Historically, France has been the most difficult western European market for the giant multinational PR agencies to penetrate, and several long-established Paris operations still struggle to make much of a contribution to their parent company’s European revenues. These difficulties have led some to complain that the French have no appetite for sophisticated, Anglo-Saxon style PR, but that argument is made to look foolish by the long-term success of i&e, the largest independent in the market and one of the most impressive PR firms in Europe.
With 170 employees and fee income in 2004 of €12.4 million, i&e (formerly Information et Enterprise) is on track for healthy double-digit growth in 2005. The firm is owned by its managers and staff and led by managing directors Jean-Pierre Beaudoin and Tristan Follin. It was founded in 1962 by Jacques Coup de Fréjac, whose close connections to French president Charles de Gaulle and knowledge of the political scene led to a focus on public affairs, with a special emphasis on helping American corporations like John Deere (the firm’s first client, and still a client today) negotiate the French market.
Over the years, the firm added new capabilities to service its U.S. clients, helping them develop community involvement and corporate social responsibility programmes, build their corporate reputations, manage issues and crises, and eventually introduce new products and manage consumer public relations programmes. It also began to work for French and other European companies as well as its traditional U.S. client base, often extending the work it did within the French market to develop pan-European public relations strategies.
Today, the firm is structured into three main groups: i&e Consultants, which provides public relations counsel, including corporate communications, crisis and issues management, product launches, event management, sports sponsorship, and interactive communications; i&e Décision, a team of more than 20 that provides opinion monitoring and analysis; and i&e Expressions, which specializes in corporate media and publishing. Clients come from multiple sectors, and the firm has expertise in the health, services, consumer, industrial and public sector realms. Major clients include France Telecom, Beiersdorf, Masterfoods, Assurance Maladie, Centre E.Leclerc, Centre Pompidou Metz, Motorola, UPS, PagesJaunes, and Coca-Cola. New additions in the past 12 months include the French poultry and dairy industry associations, Luxottica and Splenda on the consumer front; healthcare clients include the Ligue Nationale Contre le Cancer and the Ordre des Pharmaciens; the association of chemical Industry manufacturers; La Poste; and the National Environmental Agency.
With 40 years experience servicing international clients and 10 nationalities represented among its staff, i&e justifiably describes itself as “France’s most international PR agency,” providing multinational communications strategy counsel, international research, international press bureau management, and assistance with the selection and coaching of local agencies, creating custom networks as needed. Two thirds of the firm’s clients are international companies, and 15 percent of the firm’s business is addressing non-French audiences. It has elected not to set up offices in other markets, however, in order to maintain cooperative relationships with multiple local firms, who might otherwise be concerned that i&e was there to steal their business.
The firm does, however, work through two established networks: PROI, which brings together some of the biggest and best independent PR firms in Europe, with 41 members in 22 counties, including several U.S. firms; and GFC/Net, which specializes in the financial services sector and includes 12 members in major financial centres, including Fishburn Hedges in London.
Recent examples of i&e’s work include award-winning programmes to raise awareness of the need for organ donations on behalf of the French health ministry; its promotion of the Nivea brand for Beiersdorf, and a campaign focused on counterfeiting and fraud for Phénix UDA. The firm has also handled several major campaigns for trade associations, including the chemical industry association, which retained i&e for a massive image-building campaign, and the French pharmacists.
Further underscoring its quality reputation, i&e is ISO 9001 certified (since 1999) and scores consistently high marks in the Ballester survey of French PR clients, attracting particular praise for its high level of strategic counsel, understanding of client issues, knowledge of its clients’ industry and business activities, and effectiveness of its programmes. It has also been partnering with international organizations such as the U.S.-based Reputation Institute, to reinforce its position as the thought leader in the French PR market.