Arun Sudhaman 11 Oct 2012 // 5:37PM GMT
By global standards, Sweden’s PR agency market is medium-sized, clocking in at around $300m. Yet the country regularly produces bold, inspirational campaigns that demonstrate the best of public relations. It is not quite a paradox, because there is nothing that suggests bigger PR markets do better work, but I was reminded of these facts when I visited Stockholm earlier this week. In addition to previewing the results of our Creativity In PR study at the excellent Mynewsday event, I also met with several Swedish PR firms. As ever, the work being produced, particularly by Prime and Jung Relations, was outstanding. Prime’s Electrolux Vac from the Sea programme, which ranked fourth in our Creative Index, is an example that combines everything required of a modern public relations campaign: social understanding, channel neutrality, ideas big and small, and a focus on genuine behavioural change. Jung Relations’ efforts for Absolut, meanwhile, which see powerful public relations thinking infuse the company’s product strategy, are similarly impressive. Two that stand out are the Absolut Unique project, and the NoLabel campaign. And another campaign that should not be overlooked is MSL's Ariel Fashion Shoot, recently named one of our Global SABRE Award winners. What is it that makes Sweden such fertile ground for great work? This is a question worth asking, particularly if other agencies and countries hope to emulate the thinking on display, and it is one I put to pretty much everyone I met. The answers I received were illuminating. One of them, from Prime creative director Tom Beckman, forms the basis of this video. That, and other views, can be summarised thus: 1. Personal relations Beckman notes that people are often referred to as citizens in Sweden, rather than as consumers. Is this just semantics? I think not. The relegation of a person to a mere vessel of consumption jaundices every engagement effort. Instead, Sweden has something akin to a real stakeholder society, where - for example - social issues must be addressed by corporations. Or as Jung Relations director Jonas Sevenius points out, a better way to describe public relations might be ‘personal relations.’ “We want to build personality into a brand.” 2. Innovation Hallvarsson & Halvarsson CEO Martin Petersson believes that Sweden’s culture of innovation, particularly in terms of digital and technology, also helps. The country is home to the likes of Spotify, pioneering digital agencies Spray (which eventually merged with Razorfish) and Farfar and even the Pirate Bay. Many public relations firms have benefited from the talent available in the market. Planners for example, shift seamlessly between advertising, digital and PR agencies, helping to inculcate an integrated mindset among all disciplines. 3. Collaborative culture The Swedish management model, adds Petersson, is very collaborative, very flat. Or, as Beckman describes it, “no one is in charge.” “Ideas are created in a single person’s mind - it’s not something that the group can create,” continues Petersson. “If you give people freedom, you stand a much better chance of coming up with ideas.” 4. Holistic clients The crowd at Mynewsday featured hundreds of in-house people, many of whom oversee combined marketing and communications functions. This may count as news in the UK and US, but in Sweden it is apparently less surprising. Mynewsdesk COO Jonathan Bean believes that limited resources may explain the trend; regardless, converged functions simply make for better public relations in a converging media world. 5. Creativity + data They may appear unlikely bedfellows, but the ability to harness these twin engines to good effect will increasingly define the success of public relations activity. And firms like Prime and Jung have proved adept at marrying insight arms with a genuine culture of creativity. Upon arriving in Stockholm, MSLGroup's German CEO Wigan Salazar tweeted his surprise at how long it had taken me to visit the "capital of modern PR." He was certainly right about the first part of that statement; there is plenty to suggest that the second part is also true.