While any discussion of the Brussels public relations scene is understandably going to focus on the European public affairs business that has come dominate the Belgian capital, the fact is that there are a lot of smart PR practitioners in the city whose focus is broader than the public policy arena, and a lot of corporate clients with needs that go far beyond influencing the political agenda to broader stakeholder engagement. Newcomer Whyte Corporate Affairs has enlisted a number of those practitioners to create an innovative alternative to the giant multinationals, focused on the convergence of corporate reputation, issues management and public affairs.
Managing director Emmanuel Goedseels was previously head of the Belgian public relations operations of market leader Interel, while his three co-directors—Sandrine Agie, Eveline De Ridder, and Joris Bulteel—had all spent a number of years in management positions with the same firm before leaving to launch their own firm a little more than a year ago.
The firm’s name goes some way toward explaining its approach: it’s a hybrid of the question “why,” which is the starting point of every client engagement but also indicates a willingness to challenge the conventional wisdom, and the colour white, with its connotations of clarity and transparency, values the firm prizes. The name represents a philosophy that Goedseels and his colleagues hope will set Whyte apart as a next generation alternative to the established leaders in the Belgian corporate affairs and stakeholder communications market.
Despite launching into the teeth of the worst recession in more than a decade, Whyte has already attracted a strong team of professionals and an impressive client roster that includes AB InBev, IKEA, Media Markt, Suez (Sita), Flightcare, Lanxess and Allianz, with new business over the past 12 months from AXA, JTI, Danone, Holcim, Baxter, the Ministry of the Interior, and Cargill—all of which contributed to growth of around 40 percent.
Interesting high-profile work included managing a broad range of stakeholder communications for InBev during and after its deal with Anheuser Busch; issues related to health claims for Danone; the closure of Wyeth’s subsidiary in Belgium, avoiding both strikes and excessive media attention; crisis preparedness and change management work for Holcim; training exercises for the Crisis Centre of the Federal Government; and a variety of community outreach assignments involving “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) issues.
“We appreciate, in particular, the different backgrounds and complementariness of Whyte’s partners,” says Patricia Klein, external relations and communications director at Danone. “They form a multidisciplinary team, thanks to their various competences, experiences and personalities.
This way of working allows addressing situations and challenge, combining a helicopter view with the right sensitivity for nuances.” Adds Olivier Van Horenbeeck, corporate affairs director at AB InBev: “Multinational organisations increasingly have to navigate through an ever-more politicised, regulated and complex environment. Whyte is most probably the only Belgian corporate communications company that specialises in issues-led communications, where corporate communications, public affairs, government relations, media relations and policy meet.”
Whyte covers the Benelux market from Brussels, and also partners with select firms in neighboring markets including France, Germany and the U.K.