Full-service corporate communications consultancy
An alarming number of U.S. companies still have difficulty grasping the fact that Europe is not a single, monolithic market, that every nation has its own culture and is driven by its own idiosyncratic values, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many multinationals look at Scandinavia—a relatively small (total population 25 million) and geographically concentrated region and assume they can manage the entire area through a single agency. The reality, of course, is more complex: Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden are quite different countries with quite different history and heritage, and a firm with a single office in Stockholm will find it difficult to reach out to reporters in Oslo or Copenhagen.
Geelmuyden-Kiese, with 75 people in three Scandinavian offices is one of only a couple of independent PR firms that can credibly claim to cover the entire region. It is strongest, of course, in its home market of Norway, where it has revenues of around €5.2 million (making it the market leader), but it has a substantial operation in Denmark (€800,000) and is beginning to establish itself in the much more competitive Swedish market (€700,000), obviously a priority if the firm wants to handle regional projects for multinational clients.
Founder Hans Geelmuyden has a diverse background, having served as editor-in-chief of Morgenbladet, a daily newspaper in Norway, and worked at IBM headquarters in Armonk, NY, before venturing into the agency business, where his focus is on strategic communications and investor relations. Partner Jo Kiese is another former journalist, having served as editor-in-chief of Kapital, and was also secretary general of the Norwegian Car Sport Association. Other leaders come from backgrounds just as eclectic: Ståle Mortensson, who leads the strategy and analysis group, commanded a fast attack craft in the Norwegian navy; media relations manager Pål Heldaas, who also leads the crisis team, was a producer at NRK, Norway’s major public service broadcaster; public affairs practice leader Gunnar Mathisen held positions at the OECD in Paris, in the European Commission and the Norwegian delegation to the EU in Brussels and the Norwegian Embassy in Beijing; Jørn Bremtun, who leads the financial communications practice, is a certified financial analyst and former reporter for Computerworld Norway and Dagens Næringsliv.
GK’s culture is another distinguishing factor. The firm doesn’t hire “stars,” preferring to develop its own talent and promote from within—an approach it says creates greater loyalty and lower staff turnover. It also likes to build multinational teams for clients—even clients whose focus is a single market. So the account team for a Norwegian client could include employees based in Stockholm or Norway, if they are the right people for the job. A system called Tetris (after the game of the same name) helps ensure that all employees are utilized at appropriate levels.
The firm focuses on communications strategy first, with practice groups offering media relations, public affairs, financial communications, crisis communications and advertising and design capabilities. It has sector experience in oil and energy, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, technology and telecom and consumer products, as well as with public sector clients. Annual revenues for 2004 were around €7 million, with 40 percent of the business coming from international clients and the rest from Nordic companies. About 25 percent of fee income is derived from clients handled in two or three countries, a percentage the firm expects to grow.
Much of the firm’s work is confidential, but major assignments over the past 12 months have included work for Norway’s Directorate of Social and Health Issues, on an anti-smoking campaign that spurred a 7 percent decline in tobacco use; and work for several public sector clients in Sweden, as well as for several hydro power companies on public affairs and issues management projects. In Denmark, meanwhile, the firm is best known for its brand work, with Gillette a major client.