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Since its inception in 2008, Whyte has positioned itself in the Belgian market as a leader in corporate affairs, the custom mix of corporate communications and public affairs the firm’s founders deemed its specialty from the outset. Throughout, Whyte has stayed true to its founding principles and plan. But it also has evolved, shifting operations into higher gear around innovation, diversification and upgrading the firm’s core corporate affairs services, boosting its stature in the market. The firm continues to offer valuable insight into the Belgian media, political, corporate, social, and academic landscape, an expertise that allows Whyte to define the right audiences, recommend the most appropriate channels of communication, to formulate the right messages and to anticipate actions and reactions. That expertise has been strengthened by a commitment to analytics and research and a growing emphasis on digital channels and visualization.
Whyte is based in Belgium with its headquarters in Brussels and an additional office in Antwerp, which covers the Flanders market.
Unaffected by the pandemic in 2020, Whyte saw its revenue increase by 15% in 2020 and there was another year of strong double-digit (12.5%) growth in 2021 as the firm ended the year with fees of €5.94 million. Not surprisingly, given the firm’s focus and the pandemic’s impact, work in corporate reputation management and crisis and issues management continued to dominate, with new assignments from Nespresso, Basic Fit, Royal Belgian Football Association, INEOS (for its Project One, the largest investment project in the chemical industry in Europe) and Telenet. They join a client roster that includes the likes of Lantis-Oosterweel (the largest infrastructure project in Europe), Uber, battery recycling nonprofit Bebat, EPI (the European Payments Initiative), Belgian Brewers, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and ING.
Whyte is owned and managed by its four founding partners: Sandrine Agie, Joris Bulteel, De Ridder and Emmanuel Goedseels—a fact that has led to remarkable stability and consistency of focus. The extended management team—two partners and two more directors—ensures a depth of counseling capability. New additions in 2021 includes Joost Germis, a senior political advisor, to lead the growing Antwerp office, and new talent in public affairs and employee communications. The firm has also appointed a diversity and inclusion officer, leading a taskforce that focuses on both internal issues and client concerns. In 2021, the firm developed a Diversity Plan in collaboration with Brussels employment office Actiris, which provides independent assessment of diversity targets and progress in meeting them.
Thought leadership is a priority for Whyte, as it positions its services as mission-critical elements of successful corporate management. Partner Eveline De Ridder has a new book on crisis communications coming out this year, and the firm has developed products and processes around digital engagement, NIMBY issues, and ESG issues. The work reflects the seriousness of the firm’s purpose: for Basic Fit, for example, Whyte began by managing anti-Covid efforts and went on to develop a broad social media campaign focusing on the link between physical fitness and mental wellness. Gor Uber, the firm has been focused on creating a more favorable legislative framework in Brussles; and for the Lantis-Oosterweel infrastructure project, it has handled community and stakeholder outreach to help deal with concerns about contaminated soil.
— Paul Holmes
Edelman has been the world’s largest independent public relations agency since the wave of acquisitions that swept the industry in the 80s and 90s and saw its rivals fall into the hands of the giant ad agency holding groups. Its Benelux operations have evolved over the past few years: the Brussels office, not surprisingly, has been a player in public affairs (though rarely rivaling the market leaders) while Amsterdam was once the home of the firm’s Houseboat initiative, a process designed to enable senior clients to tackle complex and pressing business and communication challenges. Today, with a new strategy designed to ensure that all offices contribute to Edelman’s collaborative full-service ethos, both offices are more generalist in their approach.
Edelman has a team of just under 40 in its Brussels office, and close to 100 people in Amsterdam, making it a market leader in the Netherlands.
Edelman was back to its usual high levels of growth in EMEA last year, outperforming its peer group with fee income surging from just under $170 million to almost $210 million (a 23% increase) and both Belgium (21%) and the Netherlands (31%) made substantial contributions. In Brussels, the firm added assignments from the DP World government delegation, Janssen Retinal Policy in the health space, Ball for sustainability, Voi (digital economy issues) and Volvo. In Amsterdam there were new assignments from Tinder, Tata Steel, Microsoft (for thought leadership around hybrid work) and New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra.
One of Edelman’s most significant hires in the region last year was ; Stefan Borst, from economic intelligence, global advocacy, and cybersecurity firm Avisa Partners, as chief executive in Brussels, while the office also added Gianmaria Sisti as head of digital public affairs and Dariusz Dybka as SVP, sustainability. In Amsterdam—which is home to regional chief operating officer AJ Hesselink—new hires included Ilse van Hartevelt as managing director, corporate, after serving as head of global communications at Stork, a Fluor Company. Across the region, Edelman has been emphasizing its more colleaborative culture—with a renewed focus on DE&I, a country-by-country approach that includes benchmarking, training and partnerships—and a flexible approach to the return to work.
Edelman’s Trust Barometer research is without question the PR industry’s most valuable piece of thought leadership, especially in recent years as trust in institutions has declined sharply. That research informs much of Edelman’s work, like support for Novartis in building its reputation in Brussels, helping the company understand stakeholder expectations and perceptions. The firm has also been working with Cosmetics Europe and the Personal Care Products Council on animal testing issues and with the Spotlight Initiative, a global UN campaign that aims to eliminate violence against women and girls. In the Netherlands, meanwhile, Edelman has been supporting Microsoft’s “The Future of Hybrid Work” thought leadership; Mission Possible Partnership, a non-profit helping industries in challenging sectors to reduce emissions; and HP on its “Endangered Colors” sustainability initiative.
— Paul Holmes
It’s now five years since international holding company Omnicom took the Dutch operations of its three global brands—FleishmanHillard, Ketchum and Porter Novelli—to create a single entity under the Omnicom Public Relations Group name. In 2020, a similar move in Belgium saw Ketchum and Porter Novelli—both more focused on the local Belgian market than on the EU public affairs business—com together to give OPRG coverage of the Benelux region.
Omnicom PR Group has offices in Amsterdam and Brussels, which maintain their close working relationships with their predecessor brands and thus have access to the vast global networks of the larger Omnicom brands.
Omnicom’s total public relations revenue was up by 6.3% in 2021 and while growth in individual markets is not disclosed, it appears that the OPRG Netherlands operation outperformed that number, with headcount increasing to 40 over the year. There were some high-profile new business successes, not least of which saw the holding company selected by Dutch giant Philips following a global review of its $300m PR, creative and media duties—with OPRG providing support for the company’s personal health business in Benelux but also handling elements of the global corporate relationship. The firm also added European chemical company Nobian (for reputation management and public affairs; and Thermo Fisher Scientific.
The Dutch operation is led by managing director and senior partner Rosalinde van de Wall, who had previously led the Fleishman operation in Amsterdam, and who has created an “inverted pyramid” structure at the firm, emphasizing senior talent and counseling capability. The firm added talent in 2021 to strengthen its expertise in employee engagement and change management (Nathalie Soeteman) and measurement and analytics (Juriaan Vergouw) and added a new creative strategy director, Joost van Liemt, who joined from Ogilvy.
OPRG’s Dutch operations are focused heavily on corporate communications, public affairs, issues management and employee communications. It’s one of the go-to agencies in the market for complex challenges, like the one facing the True Animal Protein Price Coalition two years ago as it set out to campaign for higher taxes on (and thus higher prices for) meat products—an objective OPRG achieved by appealing to Dutch rationality and sense of fairness. For Mastercard, meanwhile, the firm has handed the multi-award winning “True Name” campaign, supporting trans issues globally. And for MSD it has handled successful employer branding and talent recruitment efforts. OPRG is also a participant in the “Authenticity Gap” research conducted by sister agency FleishmanHillard, and has conducted its own research into the disconnect between digital innovation and consumers.
— Paul Holmes
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