.
The firm has 22 people in all, and had operating income in 2004 of slightly more than €3 million, up about 16 percent over the previous year and enough to place CS among the largest independents in the Belgian market. Clients span a wide range of industries—healthcare is a particular strength—and include Banksys, Bekaert, the Belgian Post, Bombardier, CropLife International, Delhaize Group, Electrolux, Heineken, Pfizer, Spadel, Unilever, and Wyeth.
The firm works internationally for the majority of these clients, often sending consultants to work on the ground in markets as diverse as Washington, D.C., Paris, Africa and Eastern Europe. It handles pricing issues and challenges regarding competition from generics for several large pharmaceutical companies; has developed a relatively new business around counsel on corporate governance; handles employee communications for several clients; and has a particular expertise counselling clients on CSR issues (HIV/AIDS in particular) in the developing African marketplace.
CS is also a member of the European Crisis Management Partnership, a network in independent firms in nine countries, all with extensive crisis communications experience.