Full-service firm with exceptional public affairs capability
Founded in 1983 as a Belgian PR firm, Interel grew up servicing multinational clients interested in selling products or managing reputations in Belgium, but over the past decade or so has built one of the most formidable public affairs practices in the European capital (public affairs now accounts for half the firm’s business) and started to provide pan-European crisis communications counsel to multinationals, many of which site their European headquarters in Brussels and find in Interel a consultancy that knows EMEA better than most Anglo-Saxon firms and can offer the right mix of sophisticated regional strategy and strong local relationships.
Public affairs continues to represent slightly less than half of the firm’s overall income, with more than 20 consultants dedicated to EU public affairs, more than any other independent in what has become a fiercely competitive market. The firm added a host of new clients over the past 12 months, including Adobe, Emirates, the European Casino Association, the European Recycling Platform (a coalition including appliance manufacturers Braun, Electrolux and Sony), Glaxo SmithKline, Weight Watchers, and Visa. They join a client list that includes Baxter, Cisco, Sanofi Aventis, and Thalys.
Clients come from multiple sectors, but the firm has particular depth of expertise in food and pharmaceuticals; IT and telecoms; and environmental issues. And Interel is also adding expertise in what it calls public procurement—helping clients secure business contracts from the EU—and in its work for public sector clients.
Corporate communications accounts for just less than a third of the firm’s income and includes capabilities in crisis and issues management, financial and internal communications, and corporate social responsibility. Major clients include BT, Citibank, eBay, IKEA, Monsanto, Nike, Thalys and UPS and new additions over the past 12 months such as Bearing Point and for crisis and issues management Air Liquide and Shell. The rest of the firm’s revenues come from marketing and brand PR, mostly within the Belgian market. Clients include Coca-Cola, Esselte, McDonald’s Nivea, and Unilever, with Kodak, Pernod Ricard and Samsonite new to the roster this year.
Outside of Belgium, Interel has a team of about five in Paris, focused on public affairs, and two growing offices in Prague and Bratislava. The Czech operation was founded in 2000 and has evolved from a full-service operation into a public affairs specialist as the media relations business in the Central and Eastern European countries grows increasingly commoditized. It now has 10 consultants and acts as Interel’s hub in the region, serving clients in neighbouring markets including Poland and Hungary, with clients such as Czech Coal, Hewlett Packard, automaker Škoda, Unisys, and the Ministry for Regional Development. The Bratislava office is following a similar path, now focused almost exclusively on strategic government relations work.
With 90 consultants spread across its four offices, and fee income in excess of €7.7 million in 2004 (up about 10 percent), Interel is one of the largest independent PR firms on continental Europe and has a pool of senior talent that’s as deep as any in the region. In addition to founder Jean-Leopold Schuybroek, the Belgian team includes senior counsellors such as Jan Van Heuverswyn, former corporate communication director Fortis and Dexia; Mieke Offeciers, former Minister of Budget; Frederik Lofthagen, managing director of the public affairs practice and an expert in the IT field; and partners Axel Rindborg (a financial services expert) and Tom Parker (food and nutrition issues). The firm has also been grooming a new generation of leadership, with seven of its consultants now enjoying partnership status.
The firm also belongs to a trio of networks that extend its reach into every European market: PROI, which includes some of the largest and best independent agencies from around Europe; the Alliance of European Public Affairs Consultants, which focuses on policy and regulatory issues; and GFC/Net, the financial communications network led by Fishburn Hedges in London. That gives Interel the flexibility to choose the right partner for the right task on a pan-European basis.